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Chinese Whispers in Don Quixote 
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Post Chinese Whispers in Don Quixote
Further to the theme that Don Quixote is an atheist attack on religion, the episode of the Love Letter written by Don Quixote to Dulcinea Del Toboso illustrates Cervantes' mockery of all religious language. I recommend reading Grossman's translation which is far more accessible, but set out the older translation here for ease of reference.

In Chapter 26, DQ dictates the following to Sancho Panza
Quote:
"DON QUIXOTE'S LETTER TO DULCINEA DEL TOBOSO

"Sovereign and exalted Lady,- The pierced by the point of absence, the wounded to the heart's core, sends thee, sweetest Dulcinea del Toboso, the health that he himself enjoys not. If thy beauty despises me, if thy worth is not for me, if thy scorn is my affliction, though I be sufficiently long-suffering, hardly shall I endure this anxiety, which, besides being oppressive, is protracted. My good squire Sancho will relate to thee in full, fair ingrate, dear enemy, the condition to which I am reduced on thy account: if it be thy pleasure to give me relief, I am thine; if not, do as may be pleasing to thee; for by ending my life I shall satisfy thy cruelty and my desire.

"Thine till death,

"The Knight of the Rueful Countenance."
After writing the letter (and forgetting to give it to Sancho) Don Quixote does several somersaults with no pants on, imitating (and mocking) the famous chivalric tale of the madness of Lancelot. Sancho, in a comedy of errors, conveys the intent as follows when he meets the priest and barber:
Quote:
Sancho explained that his master is engaged very much to his taste doing penance in the midst of these mountains; and then, offhand and without stopping, he told them how he had left him, what adventures had befallen him, and how he was carrying a letter to the lady Dulcinea del Toboso, the daughter of Lorenzo Corchuelo, with whom he was over head and ears in love. They were both amazed at what Sancho Panza told them; for though they were aware of Don Quixote's madness and the nature of it, each time they heard of it they were filled with fresh wonder. They then asked Sancho Panza to show them the letter he was carrying to the lady Dulcinea del Toboso. He said it was written in a note-book, and that his master's directions were that he should have it copied on paper at the first village he came to. On this the curate said if he showed it to him, he himself would make a fair copy of it. Sancho put his hand into his bosom in search of the note-book but could not find it, nor, if he had been searching until now, could he have found it, for Don Quixote had kept it, and had never given it to him, nor had he himself thought of asking for it. When Sancho discovered he could not find the book his face grew deadly pale, and in great haste he again felt his body all over, and seeing plainly it was not to be found, without more ado he seized his beard with both hands and plucked away half of it, and then, as quick as he could and without stopping, gave himself half a dozen cuffs on the face and nose till they were bathed in blood.

Seeing this, the curate and the barber asked him what had happened him that he gave himself such rough treatment.

"What should happen me?" replied Sancho, "but to have lost from one hand to the other, in a moment, three ass-colts, each of them like a castle?"

"How is that?" said the barber.

"I have lost the note-book," said Sancho, "that contained the letter to Dulcinea, and an order signed by my master in which he directed his niece to give me three ass-colts out of four or five he had at home;" and he then told them about the loss of Dapple.

The curate consoled him, telling him that when his master was found he would get him to renew the order, and make a fresh draft on paper, as was usual and customary; for those made in notebooks were never accepted or honoured.

Sancho comforted himself with this, and said if that were so the loss of Dulcinea's letter did not trouble him much, for he had it almost by heart, and it could be taken down from him wherever and whenever they liked.

"Repeat it then, Sancho," said the barber, "and we will write it down afterwards."

Sancho Panza stopped to scratch his head to bring back the letter to his memory, and balanced himself now on one foot, now the other, one moment staring at the ground, the next at the sky, and after having half gnawed off the end of a finger and kept them in suspense waiting for him to begin, he said, after a long pause, "By God, senor licentiate, devil a thing can I recollect of the letter; but it said at the beginning, 'Exalted and scrubbing Lady.'"

"It cannot have said 'scrubbing,'" said the barber, "but 'superhuman' or 'sovereign.'"

"That is it," said Sancho; "then, as well as I remember, it went on, 'The wounded, and wanting of sleep, and the pierced, kisses your worship's hands, ungrateful and very unrecognised fair one; and it said something or other about health and sickness that he was sending her; and from that it went tailing off until it ended with 'Yours till death, the Knight of the Rueful Countenance."

