Don Quixote

A knight lowers his lance, charging ahead to face fearsome giants in battle—except that there are no giants, only windmills. Even if you have never read Don Quixote (1605, 1615), you probably recognize this famous scene! The crazy knight errant and his loyal squire are well-known and beloved around the world still today—more than 400 years after their story was first written! Because of its impact and longevity, many scholars consider Don Quixote to be one of the most important works of literature ever written.

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Table of contents

    Don Quixote: Author

    Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) is often celebrated as the most influential Spanish writer in history and one of the most significant European authors in history. Cervantes wrote several novels as well as plays, poems, and short stories. The work that he is remembered for is The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, which was published in two parts in 1605 and 1615.

    Miguel de Cervantes claims that he wrote Don Quixote to push back against chivalric novels. Cervantes accomplished this by poking fun at the delusional actions that Don Quixote takes in his attempts to mimic the chivalric novels that he loves. Cervantes satirizes the fantastical events of chivalric novels, highlighting the silliness of the plots and the shallow characters they typically followed.

    Chivalric novels: a kind of story that was popular in the High Medieval (1000-1300s) and Early Modern eras (late 15th c.-late 18th c.). They often depicted knights performing noble acts and adhered to the moral beliefs of the medieval era.

    Cervantes also pointed out flaws in the social structure of Spain at the time. Members of the lower classes had gained much greater access to education, and yet ideas of social class had not changed much. It was still assumed that a person's morals and worth could be associated with their social rank. It was also still uncommon for someone of a lower class to be able to rise in the social ranks. Throughout Don Quixote, Cervantes illustrates the possibility that someone of any class could be good or bad, and he even shows Don Quixote himself rise into the rank of knight simply by deciding that he would.

    What makes Don Quixote important as a novel? It was revolutionary for the time it was written in. In Don Quixote, Cervantes used humor and irony to comment upon and question the society he lived in, the literature that came before him, and the ways of thinking that most people of that time accepted. Additionally, it helped to popularize stories written in prose instead of verse.

    Don Quixote: Summary

    Alonso Quixano is a man who loves chivalry romances so much that he goes a little insane; he renames himself Don Quixote de La Mancha and decides that he will ride off on his thin horse to be a knight. Though his armor is rusty, Don Quixote becomes a knight in a castle (actually an inn) and begins to perform chivalrous, knightly deeds. However, he is soon beaten up by some merchants and has to recover back at his home village.

    Concerned for their friend, the village barber and priest burn many of Don Quixote’s chivalric romance books. The knight, however, believes that he is being targeted by evil enchanters, so he gets a squire (actually a peasant named Sancho Panza) to assist him. They set off, and the pair encounter many people with varied problems and entanglements.

    They fight with windmills that Don Quixote imagines are giants. After this, they stand up against traveling friars they take to be evil enchanters holding a woman captive, only leaving the travelers alone when the lady convinces the friars to play along and let Don Quixote win. Later the knight and squire even free galley slaves. More often than not, their interventions earn them scoldings and beatings, though the knight and squire duo do help a few couples to reunite.

    Eventually finding themselves in an inn full of people, misunderstandings, and apologies, the barber and priest find Don Quixote and take him home in a wooden cage, determined to put an end to his insane actions. Part one ends with Don Quixote doing poorly, both physically and emotionally.

    Have you ever heard the phrase “tilting at windmills” before? It refers to fighting imaginary enemies, and it comes from Don Quixote! It is inspired by Quixote tilting his lance to joust with windmills that he imagines are giants.

    Part two opens a month later; Don Quixote, now eager to ride again, finds out from a student named Carrasco that his adventures with Sancho have inspired a wildly popular chivalric romance novel. Their next mission is to find Don Quixote’s love, Dulcinea—but there is no woman named Dulcinea. Sancho solves the contradiction by telling Don Quixote that a peasant woman they come across is actually the dreamy princess Dulcinea under a curse.

    Next, Don Quixote goes up against the Knight of the Forest and defeats him, though in reality it was Carrasco disguised, hoping to trick Don Quixote into returning home. The knight and squire continue to have a myriad of unlikely adventures; they eventually find themselves befriending a Duke and Duchess who are fans of the book made about them. However, they pull mean tricks on the chivalrous duo and take advantage of Don Quixote’s state of mind. They even attempt to humiliate Sancho by making him a governor; they expect him, as a peasant, to be incapable of the job. However, Sancho is very intelligent and has a natural talent for leading.

