By Chapter XXIV in Part I, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza have endured – among other ignominies – ridicule, blanket-bouncing, grievous injuries, and “the tempest of stones” (p. 172) with which the galley slaves repay their freedom. Despite the measured (or, as some have suggested, darker) opening of Part II, however, this week’s reading shows the hapless heroes of our tale the faces of success, abundance, and even a degree of respect. Once he has handily dispatched Bachelor Sansón Carrasco*, Don Quixote encounters the Knight of the Green Coat (also known as Don Diego de Miranda), who, following the adventure of the lions, invites the newly renamed Knight of the Lions to his home. In this “castle,” Don Quixote and Sancho Panza enjoy such food, conversation, company, and bounty as to render this encounter a perfect inverse of their experiences at the inn in Part I.

To his son, Don Diego confides, “I can only say that I have seen him do things worthy of the greatest madman in the world, and heard him say things so intelligent that they wipe out and undo his mad acts” (p. 569), an observation that rightly describes the waffling this reader experiences when contemplating Cervantes’ intent. Following his lengthy discussion with the Knight of the Lions, Don Lorenzo is as puzzled as his father. “Once again the father and son were astonished by the mixed speech of Don Quixote, sometimes intelligent and sometimes utterly foolish, and by the persistence and perseverance of his complete devotion to the search for his misadventurous adventures, which were the object and goal of all his desires” (p. 575).

Not long after their departure from Don Diego’s home, Don Quixote and Sancho Panzo meet the licentiate and Cochuelo and learn about yet another besotted shepherd. (Pastoral alert!) The fair (of course!) Quiteria, object of Basilio’s affections, is about to marry the much wealthier Camacho, and thus our knight and squire find themselves guests in the second generous and abundant setting of Part II. With nary an interpolated novel, miscreant (here’s looking at you, Don Fernando), or mistreated woman in sight, a ruse works, Don Quixote brandishes his lance, love prevails, and, contrary to Sancho’s gloomy grousing, the abundance continues in a third location.

What book is this? Following the remarkably benign (Arthurian-inspired?) dive into the cave, that was my chief question. What am I reading? And why does the relative success of these several “misadventurous adventures” worry me – in fact, fill me with foreboding? “All things are possible,” Don Quixote tells us on page 559, but we already know – spoiler alert – the hero dies. Will his successes, such as they are, continue, or will Carrasco end them?

Other notes and marginalia

“Señor, sorrows were not made for animals but for men; but if men feel them too much, they turn into animals; your grace should restrain yourself….” (p. 521)

“[T]here is more rashness than courage in a single man attacking an army that has Death in it, and emperors fighting in person, and the help of good and bad angels….” (p. 525)

“Every day, Sancho,” said Don Quixote, “you are becoming less simple and more intelligent.” (p. 527)

“I tell you, Sancho, with your natural wit and intelligence, you could mount a pulpit and go around preaching some very nice things.” (p. 590)

The sagacity of “good Sancho, wise Sancho, Christian Sancho, sincere Sancho” (p. 526) continues to grow – perhaps because the knight’s “conversation has been the manure that has fallen on the barren soil of [Sancho’s] dry wits” (p. 528). Or perhaps because the inversions at work here are not only in the knight’s fortune?

“[S]ince I am a devil, all things are within my grasp.” (p. 523)

The scenes featuring the cart of actors put me in mind of the Player and the Tragedians in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

“I love him with all my heart and couldn’t leave him no matter how many crazy things he does.” (p. 536)

Watson and Wilson could intone the same of Holmes and House, no? I was reminded of these dynamic pairings again on page 570, when Don Quixote described the “science” of knight errantry, a science that shares some characteristics with the art of detection.

“Certainly, Señor Sansón Carrasco, we’ve gotten what we deserved: it’s easy enough to think up and begin an enterprise, but most of the time it’s hard to end it. Don Quixote’s crazy, we’re sane, and he walks away healthy and laughing, while your grace is bruised and sad.” (p. 549)


“…I shall recount to you some of what I have seen down there, which will make you believe what have recounted here, whose truth admits neither argument nor dispute.” (p. 614)

And, yes, I remain fascinated by the uses and definitions of “true” and “truth” in this work.


