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Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (Modern Spanish: El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, or just Don Quixote), is a Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes. It was originally published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615. A founding work of Western literature, it is often labelled as the first modern novel and is considered one of the greatest works ever written. It is one of the most translated books in the world.

The plot revolves around the adventures of a nobleman from La Mancha named Alonso Quixano, who reads so many chivalric romances that he loses his mind and decides to become a knight-errant to revive chivalry, under the name Don Quixote de la Mancha. Don Quixote, in the first part of the book at least, does not see the world for what it is and prefers to imagine that he is living out a courtly story. He recruits a simple farmer, Sancho Panza, as his squire, who often employs his homespun earthy wit to undercut Quixote's rhetorical and old-fashioned monologues on knighthood. As Sancho observes Quixote's hopeless, inexplicable courage, his distrust turns to affection and admiration. He begins to listen closely to Quixote's speeches and finds them to be beautiful and true. By the beginning of the second part, Sancho has begun to take Quixote's ideas about self-making to heart; he too can be intelligent and idealistic if he chooses. By the end of the novel, he has turned into a wise judge of human nature.

When first published, Don Quixote was usually interpreted as a comic novel. After the French Revolution, it was known for its central ethic that individuals can be noble while society is disenchanting. In the 19th century critics tended to view it as a tragedy in which idealism is defeated and rendered useless by everyday reality. The book had a major influence on European literature and has been directly referenced in numerous works since its publication, including in Dumas's The Three Musketeers (1844) and Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). Fans of recent science fiction series The Expanse will recognise the name of Quixote's horse, Rocinante (meaning 'work horse'), as the name of the protagonists' spaceship, which is likewise engaged in tasks beyond its abilities.

No. 789

Watercolour on paper
Image and text © Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London, 2022

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