Don Quixote pays homage and pays out satire to the chivalric tradition of the Knights of the Round Table of Arthurian legend, for example in his explanation of the illustrious heritage of Arthur and Lancelot at page 87
. Sir Lancelot, raised by the Lady of the Lake, is the flower of chivalry, and the tales of his adventures form a core of the narrative history of Europe. Knights in armor were a throwback to the Dark Ages in Cervantes' time. Don Quixote represents the imaginative idea of how a chivalric hero would survive in the modern world. His joust with the windmill indicates the futility of chivalry against the remorseless machinery of modern power. The gap between his vision of a long ago golden age of perfection contrasted to a modern world of iron has, if anything, widened since the seventeenth century.
One of my favourite books from childhood is a collection of stories of Lancelot. Guinevere, the Black Knight, the dragon, Sir Galahad, Sir Kaye, King Arthur, Elaine, Merlin, Mordred and Morgana la Fay are among the characters. A device that Cervantes borrows from the chivalry genre is the pretence that the events described in the story actually happened. This greatly heightens the narrative intensity of chivalric tales, but for Don Quixote it is absurd and plainly fictional. Cervantes is among the first of the modern absurdists, laughing at the attempts at rationalisation in traditional romance and courtly tales. By laughing at Don Quixote, Cervantes invites us to laugh at Lancelot and all the panoply of chivalry. Don Quixote protests that he is a faithful Catholic, and one imagines that Cervantes was saying that the absurdity of Don Quixote reflects the larger absurdity of Christian belief that old stories were historically true. We readily see that Quixote is pure invention. The stories of Geoffrey of Monmouth
and Lancelot of the Lake
are artfully told to convey plausibility, an art that is the object of Cervantes' satire.