* Are you a Parks and Recreation fan? For some reason, from the moment of Carrasco’s introduction in Part II, I was reminded of Justin Anderson, about whom Ron wisely observes, “He’s a tourist. He vacations in people’s lives, takes pictures, puts them in his scrapbook, and moves on. All he’s interested in are stories. Basically, Leslie, he’s selfish, and you’re not, and that’s why you don’t like him.”

New books, a play, and some music

A couple of new books.

Over the weekend, we saw The Comedy of Errors, the last production Barbara Gaines will direct as artistic director of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. (Reviews here and here.) For the record, we didn’t mind the framing device, at all. Errors is a fairly ridiculous play; the frame gave it the support most contemporary audiences require. We also heard a short concert given by a small ensemble of Elgin Symphony Orchestra members — really delightful.

Pages remaining in journey: 364


“As for your grace’s valor, courtesy, deeds, and undertakings,” Sancho continued, “there are different opinions. Some say, ‘Crazy, but amusing’; others, ‘Brave, but unfortunate’; and others, ‘Courteous, but insolent’; and they go on and on so much in this vein that they don’t leave an untouched bone in your grace’s body or mine” (p. 472).

It sounds as if Sancho has overheard a few book discussions, doesn’t it?

Earlier this week, one of my reading groups finished Crime and Punishment. Despite ten weeks of engaged reading and discussion, we failed to build consensus around any single idea about the philosophy and/or psychology of Raskolnikov. Might he be a psychopath or, at the very least, disturbed? Did the extremities of hunger and poverty inform his disordered thinking? Do his thought patterns simply underscore the limits of nihilism? Some combination of all of this? None of this? In our eighth meeting, I posited that the compulsion to pin a character to a specimen tray and label each of his acts (or, as Sancho might say, bones) might represent a contemporary tendency, one fueled by popular psychology, legal dramas, and the assumption that everything we do can be ascribed a concrete motive and, by extension, a value judgment: He did [insert act] because [insert motive], and that is [insert moral value]. After all, I suggested, sometimes thoughts and acts follow no discernible logic. Shakespeare gives us a fabulous example of this in The Winter’s Tale. Leontes’ jealous rage occurs in one short speech after his departing friend acquiesces to the queen’s entreaties that he, the friend, remain — for her husband’s sake! Leontes’ inexplicable madness results in the deaths of his son and a courtier, as well as the apparent deaths of his newborn and his wife. In a move that can confound readers, audiences, actors, and directors, Shakespeare provides no explanation for Leontes’ unbridled jealousy. Nothing in the text points to a motive. Rather, the writer seems to say, Some people are like this; here is a story about one. And it works! Why? Because more often than anyone would like to admit, what we say, do, and believe defies both logic and diagnosis.

I reread The Winter’s Tale following that meeting and was struck again by how inessential Leontes’ motive is to the plot. In Shakespeare’s blend of tragedy (the first three acts, the fall of the king), comedy (the fourth act, the pastoral involving the shepherdess and the prince), and history (the fifth act, the kingdom in need of an heir), the why of Leontes’ behavior proves far less critical to the play than the fallout of that behavior. Similarly, the why of Raskolnikov’s behavior – in this reader’s opinion, anyway – proves far less critical to Crime and Punishment than the fallout of that behavior. Like Shakespeare, Dostoevsky refrains from defining a motive for the main character’s action. Yes, he draws readers into Raskolnikov’s head; in fact, many early paragraphs read like soliloquies; but the novel seems rooted in the effects of Raskolnikov’s act, on him and on the characters with whom he interacts. It is not, then, a story about why Raskolnikov kills, any more than The Winter’s Tale is a story about why Leontes spirals out of control. Crime and Punishment concerns what occurs in the aftermath of a brutal act.

Of course, because I am also reading Don Quixote, I have found myself wondering about the Knight of the Sorrowful Face. “[T]he common people think your grace is a madman, and that I’m just as great a simpleton” (p. 471), Sancho informs Don Quixote. The gentry suggest he has overstepped his bounds, and other knights want nothing to do with him. Crazy, amusing; brave, unfortunate; courteous, insolent. Maybe the compulsion to pin a character to a specimen tray and label each of his bones is not as contemporary as I thought, eh? Increasingly, however, I find myself drawn to the idea that we need to keep this character far, far away from tray and pins.