    Still, it isn’t long before Sancho longs to ride again with Don Quixote, so he gives up his position as governor. More adventures ensue, and new friendships are formed—and then Don Quixote battles the Knight of the White Moon. This is another of Carrasco’s disguises; this time, he defeats Don Quixote and demands that the knight returns home.

    Don Quixote, now sorrowful and ill back in his home village, takes a long nap. When he awakens, he announces that he has regained his sanity; he is not Don Quixote anymore, and he even now hates chivalric romances. He is now Alonso Quixano the Good. He dies soon after this change of heart.

    Don Quixote, a statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Don Quixote summary, StudySmarterThe characters Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are still well-loved todayPixabay

    Don Quixote is so famous and beloved that it has been translated into over 100 different languages—including all the world's major languages, allowing people from many countries to read and enjoy Cervantes's most popular work.

    Don Quixote: Characters

    • Don Quixote de la Mancha: In reality named Alonso Quixano, Don Quixote is the name he adopts when he decides to become a knight after reading too many chivalric novels.

    • Sancho Panza: Don Quixote’s loyal squire. Sancho is both down-to-earth—allowing him to step in and corral Don Quixote when necessary—and a fan of the knight’s morals.

    • Sampson Carrasco: A student who, after learning of Don Quixote’s adventures, disguises himself as Knight of the Forest and later as the Knight of the White Moon to battle Don Quixote and make him go home.

    • Dulcinea del Toboso: Don Quixote’s imaginary sweetheart. Sancho convinces the knight that a peasant girl is under a spell and is really the beautiful Dulcinea.

    • The Duke and Duchess: A high-class couple that claim to be fans of Don Quixote but then treat the knight and his squire poorly.

    • The barber: One of Don Quixote's friends who try to get the knight to return home and stop acting strangely.

    • The priest: One of Don Quixote's friends who try to get the knight to return home and stop acting strangely.

    Don Quixote: Meaning

    The themes of Don Quixote help to uncover its overall meaning. Three of the novel's major themes are madness, social class, and morality.


    From the very beginning of the novel, Don Quixote is depicted as a man who has lost his mind. Because he has become overly fixated on chivalric romance novels, the world of his imagination is bleeding through into his perception of reality. He believes himself a knight and views his adventures as heroic adventures and chivalric deeds. Importantly, Don Quixote is not depicted as simply insane. He does not have hallucinations of adventure; rather, he views the real world through the lens of his imagination. This allows Cervantes to humorously poke fun at the chivalric novels that had long been popular in his time by turning the concept of a heroic knight on its head.

    The word quixotic, meaning overly idealistic and unrealistic, comes from Cervantes's mad hero.

    Don Quixote, In one famous adventure, Don Quixote believes windmills are giants to defeat, Don Quixote summary, StudySmarterIn one famous adventure, Don Quixote believes windmills are giants he must defeatPixabay

    Social Class

    In Miguel de Cervantes’s time, the idea of social mobility was all but unheard of, and it was commonly accepted that a person’s value came from their social rank. Don Quixote would beg to differ; he simply decides that he is no longer a poor old man but a knight. Further, he consistently tries to show that other people can also be more than their circumstances; he frees prisoners rather than assume that they are bad (though this does not go well for him) and believes in the ability of every person he meets to be virtuous.


    Cervantes illustrates a war between modes of morality in Don Quixote. The heroic knight travels through a world of morals contemporary to Cervantes—a world full of realistic greed and self-interest. Despite this, Don Quixote tries to spread a return to chivalric morals, which emphasize selflessness. Ultimately, Don Quixote is not successful, and his strict adherence to chivalric morals appears to be incompatible with the world he lives in.

    Don Quixote: Book

    Miguel de Cervantes's most influential and famous work was originally published in two volumes, originally titled El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605) and Segunda Parte del Ingenioso Cavallero Don Quixote de la Mancha (1615). It is a very early example of a modern novel—using prose rather than verse, and making social commentary rather than sticking to a morals-based tale. Cervantes makes use of humor, parody, and irony to bring the reader's attention to the aspects of society and literature that Cervantes was discussing.