It gave them no little amusement, both of them, to see what a good memory Sancho had, and they complimented him greatly upon it, and begged him to repeat the letter a couple of times more, so that they too might get it by heart to write it out by-and-by. Sancho repeated it three times, and as he did, uttered three thousand more absurdities;
On returning to the master of errancy, Sancho gives the following account of his reading of the letter
Quote:
Don Quixote continued his conversation with Sancho, saying:

"Friend Panza, let us forgive and forget as to our quarrels, and tell me now, dismissing anger and irritation, where, how, and when didst thou find Dulcinea? What was she doing? What didst thou say to her? What did she answer? How did she look when she was reading my letter? Who copied it out for thee? and everything in the matter that seems to thee worth knowing, asking, and learning; neither adding nor falsifying to give me pleasure, nor yet curtailing lest you should deprive me of it."

"Senor," replied Sancho, "if the truth is to be told, nobody copied out the letter for me, for I carried no letter at all."

"It is as thou sayest," said Don Quixote, "for the note-book in which I wrote it I found in my own possession two days after thy departure, which gave me very great vexation, as I knew not what thou wouldst do on finding thyself without any letter; and I made sure thou wouldst return from the place where thou didst first miss it."

"So I should have done," said Sancho, "if I had not got it by heart when your worship read it to me, so that I repeated it to a sacristan, who copied it out for me from hearing it, so exactly that he said in all the days of his life, though he had read many a letter of excommunication, he had never seen or read so pretty a letter as that."

"And hast thou got it still in thy memory, Sancho?" said Don Quixote.

"No, senor," replied Sancho, "for as soon as I had repeated it, seeing there was no further use for it, I set about forgetting it; and if I recollect any of it, it is that about 'Scrubbing, 'I mean to say 'Sovereign Lady,' and the end 'Yours till death, the Knight of the Rueful Countenance;' and between these two I put into it more than three hundred 'my souls' and 'my life's' and 'my eyes."

What is the point of this story? Cervantes is illustrating how easily stories are distorted in the re-telling. His surface target is the stories of chivalry. He expands elsewhere on the distortions that inevitably result between actual events of knight errantry in the legendary past and the ways those stories are subsequently told, while emphasising satirically that his account is 100% historically factual and true. This emphasis points to a deeper target, Christian faith, which the prevalent policies of the Inquisition made it unwise to question as less than 100% accurate. The reader is invited secretly to ask, if Sancho Panza can so contort a simple love letter, how may the evangelists have erred in setting down the deeds of Christ several generations after the fact, given their massive incentive to embroider whatever basis the tale of Christ may have had?



Sat Apr 10, 2010 7:39 am
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Post Re: Chinese Whispers in Don Quixote
Robert Tulip wrote:
No, senor," replied Sancho, "for as soon as I had repeated it, seeing there was no further use for it, I set about forgetting it; and if I recollect any of it, it is that about 'Scrubbing, 'I mean to say 'Sovereign Lady,' and the end 'Yours till death, the Knight of the Rueful Countenance;' and between these two I put into it more than three hundred 'my souls' and 'my life's' and 'my eyes.'"
What is the point of this story? Cervantes is illustrating how easily stories are distorted in the re-telling. His surface target is the stories of chivalry. He expands elsewhere on the distortions that inevitably result between actual events of knight errantry in the legendary past and the ways those stories are subsequently told, while emphasising satirically that his account is 100% historically factual and true. This emphasis points to a deeper target, Christian faith, which the prevalent policies of the Inquisition made it unwise to question as less than 100% accurate. The reader is invited secretly to ask, if Sancho Panza can so contort a simple love letter, how may the evangelists have erred in setting down the deeds of Christ several generations after the fact, given their massive incentive to embroider whatever basis the tale of Christ may have had?

Robert, there just ain't no way that this is what Cervantes is up to. Religion-laden imagery is part and parcel of the whole courtly love ethic.


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Last edited by DWill on Sat Apr 10, 2010 10:37 am, edited 2 times in total.



Sat Apr 10, 2010 10:36 am
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Post Re: Chinese Whispers in Don Quixote
I agree. I'm seeing less and less the attack on Christianity Robert has mentioned, and although I could see it in a few episodes at first, as in the book burning, it seems to me that Cervantes is only mocking chivalric tales, but still sees merit in Christian morals and rules of the time, and is obviously still very enamored with the romantic novels that he honors by including two irrelevant interpolated novels, and his characters applaud each of these stories, mimicking Cervantes' own feelings for them. I don't think he's as satirical as you want him to be, Robert, and although I appreciate your viewpoint, I can't see it at work for myself.



Sat Apr 10, 2010 2:27 pm
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Post Re: Chinese Whispers in Don Quixote
DWill wrote:
Religion-laden imagery is part and parcel of the whole courtly love ethic.