A participant in the tutorial has noted that some of us have been “cheating” on Don Quixote and wondered how that has affected our experience of other novels. I loved the use of “cheating” because I often refer to myself as a recklessly and unapologetically promiscuous reader, one who will leave books partially read to pursue others, only to return to books begun well before any of those, all with the cologne of new books clinging to my sweater. Seriously, though, it is not so much that I have been cheating on Don Quixote but rather that I have added Cervantes to a conversation occurring in one of the rooms of my imagination. While participating in the tutorial, I have also completed two courses on one of my favorite works of fiction, Moby-Dick, a short course on The Odyssey, and the reading group for Crime and Punishment. That puts Melville, Homer, Cervantes, Dostoevsky, and Shakespeare in the same mental living room; imagine my delight! Although I am still working out Dostoevsky’s relationship to the other writers, it is clear that Melville is indebted to both Cervantes and Shakespeare, and that these three have a running tab with the oral tradition that yielded the Homeric epics. In anticipation of another course, I began rereading Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, which begins, “Call me Jonah.” With that nod to Melville, Vonnegut entered the living room. (Speaking of Melville and specimen trays, has anyone yet satisfactorily explained Ahab? Of course not, although CLR James makes some insightful, if dated, points about who Ahab may have become to the collective American imagination.) These authors have a lot to talk about, and I am listening.

The other books I am reading have not been enveloped by Don Quixote; nor the reverse. Rather, each of the books amplifies the others.

“…I give you 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).
Spoiler alert, right? Since January 2022, I have participated in one discussion group and two courses on Moby- Dick, and in each, participants were upset when the conclusion was referenced. And our Crime and Punishment group agreed to avoid spoilers, although privately I argued that the title is as much a spoiler as this quote from Don Quixote.

“…I only devote myself to making the world understand its error in not restoring that happiest of times when the order of knight errantry was in flower” (p. 464).
Don Quixote has a vision board.

“It seems to me,” said Don Quixote, “there is no human history in the world that does not have its ups and downs, especially those that deal with chivalry; they cannot be filled with nothing but successful exploits” (p. 476).
Given my reflection above, you will understand how the idea of Don Quixote saying this to Leontes or Ahab simply cracked me up.

“To say witty things and to write cleverly requires great intelligence: the most perceptive character in a play is the fool, because the man who wishes to seem simple cannot possibly be a simpleton. History is like a sacred thing; it must be truthful, and wherever truth is, there God is; but despite this, there are some who write and toss off books as if they were fritters” (p. 478).
Elsewhere, while discussing Moby-Dick, I observed the parallels between Pip and Lear’s fool, which, naturally, ensured I added King Lear to my to-be-(re)read stack, but arriving at this passage, I wondered, Does Don Quixote have a fool? If so, is it Sancho? Or is the Knight of the Sorrowful Face the author’s fool? (And, yes, there is truth, my readerly kryptonite.)

Reading notes

☙ The program with which I was planning to reread several Vonnegut novels didn’t work out for me, but I am rereading Cat’s Cradle, anyway, and finishing the Shields’ bio.

☙ The topic of the Catherine Project‘s spring seminar is Joyce’s “The Dead,” a story which grows more beautifully profound with each rereading.

☙ The University of Chicago Graham School course on Moby Dick concluded today.

☙ The APS Together reading of The Betrothed has arrived at Day Seventeen, Chapter 11.

☙ Both Birnam Wood and I Have Some Questions for You are among my recent acquisitions. I am having some trouble putting Questions down. (Reviews here and here.)


