Study Guide

Don Quixote Setting

By Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Setting

16th-17th Century Spain (Inns and Countryside)

For the most part, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza spend all of the novel in one of two places, an inn or the Spanish countryside. When it comes to describing the Spanish countryside, it's Cervantes's narrator who supplies us with some of the most poetic lines in the entire book, as you can see in this description of a sunset: "Scarce had the fair Aurora given place to the refulgent ruler of the day, and allowed him time, with the heat of his prevailing rays, to dry the liquid pearls on his golden locks" (2.1.20.1).

This line is so dense with allusion that it'll take a few more lines just to unpack it. Aurora is the goddess of dawn in Roman mythology, and the "ruler of the day" in this line is Phoebus Apollo, god of the sun. The "liquid pearls on his golden locks" probably refers to the beads of morning dew that are still clinging to the strands of wheat and grass that surround Don Quixote and Sancho. Without doubt, nature always seems to inspire the most extravagant language from our narrator.

When it comes to inns that Don Quixote and Sancho stay in, the narrator lets Don Quixote himself describe the setting. It's important to realize that in this book, the setting always exists half in reality and half in Don Quixote's imagination. Whenever he sees a normal inn, for example, we hear that he "no sooner saw the inn, but he fancied it to be a castle fenced with four towers and lofty pinnacles, glittering with silver, together with a deep moat" (1.1.2.3).

Don Quixote's imagination is constantly transforming his surroundings into a setting that's way more spectacular than the bland, everyday reality he's living in. But that's kind of the point of this novel. Adventure books, says Cervantes, can mess up our minds so much that we lose track of what's real and not real about our surroundings.

... And then there's the double irony that even without adventure books, the line between real and not-real is hard to determine.