Study Guide

Don Quixote Mortality

By Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Mortality

Let death then quickly be my cure. / When thus we ills unknown endure, / 'Tis shortest to despair. (1.3.9.5)

When Don Quixote and Sancho first encounter Cardenio's notebook, they find a poem in it in which Cardenio says he wants to die because he has lost the love of his life. The poem, though, doesn't make death sound like a noble decision as much as an easy decision. Basically, it says that death is a shortcut for dealing with pain.

"Just such a comedy," said Don Quixote, "is acted on the great stage of the world, where some play the emperors, others the prelates, and, in short, all the parts can be brought into a dramatic piece; till death, which is the great catastrophe, and end of the action, strips the actors of all their marks of distinction, and levels their quality in the grave." (2.1.12.1)

In a poetic moment, Don Quixote says that al of life is just one big stage where people perform their roles. (Sound familiar?) But when people die, he adds, these roles are forgotten, because everyone is equal in death. It's a bit different from some of our modern ideas, where we might think people are equal at birth. But yeah, for Don Quixote, people are equal in death.

"He pays me very well, he has given me three colts, and I am so very true and trusty to him, that nothing but death can part us." (2.1.33.3)

When it comes time for Sancho to profess his loyalty to Don Quixote, he says that only death will be able to separate him from his master. And these words are accurate, because in the end, it really is only Don Quixote's death that separates them.

"Death, put on some kind disguise,/ And at once my heart surprise;/ For 'tis such a curse to live,/ And so great a bliss to die." (2.1.38.9)

The Countess of Trifaldi tells a heart-wrenching story about a young man using music to convince a young lady to have sex with him. Now, when it comes to pledging your love, there's nothing better than saying you'd rather die than live without someone. In the world of love poetry, death is kind of like a trump card. If you have to live without the person you love, you can just say, "Well, I'd rather die," and poof, you've gone as far as anyone can go. In this novel, we often get these equations: love=life, not love=death.

"[And] fearing more to live than to die, I am resolved almost to starve myself; though to die with hunger be the most cruel of all deaths" (2.1.59.1)

After getting trampled by a bunch of bulls, Don Quixote starts to lose confidence in his abilities as a knight. He decides that the only way to save his honor is to starve himself to death, since killing yourself in the most painful possible way is the only way to make up for doing something shameful with your lifeā€¦ apparently.

"There is only one thing, which somebody once put into my head, that I dislike in sleep; it is, that it resembles death." (2.1.68.2)

Sancho loves to get himself a good night's sleep. Apart from food, in fact, there might not be anything he likes more. The only thing he doesn't really like about it is that being asleep is very similar to being dead. Hmm.

"Thus life each moment makes me die, / And if death itself new life can give' / I hopeless and tormented lie, / And neither truly die nor live." (2.1.68.4)

As the novel draws to a close, Don Quixote begins to worry that he'll never see the beautiful face of his fair Dulcinea. The only way he knows how to vent his bad feelings is to recite a poem he has written about love and death. But in this poem, instead of dying outright, he lives in a sort of zombie state between life and death: he can't bring himself to commit suicide, yet he can't live a full life without his lover.

As all human things, especially the lives of men, are transitory, their very beginnings being but steps to their dissolution; so Don Quixote, who was no way exempted from the common fate, was snatched away by death. (2.1.74.1)

Just like that, Don Quixote dies. It doesn't take all that long, either, and there isn't a whole lot of ceremony around it. But as the narrator tells us, all of our lives are transitory, and we're all going to die someday. There's no one who can escape this fate, which basically means that in the eyes of death, we're all the same.

"The body of a knight lives here, / So brave, that to his latest breath/ Immortal glory was his care,/ And makes him triumph over death." (2.1.74.17)

Don Quixote's epitaph (the message on his tombstone) makes it sound as if the guy has achieved a victory over death by living such a glorious life. And to be sure, we're still reading about him hundreds of years later. (On the other hand, Don Quixote was never a real guy, but maybe that isn't the point.) Don Quixote's tombstone raises some interesting questions about whether being remembered in history counts as beating death.

I beseech thee advise him likewise to let the wearied, mouldering bones of Don Quixote rest quiet in the earth that covers them. (2.1.74.20)

By the end of the book, Cervantes gives us one very good reason for killing off Don Quixote: he doesn't want a bunch of posers writing future stories about the Don. Cervantes already had to deal with a guy who wrote a phony sequel to Don Quixote, Part 1, which makes him very committed to making sure that everyone knows Don Quixote is dead, plain and simple. So, when you get right down to it, is Don Quixote dead because he got old or because Cervantes didn't want any Don Quixote fan fic?