Study Guide

Don Quixote Madness

By Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Madness

Having thus lost his understanding, he unluckily stumbled upon the oddest fancy that ever entered into a madman's brain; for now he thought it convenient and necessary, as well for the increase of his own honour, as the service of the public, to turn knight-errant. (1.1.1.8)

Don Quixote's descent into madness is by no means gradual. In fact, Cervantes sums it up in this one sentence. An old dude read too many fantasy books and decided that he wanted to start living the fantasy himself. Now there's nothing wrong with living a fantasy if it doesn't put anyone in danger. The only problem is that Don Quixote's fantasy of being a knight involves randomly attacking people and helpless sheep.

At those words they made a halt to view the unaccountable figure of their opponent; and easily conjecturing, both by his expression and disguise, that the poor gentleman had lost his senses, they were willing to understand the meaning of that strange confession which he would force on them. (1.1.4.4)

When Don Quixote first hits the road, he soon comes across some strangers and decides what the heck, there must be some sort of adventure about to happen. The people, on the other hand, don't know what to make of Don Quixote and figure right away that he must be a crazy old man. You're going to have to get used to that, because that's the general response Don Quixote will get for the rest of the book.

All the rest of the company gave great attention to this discourse; and even the very goatherds and shepherds were now fully convinced that Don Quixote's brains were turned topsy-turvy. But Sancho Panca believed every word that dropped from his master's mouth to be truth, as having known him from his cradle to be a man of sincerity. (1.2.5.7).

On some level, Sancho Panza knows that his master is an eccentric, sometimes foolish man. But at the same time, he has known Don Quixote his whole life and believes him to be a good, rational man. Throughout this book, Sancho sees the Don do some crazy things. But he doesn't think of the Don himself as crazy. There's a difference.

"Sir," quoth Sancho, "I dare say the knights who did these penances had some reason to be mad; but what need have you to be mad too?" (1.3.11.5)

When Don Quixote decides to torture himself in the Sierra Morena mountains, Sancho asks him why he would do such a thing. But Don Quixote doesn't seem to need any reason other than the fact that the knights he's read about have done the same thing. As you can imagine, Sancho scratches his head and doesn't really get it. Still, do you think Don Quixote's suffering could be real? Is he just putting on an act, or is this stuff in the mountains a real—if weird—way to deal with unrequited love, even if that love is for someone who doesn't exist?

There was none of the beholders but was ready to burst into laughter, having a sight of the master's madness and the servant's simplicity. (1.4.3.2)

As you can imagine, a lot of people in this book have a good laugh at all of Don Quixote's crazy talk. The way he talks to people is kind of like someone today walking up to you and saying that he's Batman.

The canon stood amazed at Don Quixote's methodical and orderly madness, in describing the adventure of the Knight of the Lake. (1.4.23.2)

The main phrase to focus on here is "methodical and orderly," because that's what makes it so hard for people to argue with Don Quixote's madness. The guy has read so many adventure books and knows the rules so well that he's basically created an entire belief system that's impenetrable to rational argument.

He is mad past recovery, but yet he has lucid intervals. (2.1.18.4)

There are several people in this book who admire Don Quixote during his moments of sanity. And yes, there are more than a few of those moments. It's only when the topic of a conversation turns to adventure books that the Don seems to fall off the rails. What does that tell us about his madness?

The Duchess was ready to die with laughing at Sancho, whom she thought a more pleasant fool, and a greater madman than his master; and she was not the only person at that time of this opinion. (2.1.32.4).

The Duchess likes Don Quixote well enough, but she wants to keep Sancho around as if he were a cute dog. The funny thing about Sancho is that he thinks he's sane for seeing all of Don Quixote's faults. But if he can see Don Quixote's craziness, isn't Sancho doubly crazy for staying so loyal to the guy? Or is he unexpectedly wise for doing so?

Presently a fit of despair seized him: he was stark mad to think on Sancho's remissness and want of charity; the squire having not given himself above five lashes. (2.1.60.1)

At first, Don Quixote accepts Sancho's right to whip himself whenever he likes in order to break the curse on Dulcinea. But over time, Don Quixote starts to seethe at the fact that Sancho isn't getting around to the job. It's enough to drive a dude crazy.

But I am apt to believe, Sir Bachelor, that his madness is too firmly fixed for your art to remove, and (Heaven forgive me) I cannot forbear wishing it may be so. (2.1.65.2)

Don Antonio thinks that Don Quixote's mind is too far gone to be cured, and he's not the only one to hold this opinion. But as we go on to find out, Don Quixote recovers his sanity in the final pages of the book, calling himself a fool for ever thinking that adventure books were historically accurate. So is the point that adventure books are totally bad, or are they just bad if you take them to be truth?