    The first section of Don Quixote has a fairly straightforward narration. Cervantes uses this section in particular to satirize chivalric novels, and the narration mimics that of other tales of knights and fantastical heroic deeds. Cervantes opens the second section of Don Quixote part one with an explanation that he is translating Don Quixote's story from its earlier recording by a man named Cide Hamete Benengeli. However, this is simply a part of the story and meant to be humorous; Cide Hamete Benengeli was not a real person. Creating this narrator is another way that Cervantes pokes fun at the popular literature of his time.

    In the second book of Don Quixote, the narration becomes even more complex. Cervantes the narrator becomes a character in the story, and other characters try to influence future versions of the books. By doing this, Cervantes the author creates a feeling of confusion for the reader—giving them their own taste of the madness of Don Quixote.

    Point Of View

    Most of the novel is written from the third-person perspective. It rarely depicts the inner thoughts of the characters, though occasionally the perspective switches to the first person; this allows Cervantes to comment upon the story or make reference to the fictional work of Cide Hamete Benengeli.

    In 1614, an unknown author using the pen name Alonso Fernandez de Avellaneda published an unauthorized sequel to Don Quixote titled Segundo Tomo del Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha. At this point, there had been no indication from Cervantes that he would be releasing a second part to his beloved story, and the ending of Don Quixote seemed to welcome others to try their hand at continuing the story. Whether this was the impression Cervantes intended to give, he did not approve of Avellaneda’s book. It included jabs at Cervantes and his writing and prompted Cervantes to include many humorous references to Avellaneda in the second part of Don Quixote when it was published in 1615.

    Don Quixote: Quotes

    The following quote from the beginning of the novel describes how Don Quixote went mad. Because he read too much and slept too little, he began to rely too much on his imagination. This sets off the rest of the story's plot, as the mad Don Quixote decides that he will be a knight and leaves his home to perform chivalrous deeds.

    In short, our hidalgo was soon so absorbed in these books that his nights were spent reading from dusk till dawn, and his days from dawn till dusk, until the lack of sleep the excess of reading withered his brain, and he went mad." (ch 1)

    The humorous quote below is Don Quixote explaining how anyone of any social class or circumstance can be virtuous. He explains that as soon as he decided that he was a chivalric knight, he was a very virtuous person.

    Speaking for myself, I can say that ever since I became a knight errant I have been courageous, polite, generous, well-bred, magnanimous, courteous, bold, gentle, patient and long-suffering in the face of toil, imprisonment, and enchantment." (ch 50)

    In the following quote, Don Quixote is speaking to the Duke and Duchess, who claim to be fans of his and then mistreat him. Here the knight defends his moral stance, explaining his adherence to chivalry.

    My intentions are always directed towards worthy ends, that is to say to do good to all and harm nobody; and whether the man who believes this, puts it into practice and devotes his life to it deserves to be called a fool is something for Your Graces, most excellent Duke and Duchess, to determine." (ch 32)

    Don Quixote - Key takeaways

    • The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (1605-1615) is the most famous work by Miguel de Cervantes.
    • Don Quixote was published in two parts, originally titled El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605) and Segunda Parte del Ingenioso Cavallero Don Quixote de la Mancha (1615).
    • Don Quixote pokes fun at the beliefs, societal norms, and popular literature of the time in which it was written.
    • The novel was revolutionary for its use of parody, irony, and prose instead of verse.
    • Some major themes of Don Quixote are madness, social class, and morality.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Don Quixote

    Why is Don Quixote so important?

    Don Quixote is often considered the first modern novel as well as one of the most influential works of literature ever written. It had many revolutionary characteristics, such as humor and irony used to make social commentary.

    What is the main point of Don Quixote?

    The main point of Don Quixote is to poke fun at the beliefs, societal norms, and popular literature of the time in which it was written (1605-1615).

    What is the story Don Quixote about?

    The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (1605-1615) is about a man that goes insane after reading too many novels and then believes that he is a knight. He and his squire go on many adventures before Don Quixote comes to his senses.

    Who is Don Quixote?

    Don Quixote is the main character of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (1605-1615). He is a man that goes insane after reading too many novels and then believes that he is a knight.

    What mental illness did Don Quixote have?

    Don Quixote lost his mind after reading too many chivalric novels, and he started acting delusionally. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following are major themes of Don Quixote?

    Who becomes Don Quixote's squire?

    Who brings Don Quixote home at the end of volume one?


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