HUMS 656
Don Quixote

Michael Armstrong-Roche

Revised Course Description

Cervantes is known chiefly for Don Quixote, often described as the first modern novel and fountainhead of one of the great modern myths of individualism. In fact, besides the chivalric novel, Cervantes re-imagined virtually every fashionable genre of his time: verse, theater, novella, the pastoral novel, and the Greek adventure novel. Cervantes's art remains fresh and unsettling, distinguished as it is by its revaluation of humor, invention, make-believe, and play. Seriousness in  his textual world is not to be confused with solemnity, the typical ploy of political, religious, and intellectual orthodoxies then as now. Characteristic themes: social reality as artifact or fiction, the counterintuitive or paradoxical nature of truths, the irreducible diversity of taste and perception, the call for consent in politics and love, personal (including gender) identity as a heroic quest. 

In this immersion course we will read, discuss, and write about Don Quixote, along with key historical and critical readings provided through electronic reserve or in class. Adaptations of Don Quixote for television, film, and ballet, together with pertinent documentaries (including Terry Gilliam's Lost in La Mancha), will be made available for viewing and oral presentations. 

Course requirements include three short papers (3-5pp.) due in advance of the first course meeting in March, designed to help you familiarize yourself with the novel; one longer final paper (10-15pp.) due within three weeks of the end of the course (April 9); and one oral presentation that can be used as a trial run for the final paper. Attendance and active participation in class discussion are also crucial for success in this seminar-format course. 

We will meet once as a class at the end of January, in order to launch the course and get to know one another. This preliminary class meeting is intended to help you prepare for the one-week session in March. In the January meeting hand-outs with detailed discussion questions will be provided to guide your reading. Instructions for the short papers and the single oral presentation will also be distributed and (briefly) discussed. To kick off our collective adventure properly we will reserve some time to comment on the novel’s delightful prologue and renowned opening chapter. Before the first class meeting in March, you should have finished reading the novel and given some thought to the discussion questions distributed in January. You are encouraged to keep a running log of other themes, references, difficulties, and serendipitous thoughts and associations as they arise in your reading (either in a separate notebook or in the margins of your copy of the book), so you can draw on them in our class discussions and--if appropriate--for your oral presentation and final paper.   

Students should bring a copy to class of the Ormsby translation of Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote. It is still widely regarded as the best English-language translation in a crowded field.  Revised by Joseph R. Jones and Kenneth Douglas, it was published most recently as the old Norton critical edition (1981; ISBN: 0393090183). It is now out of print, but used copies are readily available through on-line vendors such as It is important that we all be able to refer to the same edition (with identical pagination) in class.

Required Text

Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, the John Ormsby Translation, eds. Joseph R. Jones and Kenneth Douglas (The Norton Critical Edition, 1981). Paperback ISBN: 0393090183. No other textbook is required for the course. Because we will be working closely with the text throughout the term, it is important that all members of the class be literally “on the same page.” For this reason I am requesting that you buy or borrow this edition and no other for this course. It remains, for many reasons, the best English-language translation. Although this Norton revised Ormsby translation is out-of-print (Norton now uses the Burton Raffel translation for its teaching series, which is NOT suitable for our purposes), it is still readily available through used-book vendors and in libraries. As of December 13, 2006, eight different vendors on were offering copies for sale (ranging from $5 to $25), and it is likely that some or all of them have multiple copies available.

Supplementary readings will be provided through electronic reserve or in class.


Class meetings will be devoted to detailed, imaginative discussion of Don Quixote. Students will be asked to give one oral presentation, either on their own or with a partner, during the immersion week. The selected historical and critical readings are optional. Some will be used in class to enrich discussion, to help you reframe and nuance your responses to the text, encouraging a deeper--at once historically informed, textually grounded, and playful--engagement with this classic novel. You may want to have a look at some of them as you make your way through the novel. They could also serve as points of departure for your papers and/or oral presentation. In order to make the most of the intensive, one-week format it is important that you acquaint yourself as deeply as possible with the novel before we meet in March. To this end you will be asked to write three short papers (3-5 pp.) on key characters, episodes, or themes of the novel before the first meeting in March. One longer final paper (10-15pp.) will be due within three weeks of the end of the course (April 9). The oral presentation may be used as a trial run for the final paper. Attendance, preparation for class, and active participation in class discussions are important for success in this course. Before the first meeting in March, you should make every effort to finish reading the novel at least once.