In which I finish reading Part I

Part I comprises seven key narratives:

  • the pastoral concerning Marcela’s refusal of Grisóstomo 
  • Cardenio’s story (Cardenio and Luscinda)
  • Dorotea’s story (Dorotea and Don Fernando)
  • the novella (The Man Who Was Recklessly Curious)
  • the captive’s story (Captain Viedma and Zoraida)
  • Doña Clara’s story (Doña Clara and Don Luis)
  • the pastoral concerning Leandra’s refusal of Eugenio and his rival, Anselmo 

Over the last few weeks, I have tried to discern the structure of this novel – no easy task for me, on this, my first encounter with the text. In my last Don Quixote post, though, I did note, “Whatever Cervantes is telling us about storytelling, he intends for us to notice how he positions narrators and listeners in the book’s nested narratives.” (Emphasis added.) And, as it turns out, the structure can be described as a nest:

Pastoral – Romance – Romance – Curious – Romance – Romance – Pastoral

Another way to visualize the structure:

P – R1 – R2 – C – R2 – R1 – P

I sketched my idea on a whiteboard before reducing it to the formula above and immediately identified some (admittedly superficial) similarities between the Ps. Both are narrated by animal tenders (shepherds, a goatherd), for example, and both concern a woman’s virtue or chastity. Marcela clearly possesses more agency than Leandra, though – a difference. And subtle differences exist between the R1s, too; for example, how are the plights of Cardenio and Luis alike? After identifying a similarity in Dorotea’s social situation to Don Fernando and the captive’s to Zoraida (R2s), I set my marker down and turned to the computer. Before yielding to the temptation to type my idea in JSTOR’s search bar, though, I gave myself credit for noticing that Cervantes employs symmetry in the knight’s undergirding (or enveloping) narrative. Consider, for example, that it opens and closes with scenes of Don Quixote in his home and that he encounters friars as he sets out for the second time and penitents as he returns home. More, the knight’s story is framed by the discovered history, as well as verses.

My idea about the structure merited research, if for no other reason than to satisfy a good hunch that others had already mined this territory far more thoroughly and thoughtfully. It did not take long to locate articles exploring the symmetrical structure of the novel. Here are two:

“Structural Symmetry in the Episodic Narratives of Don Quijote, Part One” by Raymond Immerwahr. Comparative Literature, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Spring, 1958), pp. 121-135 (15 pages). Published By: Duke University Press.

“Narrative Framing and the Structure of “Don Quijote” Part I” by Jeremy T. Medina. Confluencia, Vol. 14, No. 2 (SPRING 1999), pp. 165-175 (11 pages). Published By: Colorado State University.

Quick takeaways: Immerwahr discusses the mirroring aspect of the symmetrical structure, including a compelling idea about Don Quixote’s relationship to The Man Who Was Recklessly Curious. Medina considers the novel’s frames within frames (plus he includes a diagram of the structure; see page 169).

I will close with a passage that I marked from this week’s reading (p. 444):

“[I]t’s a fine thing to be out looking for things to happen, crossing mountains, searching forests, climbing peaks, visiting castles, and staying in inns whenever you please and not paying a devil’s maravedí for anything.”

Indeed, Sancho. Indeed.

Recent acquisitions

Last night, my goals for the evening included writing about Don Quixote, reading about Pompeii, outlining Chapter Five of SPQR, and reviewing my Latin vocabulary. What did I actually accomplish? I watched The Lego Movie (because it came up in a discussion with my younger daughter yesterday), shelved new arrivals (pictured above), spent some time gazing at the night sky, outlined Chapter Five of SPQR, and marked up two academic articles on the topic of narrative structure in Don Quixote. Meh; not bad.

A few more new books

The only thing that went according to plan today was the Don Quixote tutorial, and I was actually a few minutes late to that. Now the day is nearly over, but apart from the tutorial, a decent lunch, and a much needed nap, I haven’t much to show for it. Time for a walk, I think. A speck of sun. A talk with the neighborhood crows. A bit of movement. Then I will settle in for some reading.

Six weeks and 398 pages in

My image of detail from Salvador Dalí’s Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach (1938).

Unsurprisingly, the story of Cardenio’s madness concludes when he is reunited with Luscinda, and Fernando is persuaded by Dorotea: “You have conquered, O beautiful Dorotea, you have conquered because I do not have the heart to deny so many truths spoken together” (p. 318; and there it is again, truth – my literary kryptonite). Tender feeling, undeniable signs of love and repentance, and several pages later, Don Fernando displays “great love and courtesy” (p. 320) to Cardenio and Luscinda, who have knelt before him. Yes, apparently all’s well that ends well in this story that bears a remarkable resemblance to Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which, according to Professor Michael Delahoyde, makes sense:

The closest source of [The Two Gentlemen of Verona] seems to be Diana Enamorada, written in Spanish by the Portuguese Jorge de Montemayor in 1542 but not translated into English until 1598 (Asimov 465). The Felix and Felismena story had other incarnations, such as Felix and Philiomena (1585) and in Part I of Don Quixote in which the Valentine character is named Cardenio (Barton 178). The friendship theme, or friendship vs. love, could be found in the Palamon and Arcite stories, and perhaps Damon and Pithias (credited to Richard Edwards in 1565) was an influence (Barton 178). 