Yes, and Cervantes is lampooning the courtly love ethic, and by extension, Christianity. As noted at http://www-personal.umich.edu/~yousufh/donquixote.html Cervantes says “My sole aim has been to arouse men’s scorn for the false and absurd stories of knight-errantry”(1050).

But where does knight-errantry start and stop?

http://www.leithart.com/archives/000680.php says "Reviewing Edith Grossman's recent translation of Don Quixote for the Weekly Standard, Algis Valiunas notes that Cervantes' parody of chivalry contains within it some veiled assaults on Christianity. Valiunas' review is at http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/P ... v.asp?pg=2 and is well worth reading. It says (with emphasis added)
Quote:
Like Machiavelli in The Prince, Shakespeare in Richard III, and Francis Bacon in The New Organon, Cervantes plays seriously with the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Don Quixote expects every tradesman to practice charity toward him, out of courteous regard for his profession; he places his hope in the love of Dulcinea, even before he has ever seen her; his faith lies in force of arms and a heroic destiny inscribed among the stars. This mad faith in his nonexistent prowess and misdirected virtue assails his own considerable Christian faith, quite literally: Mistaking a procession of penitents bearing a draped image of the blessed Virgin for a gang of evildoers abducting a gracious lady, he draws his sword on the priests and peasants, and of course gets a drubbing for his trouble.

This episode might seem to indicate that Cervantes is as ardent a defender of the One True Faith as he is a detractor of the don's aberrant faith in martial nerve and chaste eroticism. Yet in destroying the fancies of chivalric romance stories, Cervantes simultaneously mounts a sneak attack on Christianity itself, chipping subtly away at the faith based on yet another book--The Book. Indeed, Don Quixote insists on the literal truth of the Bible with the same force that he insists on the literal truth of the knightly adventures of romance literature. People disagree on whether giants ever walked the earth, he states, but Holy Scripture, "which cannot deviate an iota from the truth," proves they did, in the story of Goliath. It is the sort of testimonial designed to make a Christian cringe.

SIMILARLY, there is Cervantes's sympathetic treatment of Islam. There are Muslims good as any Christians in this book--though the best of these Muslims are converts to or friends of Christianity--and their official persecution in Spain is presented as a dire human tragedy. That is not to say that Islam holds the truth that Christianity does not. Early in the novel, after Don Quixote has been pulped by a muledriver he crossed, he consoles himself by recalling a ballad about Valdovinos, "a history known to children, acknowledged by youths, celebrated, and even believed by the old, and, despite all this, no truer than the miracles of Mohammed."

This dismissal of the Koran acquires its full destructive significance only much later, when Don Quixote asserts the inviolable truth of the famous stories that he says everyone believes, but which the reader knows to be fictional. Cervantes leaves no orthodox religious hope untouched, and he operates with the cunning discretion of Machiavelli or Bacon, bold in what he discloses but far bolder in what he conceals. A definite chill underlies the warm geniality of Don Quixote; it is the breath of icy reason, threatening to blow the doors off revealed religion and the entire medieval world.



Sat Apr 10, 2010 4:07 pm
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Post Re: Chinese Whispers in Don Quixote
In looking at this question throughout the novel, I hope we can agree that textual evidence is the only way of perhaps answering it. What we might feel should be true in view of what was happening in Cervantes' Spain, or in view of our judgment of Christian beliefs, has no necessary bearing on this text. We have to refer to the story. We also need to be especially careful in playing the irony card, as the ease with which this can be done ("he obviously means the opposite") is a red flag.

Robert, what did you think of The Captive's Tale? This is a story that contains much of Cervantes' own observations and perhaps experience. He was a captive in Algiers for 5 years. How would you characterize his view of Christians vs. Muslims in the story? The reviewer whom you quoted wants us to believe that Cervantes saw moral equivalence between Christians and Muslims. Could he really have concluded that by reading this tale, in which the moral table is steeply tilted towards the Christians? The word "Christian" must be used several hundred times in the tale, and never in a less than laudatory sense. One character, a renegade Christian, goes to Granada "to be reconciled to the bosom of Mother Church by means of the Holy Inquisition" (p. 380, J. M. Cohen translation). The heroine Zoraida of course converts to Christianity in the end, having long been in secret a Christian.

Whether or not Cervantes was cynical about the Christian faith or the Catholic Church, there doesn't so far appear to be evidence of it in the book.

Unrelated to this matter, I get the impression that Cervantes includes these tales partly out of a wish to give his readers something high-minded and serious, as if to counteract the parody and comic foolishness of his two main characters. Maybe he thought that these much less entertaining tales would be the lasting part of his work. If so, he was dead wrong.


