Study Guide

Don Quixote Violence

By Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Violence

Don Quixote […] once more dropped his target, lifted up his lance, and then let if fall so heavily on the fellow's pate, that, without damaging his lance, he broke the carrier's head in three or four places. (1.1.3.2)

Let's not mince words here. Don Quixote just cracked a guy's skull in three or four places. That means that this dude is either going to die or suffer serious brain damage. And this is just one of the first people Don Quixote meets in this book. The book does a good job of telling us what the injury is. But it never follows up on how this poor guy fares after Don Quixote moves on. For all we know, he's dead. Now, this kind of violence happens all the time in stories of knight-errantry, and the consequences rarely matter there, since the stories are all about the heroes. Do you think Cervantes is making fun of that tradition?

With that, he caught the youngster by the arm, and tied him again to the tree; where he handled him so unmercifully, that scarce any signs of life were left in him. (1.1.4.2)

Maybe the Spanish were de-sensitized to violence because of all the wars and torture that were already going on in Spain when Cervantes wrote this book. But the book can still be gory, as we find in this passage, where a middle-aged man ties a young boy to a tree and whips him until the kid is nearly dead.

"[He] so belaboured Don Quixote's sides with one of [the wooden pieces] that, in spite of his arms, he thrashed him like a wheat-sheaf." (1.1.4.5)

One thing that makes it tough to get a read on violence in this book is that Cervantes often uses similes and other figures of speech to mask or make light of scenes of violence. In this case, he makes it easier to hear about Don Quixote's beating by comparing his body to a wheat sheaf.

[And] therefore taking it in mighty dudgeon, he up with his fist, and hit the enamoured knight such a swinging blow on the jaws, that his face was all over blood in a moment." (1.3.1.5)

This is one of the first times Don Quixote gets his face bloodied in this book, but it definitely isn't the last. In Part 1 especially, Don Quixote spends the majority of his career as a knight getting absolutely annihilated by the people he tries to fight.

"Fear nothing, Sancho," said he, "there is no danger at all: for what thou feelest in the dark are certainly the feet and legs of some banditti and robbers, that have been hanged upon those trees." (2.1.60.2)

We arrive at one of the most violent parts of the book when Sancho backs up into a tree and suddenly realizes that there are dozens of dead people hanging above him by the neck. Don Quixote doesn't think it's a big deal, which just goes to show you how death was something that people must have confronted on a daily basis in 16th- and 17th-century Spain. This kind of violence is also pretty common in stories of knight-errantry, so maybe Don Quixote ignores it for that reason, too.

"I fired at him, not only with this piece, but with both my pistols, and, as I believe, shot him through the body, thus with his heart's blood washing away the stains of my honour." (2.1.60.6)

The young lady Claudia feels that her lover Vicente has betrayed her by marrying another woman. So what does she do? She grabs two pistols and shoots the guy through the heart. We'll just go ahead and say that she overreacted on that one. Is this kind of violence different from the other kinds of violence we see in the novel?

Claudia pressed his hand, and being pierced at once to the very heart, dropped on his bloody breast into a swoon, and Don Vincente fainted away into a deadly trance. (2.1.60.8)

Uh oh. It turns out that Vicente didn't betray Claudia after all, and he never had any intention of marrying anyone but her. It's a shame that Claudia blew his heart out with a pistol before asking him to explain himself. But let that just be a lesson to everyone: ask questions first; shoot later. We'd also like to point out that this story shows how dangerous the pranks and manipulation we see in every chapter of the novel can really be. It's all fun and games until someone gets shot through the heart. Any of these stories could have ended in tragedy if people had reacted differently.

One of the banditti overhearing him, cocked his gun, and would certainly have shot him through the head, had not the captain commanded him to hold. (2.1.60.11)

The text of Don Quixote has some ups and downs when it comes to the subject of violence. The two most violent parts are definitely the first half of Part 1 and the second half of Part 2. In this scene, Don Quixote and Sancho run into some robbers, and one of the robbers cocks a pistol right at Sancho's head, ready to blow his brains out. These robbers are some truly nasty dudes.

The wretch spoke so low, but he was overheard by Roque, who, whipping out his sword, with one stroke almost cleft his skull in two. (2.1.60.15)

At first glance, Roque seems like a Robin Hood figure. He's a thief, for sure, but he's very generous with the money he steals. But don't let that fool you. The second that one of his men questions him, he buries his sword in the guy's skull.

"'Tis Fate's decree that Sancho, thy good squire / On his bare brawny buttocks should bestow / Three thousand lashes, and eke three hundred more." (2.1.35.1)

Even the pranks in this book are violent. The Duke and Duchess, for example, convince Don Quixote that the only way to lift a curse on his beloved Dulcinea is for Sancho to take 3,300 lashes on his bum. Mind you, if Sancho ever actually agreed to this, there'd be nothing left of his bum by the time he was finished. Ten lashes would be severe, but 3,300 would probably kill the guy.