“[T]here is very little difference between a man who is sleeping and a man who is dead….”

If Don Quixote truly regains his sanity (as opposed to, say, capitulating to the machinations of those around him), has it anything to do with the fact that in succumbing to his exhaustion and illness, he finally sleeps? Yes, this is fiction, but if we are still, quixotically, seeking the reason for his madness, perhaps the chief clue appears on page 21: “In short our gentleman became so caught up in reading that he spent his nights reading from dusk till dawn and his days reading from sunrise to sunset, and so with too little sleep and too much reading his brains dried up causing him to lose his mind” (emphasis added). Over the course of the novel, Don Quixote continues to spend little time sleeping. Even when he is abed nursing wounds, he frets, he dwells, he thinks and rethinks. An obsession with chivalric romances may not be healthy, but contemporary readers know that the perils of sleep-deficiency include deleterious physical, psychological, and neurological effects. Perhaps Cervantes knew, too. In this week’s reading, at the beginning of Chapter LXX, Sancho knows his sleep will be disturbed if he shares a room with his agitated master. Sure enough, once they have retired, the knight plies him with questions about “the strangest and most remarkable event to befall Don Quixote in the entire course of this great history” (p. 907). Before that, Chapter LXVIII opens with the observation that Don Quixote’s first sleep never yields to his second, “unlike Sancho, who never had a second sleep because his sleep lasted from nightfall until morning, proving he had a strong constitution and few cares” (p. 902). Later Sancho says:

“I only understand that while I’m sleeping I have no fear, or hope, or trouble, or glory; blessed be whoever invented sleep, the mantle that covers all human thought, the food that satisfies hunger, the water that quenches thirst, the fire that warms the cold, the cold that cools down ardor, and, finally, the general coin with which all things are bought, the scale and balance that make the shepherd equal to the king, and the simple man equal to the wise. There is only one defect in sleep, or so I’ve heard, and it is that it resembles death, for there is very little difference between a man who is sleeping and a man who is dead” (p. 903; emphasis added).

As the novel hurtles toward its inevitable conclusion, the melancholic, low-spirited knight returns to his village and home and finally sleeps “more than six hours at a stretch, as they say, so long that his housekeeper and his niece thought he would never open his eyes again” (p. 935). When he awakens, his “judgment is restored, free and clear of the dark shadows of ignorance imposed on it by [his] grievous and constant reading of detestable books of chivalry” (p. 935).

At the beginning of Part II, we are presented with “a Don Quixote who is, at the end, dead and buried, so that no one will dare tell more tales about him, for the ones told in the past are enough” (p. 458), so passages such as, “‘There is a remedy for everything but death,’ responded Don Quixote” (p. 884), and the verses the knight sings “to the sound of his own sighs” (p. 905) do not foreshadow so much as remind us – emphatically –that we already know how this will end.* Restored to himself by sleep, Alonso Quixano the Good renounces his obsession and calls his friends and family to his side. And in the end, the hasty and heavily foreshadowed death leaves this reader dissatisfied. I’m with Sancho: “[T]he greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy” (p. 937).


On page 876: “Sancho’s wingless flight” mirrors the ignominy of the blanket-bouncing incident. Had time permitted, I would have recorded more of the symmetries and similarities that the structures of the novel’s two parts share. 

On page 889: “‘Oh, Señor,’ said Don Antonio, ‘may God forgive you for the harm you have done to the entire world in wishing to restore the sanity of the most amusing madman in it! Don’t you see, Señor, that the benefit caused by the insanity of Don Quixote cannot be as great as the pleasure produced by his madness?’” I would add, restoration of his sanity apparently means death.

On the same page I couldn’t help but mark “this true history.” Over the course of these fourteen weeks, I have not resolved what, precisely, we are to make of the repetition of “true” and “truth.”


* Because I read the work in translation, I am uncertain if the brilliant pun that concludes the song is intentional: “Mine is a novel state: I go on living, and constantly die.” Just. Brilliant.

One thought on ““[T]here is very little difference between a man who is sleeping and a man who is dead….”

  1. Loved it.
    That is what I think of it
    This is a thought-provoking and well-written analysis of Don Quixote’s journey to regain his sanity through the restful embrace of sleep.
    Thanks, Ely

    Liked by 1 person

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