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 Wonderful Madness of Don Quixote

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PostSubject: Wonderful Madness of Don Quixote   Thu Jun 25, 2009 5:12 am

The Wonderful Madness of Don Quixote, Man of La Mancha

What is madness?

The play Man of La Mancha is a story about madness. It is the madness that can be found in reality as well as the madness of imagination and fantasy. It is about being imprisoned by each kind of madness and who is to say which of the two is more preferable? Who is to say which kind of madness is true reality?

Miguel de Cervantes is a poet / actor who is imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition. While imprisoned he is put on trial by his fellow prisoners. Cervantes' defense is in the form of a play, in which Cervantes takes the role of Alonso Quijana, an old gentleman who has lost his mind and now believes that he should go forth as a knight-errant. Quijana renames himself Don Quixote de La Mancha (means parched earth in Arabic), and sets out to find adventures with his "squire" Sancho Panza.

Don Quixote’s adventures has him battle the Enchanter (but is in reality a windmill); he comes across a Castle (nothing more than an inn in which Quioxote does not see that the chapel of the castle is nothing more than a stable); he seeks the Golden Helmet of Mambrino (a shaving basin) and wears it with pride. He finds beauty in Aldonza, a peasant of the inn who will sleep with anyone for money and he calls her Dulcinea (sweetness), a veritable Magdalene.

As the musical progresses, we meet Quixote’s niece who has sought out the local priest to help her poor old uncle. The niece tries to convince the priest that she is “Only thinking of him”. Yet she is in fact more concerned about what her fiancée will think. Such is her madness.

Amongst Quixote’s adventures, he seeks a token from his one true love Dulcinea. In return he gets a dirty dishrag that he sees as a silken scarf. Aldonza is furious with Quixote, uncomfortable with his talk of beauty and purity when in fact she has been with every man in town. But her doubt begins as she sings:

Why does he do the things he does?
Why does he do these things?
Why does he march
Through that dream that he's in,
Covered with glory and rusty old tin?
Why does he live in a world that can't be,
And what does he want of me...
What does he want of me?

Why does he say the things he says?
Why does he say these things?
"Sweet Dulcinea" and "missive" and such,
"Nethermost hem of thy garment I touch,"
No one can be what he wants me to be,
Oh, what does he want of me...
What does he want of me?

Doesn't he know
He'll be laughed at wherever he'll go?
And why I'm not laughing myself...
I don't know.

Why does he want the things he wants?
Why does he want these things?
Why does he batter at walls that won't break?
Why does he give when it's natural to take?
Where does he see all the good he can see,
And what does he want of me?
What does he want of me?

Is it madness to not see how you will be laughed at wherever you go? Is it madness to give when it’s natural to take? Finally Aldonza confronts Quixote and his response is the famous ‘Impossible Dream’ and it is here where a seed of his own madness is planted:

To dream ... the impossible dream ...
To fight ... the unbeatable foe ...
To bear ... with unbearable sorrow ...
To run ... where the brave dare not go ...
To right ... the unrightable wrong ...
To love ... pure and chaste from afar ...
To try ... when your arms are too weary ...
To reach ... the unreachable star ...

This is my quest, to follow that star ...
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far ...
To fight for the right, without question or pause ...
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause ...

And I know if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest,
That my heart will lie will lie peaceful and calm,
when I'm laid to my rest ...
And the world will be better for this:
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach ... the unreachable star ...

The story interchanges between Don Quixote’s fantastical world and the ‘real’ world of Cervantes imprisonment. One of the prisoners, known only as The Duke, has been imprisoned for treason, by selling lies to those “too stupid enough to believe it”. The Duke is the voice of harsh reality. He scoffs at the story of Don Quixote. After another prisoner is taken away to be ‘questioned’ by the Inquisition, the Duke turns his scorn to Cervantes.

The Duke: But do you see Cervantes, there is a difference between reality and delusion and the difference between these prisoners and your men of lunacy?

Cervantes: I would say, rather, men whose illusions were very real.

The Duke: Well that’s the same thing isn’t it, really? Why are you poets so fascinated with madmen?

Cervantes: We have much in common.

The Duke: You both turn your backs on life.

Cervantes: We both select from life.

The Duke: A man has to come to terms with life as it is.

Cervantes: Life as it is. I have lived for over 40 years and I have seen ‘life as it is’. Pain. Misery. Cruelty beyond belief. I have heard all the voices of God’s noblest creature moan from bundles of filth in the street. I’ve been a soldier, and a slave. I’ve seen my comrades fall in battle or die more slowly under the lash in Africa. I’ve held them at the last moment.
These were men who saw ‘life as it is’. But they died despairing. No Glory. No brave last words. Only in their eyes, filled with confusion, questioning “why?”. I do not think they were asking why they were dying, but why they had ever lived.
When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness, to surrender dreams – this may be madness. To seek treasure where there is only trash – to much sanity may be madness!
And maddest of all, to see ‘life as it is’ and not as it should be.

Yet there is a dangerous side to Quixote’s madness. Together with the help of Sancho and Aldonza (who sides with the knight-errant), they defeat a band of muleteers. But Quixote announces that his foes must now be tended to, for that is what chivalry calls for. Aldonza agrees to dress the wounds herself. After Quixote takes his leave, Aldonza is beaten and raped by the gang of muleteers. A terrible price for conversion. A terrible price, for another’s madness.

One must decide for themselves if the ending is tragedy or success. If it is madness or sanity. Quixote is ambushed by his niece’s fiancée pretending to be the Enchanter. He and his small band have huge mirrored shields. Quixote is forced to see himself ‘as he really is’ through his reflection in several mirrors. The sun, the light, is blinding.

When we see him again, his in bed, now an old man and dying. Don Quioxote is dead. His adventures nothing more than an odd dream. Everyone is pleased that the old man has come back to his ‘senses’, with the exception of Sancho who greatly misses their misadventures. It is only when Aldonza forces herself into his bedchamber and helps the old man remember the words to the Impossible Dream. Slowly, Quixote is resurrected and sings full-throated the Impossible Dream.

But his time has come, and the old man dies in mid-song as Don Quixote, Man of La Mancha. Is this tragedy? Is it a loss that he recovered from reality back into madness only to die? Perhaps it is Aldonza who answers this question best. Sancho calls her by name, but Aldonza corrects him: “Call me Dulcinea”.

It is easy to see the many similarities this story has with the story of Jesus. Death and Resurrection; salvation for his followers (Aldonza and Sancho); The Impossible Dream can be seen as Quixote’s Sermon on the Mount.

Whatever you believe madness to be, I think the world could use more of Don Quixote’s brand of madness.

(There is a movie version of the play made in 1962 starring Peter O’Toole and Sophia Lauren. Although some changes were made, it is still very good. Personally, I don’t think you can beat the live performances of the play.)

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PostSubject: Re: Wonderful Madness of Don Quixote   Thu Jun 25, 2009 5:50 am

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"He who fights monsters should see to it that in the process, he does not become a monster. And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you." - Nietzche
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PostSubject: Re: Wonderful Madness of Don Quixote   Thu Jun 25, 2009 11:07 pm


Did you write that? It is absolutely terrific. I love Don Quixote- one of the best literary masterpeices out there and so full of symbolism and meaning. It does beg the question is reality really better? and what is reality, really?

I was hoping you would jump into the "Calling all Aetheists" discussion- it is turning out to be quite fascinating...
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