Participation: 30%
Three Short Papers: 30%
Oral Presentation: 15%
Final Paper: 25%

Three short papers (3-5pp.), one longer final paper (10-15pp.), and one oral presentation as a trial run for the final paper account for 70% of the final evaluation. Attendance, preparation for class, and participation account for the remaining 30%, which reflects the protagonism of students in a course centered on discussion.

The Wesleyan Honor System
Students are expected to abide by the Wesleyan honor system with respect to all work prepared for this class. For details, please see the link:
Schedule of Classes

Don Quixote is conventionally divided into two parts, corresponding to the first half published in 1605 and to the continuation published in 1615. The syllabus notes the corresponding parts (I or II) and chapter numbers that will be the focus of discussion in the morning and afternoon sessions of each class day. It also lists some of the major themes of the reading for each session.  

Preliminary Class Meeting: late January
March 12

1.  DQ I.prologue and I.1-5 (chapters 1 through 5):  The prologue and authorial intentions.  The reader-hero of the chivalric novel and the concept of lucid folly.
  DQ I.6-10:  The dangers of fiction.  The relation of words to deeds 

3.  DQ 1.11-15:  The pastoral world                   
4.  DQ I.16-21:  The radical commitment to adventure

March 13

1.  DQ I.22-25:  Justice and the rogue (pícaro, origin of the picaresque)                   
2.  DQ I.26-28:  Love and imitation:  feigned folly part 1; Love and the reader-writer:  feigned folly part 2             
3.  DQ I.29-31:  Life imitates art.  Sane folly (the theme of giants) 

4.  DQ I.32-35:  The exemplary novella.  The representation of truth                   
5.   DQ I.36-38:  The folly of reason.  Conversion.  The Power of the Word. Theological and poetic transubstantiation.  A theme and variations:  nested narrative frames                   
6.  DQ I.39-42:  Historical and autobiographical contexts:  fiction as history, history as fiction (the Algerian captivity theme, the charity theme)

March 14

1.  DQ I.43-52:  The interrogation of reality:  “baciyelmic” (barber basin-helmet) perspectivism.  Metanarrative as aesthetic commentary.  The literary debate continues.  Will there be another adventure?                   
2.  DQ II.prologue and DQ II.1-10:  The first modern novel:  the character as reader of his own life.  Sancho and Dulcinea come into their own 

3.  DQ 11.15:  Life as theater, life as a game                    
4.   DQ II.16-18:  Don Diego de Miranda:  Exemplar or antihero?

March 15

1.  DQ II.19-23:  The cave of Montesinos:  the burlesque dream                    
2.  DQ II.24-29:  The “Arabic historian” Cide Hamete Benengeli.  Master Peter’s Show:  the reality of theater
3.  DQ II.30-35:  The ducal court:  cruelty as authentic folly, courtly life as theater                    
4.  DQ II.36-41:  Liminal and monstrous worlds, bearded women, flying horses                   
5.  DQ II.42-47:  Sancho, governor of “the island”:  utopia, New World echoes?

March 16

1.  DQ II.48-53:  Ricote and “the morisco problem”:  contemporary history novelized.  The conclusion of the Barataria Isle episode                    
2.  DQ II.54-58:  The return of the pastoral

3.  DQ II.59-63:  Fame catches up with the protagonists in Barcelona. Avellaneda’s “false Quixote.”  The Catalan bandit Roque Guinart                     
4.  DQ II.64-67:  The definitive heroic deed:  defeat.  The pastoral adventure one last time.  Loss and recovery of identities, the adventure of death 

Key Historical and Critical Readings (available with the required text or on electronic reserve as noted):

These readings are NOT required. They provide historical context for key themes of Don Quixote. As such they can facilitate and enhance your reading of the novel, but should not substitute for it. You will probably want to consult readings that bear on the themes, characters, or episodes that you select for your short paper topics as you are writing those papers. You may also want to draw on one or more of these readings for your oral presentation and/or your final paper. 