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Sun Apr 11, 2010 9:08 pm
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Post Re: Chinese Whispers in Don Quixote
DWill wrote:
In looking at this question throughout the novel, I hope we can agree that textual evidence is the only way of perhaps answering it. What we might feel should be true in view of what was happening in Cervantes' Spain, or in view of our judgment of Christian beliefs, has no necessary bearing on this text. We have to refer to the story.
“This question” is whether Cervantes is mocking Christian faith, including through his use of “Chinese Whispers”, which is the observation that stories change in the re-telling. I’m not sure how the story can be separated from its context. The status of Don Quixote as among the greatest classic novels derives precisely from its contextual meaning, primarily its subtle satirical mockery of Spanish society of Cervantes’ day.
Quote:
We also need to be especially careful in playing the irony card, as the ease with which this can be done ("he obviously means the opposite") is a red flag.
The example I gave above is a good case in point. Valiunas notes that Don Quixote insists on the literal truth of the Bible with the same force that he insists on the literal truth of the knightly adventures of romance literature. People disagree on whether giants ever walked the earth, he states, but Holy Scripture, "which cannot deviate an iota from the truth," proves they did, in the story of Goliath. Looking at this story in context (Book 2, Chapter 1), Cervantes describes as “nonsense” Quixote’s assertion that the Goliath story is inerrant. The irony here is not that Cervantes means the opposite of what he says, but that the reader is invited to see that Quixote’s views are the opposite of the truth, ie that the story of Goliath is invented.
Quote:

Robert, what did you think of The Captive's Tale? This is a story that contains much of Cervantes' own observations and perhaps experience. He was a captive in Algiers for 5 years. How would you characterize his view of Christians vs. Muslims in the story? The reviewer whom you quoted wants us to believe that Cervantes saw moral equivalence between Christians and Muslims. Could he really have concluded that by reading this tale, in which the moral table is steeply tilted towards the Christians? The word "Christian" must be used several hundred times in the tale, and never in a less than laudatory sense. One character, a renegade Christian, goes to Granada "to be reconciled to the bosom of Mother Church by means of the Holy Inquisition" (p. 380, J. M. Cohen translation). The heroine Zoraida of course converts to Christianity in the end, having long been in secret a Christian.
I enjoyed this story, and felt, in terms of your question, that it illustrated the disjunct between modern Christian society and the medieval fantasy of church doctrine. Clearly, Cervantes regards Christian Europe as culturally superior to the Muslim world. However, the source of this superiority can only partly be attributed to the relative merits of the Bible and the Koran as founding religious documents. My reading of the context is that the modern temper of Europe, with its emphasis on individual rights, logic and evidence, had emerged as the decisive factor conferring European advantage. To some extent these attributes can be sourced to the Bible, but only slightly. To the extent the Bible departs from these values Cervantes seems to suggest it deserves mockery, just like the tales of chivalry. But to say so would mean being burnt at the stake. It seems his Goliath story reflected a bolder stance in 1615, with publication of Book 2, than he felt able to make in 1605, although similar attitudes can be seen in the first book. As Valiunas explains, the cunning invitation to read between the lines regarding the contest of faith and reason is a main theme of Don Quixote. The sport of reading this book is to find the concealed intent.
Quote:

Whether or not Cervantes was cynical about the Christian faith or the Catholic Church, there doesn't so far appear to be evidence of it in the book.
You have to consider it against the broad contest of philosophical outlooks. Catholicism emphasised conformism to authority, and held many dogmas which lacked any empirical validation. Modern science emphasised reliance on logic and evidence, and in Cervantes’ day was proving decisive as a force for growth and change. Quixote stands as the emblem of backward fantasy. Chivalry is simply an emblem for all fictional belief.



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Post Re: Chinese Whispers in Don Quixote
Robert Tulip wrote:
I’m not sure how the story can be separated from its context. The status of Don Quixote as among the greatest classic novels derives precisely from its contextual meaning, primarily its subtle satirical mockery of Spanish society of Cervantes’ day.

Just briefly, where I'd disagree is your use of the word 'context.' We look first at the novel--at the text--for context. The derivation of the word, meaning to weave together, is an indicator of just how closely context hews to the text. If we speak of the 'social context' or the 'religious context' of the novel, we're stepping outside of it as well as using 'context' somewhat loosely. I'm not saying that's bad, not at all, but there first needs to be a true contextual basis for doing that.

I think the book's reputation as well as popularity rests not on any acuteness of social criticism, but on Cervantes' pioneering use of character and plot; he invents the modern novel.


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Mon Apr 12, 2010 10:48 am
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