For two weeks, though, I have been trying to recall where else I have encountered the material in the first interpolated novel. It was only by chance that I finally stumbled on a reading note from 2016. In April of that year, we attended the Shakespeare Project of Chicago’s staged reading of Stephen Greenblatt and Charles Mee’s Cardenioafter which I noted that only the Project’s excellence made the tedious work watchable. Although I may be drifting dangerously far from Don Quixote, I must share my favorite bit from the reading of Cardenio, spoken by the much maligned Doris:

To be honest, I’ve never understood
Why I shouldn’t tell the truth.
I mean the assumption that this is beneficial to the world,
to be nice, to be pleasant,
is just unproven.

[Is she suddenly close to tears?]

Difficult people are always the ones who advance civilization.

To be honest, I’ve never understood / Why I shouldn’t tell the truth. Yes, I am circling back to truth and storytelling, and I know I am not the only one who is struck by the following moment in this week’s reading: “[T]hey wanted the story to last longer; such was the charm with which Dorotea recounted her misfortunes” (p. 320). That such “complex and desperate affairs” (p. 321) resolve so readily into a charming story (narrated by one of that story’s victims!) boggles the mind – even one that has already suspended disbelief. Later, the priest recounts for Don Fernando and company the madness of Don Quixote, which provokes laughter and the observation that “it was the strangest kind of madness that ever affected an irrational mind” (p. 323). In the margins, I shouted, What?!?! Stranger, madder, more irrational than the story they just lived?!?!? (In the margins, one may indulge in frantic punctuation.) This is followed by a second interpolated novel (concerning the captive and Zoraida), which, however quickly, happily, and improbably resolved, shifts our focus, once again, away from the titular character. Whatever Cervantes is telling us about storytelling, he intends for us to notice how he positions narrators and listeners in the book’s nested narratives.

Speaking of nested narratives, in anticipation of attending the preview of “Salvador Dalí: The Image Disappears,” I recently read three short biographies of the artist and reviewed several books of his art. Of course, nothing compares to seeing paintings like Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach (1938) or, one of my favorites, Inventions of the Monsters (1937) in person. On Friday, as I jockeyed for ever closer positions to the works, I paused periodically to focus on what I could see from the intermediate distances. After all, the dog in Apparition is most apparent when you stand back; the burning giraffe in Monsters, when you lean in. Oh, I thought, what a collection of stories, dreams, nightmares, and visions Dalí’s work comprises! In one of those moments of synthesis that shape the reading and thinking life, I was reminded that discerning the many narratives at play in his paintings (in many works of art, period) is dependent on the viewer’s perspective. Our attempts to resolve or make sense of the narratives in a Dalí painting require that we see the work from multiple angles. Where I stand shapes which story I see, as well as my impressions of that story. By extension, then, I might posit that with Don Quixote, Cervantes not only reimagines how a novel can be structured (I am currently envisioning a nesting doll or onion) but also slyly critiques our relationship to stories. So much depends on, among other things, who is narrating and where the listeners are positioned in a narrative (to say nothing of the listeners’ prejudices and limitations; yes, I am looking at you, good priest and barber).

Two more notes:

(1) The Homer reference at the conclusion of Chapter XXXVII, in which Don Quixote describes academics as passing “through these shoals, these Scyllas and Charybdises” (p. 330), delighted me.

(2) You will find more about Greenblatt and his work on Cardenio here

Recent acquisitions

A.E. Stallings is a former student of my Latin tutor; he recommended her work to his students in an email earlier this year. (In a neat readerly intersection, her work is mentioned in Will Buckingham’s Hello, Stranger, which I recently read for an author-led class with the Premise Institute.) Journalism major explains Bernstein; algorithm explains Millet. And I heard an interview with O’Connor on NPR.