1. For a short, reasonably reliable biography of Cervantes, see Manuel Durán, “Cervantes’ Harrassed and Vagabond Life,” in the required edition for the course, pp. 833-841

2. For a useful outline of the main political events and social changes of 16th-century Spain, see B.W. Ife, “The Historical and Social Context,” in The Cambridge Companion to Cervantes, ed. Anthony J. Cascardi, pp. 11-31, on e-reserve

3. On Don Quixote’s chivalric models and the status of chivalric literature in 16th-century Spain, see:           
a. Martín de Riquer, “Cervantes and the Romances of Chivalry,” in the required edition for the course, pp. 895-913           
b. Daniel Eisenberg: “The Birth of the Spanish Romances of Chivalry,” “A Typical Romance of Chivalry,” and “Who Read the Romances of Chivalry?,” in Romances of Chivalry in the Spanish Golden Age, pp. 27-34, 55-74, 89-118, on e-reserve

4. On major literary sources for Don Quixote (chivalric, pastoral, Avellaneda’s “false Quixote”), see the brief introductions and excerpts by Diana Wilson for the new Norton critical edition, on e-reserve

5. For a lucid explanation of the literary and historical grounds for why Cervantes playfully (and pointedly) presents his fiction as “history” (including a description of major 16th-century fraudulent histories), see the classic Bruce Wardropper, “Don Quixote: Story or History?,” Modern Philology vol. LXIII, no. 1 (August, 1965): pp. 1-11, on e-reserve

6. For possible explanations of the historical basis for Don Quixote’s often tense relation with royal authority (the literary grounds are explained by the references under item #3), see:           
a. The succinct account of the evolution of crown-aristocracy-town-laborer relations by John Lynch, Spain 1516-1598: From Nation State to World-Empire, pp. 1-26, on e-reserve            
b. The equally succinct and fascinating review by Michael Breen of Julius Ruff’s Violence in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1800 (2001), which considers several explanations for the abrupt 17th-century drop in everyday violence (public vendetta, private duelling, armed robbery) in Western Europe, including the subordination of an historically fractious nobility to centralized monarchies; on e-reserve

7. On the social and political impact of the printing press, the 16th-century “educational revolution,” and the displacement of the old warrior nobility by a court aristocracy and a rapidly expanding professional class of administrators (useful for understanding Don Quixote’s status as a reader-hero, his nostalgia for a warrior past, and his complaints about courtiers), see the selections from Richard Kagan, Students and Society in Early Modern Spain on e-reserve

8. For an historical explanation of Don Quixote’s folly understood as a kind of truth-telling and a kind of virtue (with roots in Erasmus’s Praise of Folly, in the example of court jesters, and in St. Paul’s teachings), see Walter Kaiser, Praisers of Folly: Erasmus, Rabelais, Shakespeare, pp. 1-52 and 84-90, on e-reserve

9. For an historical account of the regenerative power of humor and entertainment rooted in carnivalesque rituals (particularly helpful for understanding the instances of grotesque and obscene physical humor and also Sancho Panza’s role in the second part), see Mikhail Bakhtin, “Rabelais in the History of Laughter,” in Rabelais and His World, pp. 73-104, on e-reserve

10. For a fascinating account of late 16th-century views on and realities of women, illicit love, and marriage (especially useful
for understanding the originality and power--in context--of Cervantes’s portrayal of a large gallery of unorthodox female characters), see Mary Elizabeth Perry, “Perfect Wives and Profane Lovers,” Gender and Disorder in Early Modern Seville, pp. 53-74, on e-reserve

11. For an analysis of the relation between physical (especially women’s) beauty and virtue in early modern European portraiture (pertinent especially to the portrayal of female beauty in Don Quixote and its often skewed relation to virtue), see Robert Hughes’s review of the National Gallery of Art exhibition “Virtue and Beauty” (Time, Dec. 24, 2001), on e-reserve

12. On Cervantes’s five-year captivity (1575-1580) in Algiers (particularly useful for the Rodrigo and Zoraida episode in part
1), see Jean Canavaggio’s excellent biography, Cervantes, pp.48-96, on e-reserve

13. On Muslim Spain in the 16th century and the expulsion of the moriscos in 1609-1614 (useful particularly for the Ricote episode in part 2), see Henry Kamen, “The End of Morisco Spain,” The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision, pp. 214-229, on e-reserve

14. On 16th-century “purity of blood” statutes aimed at converted Jews and Muslims (especially useful to understand Sancho’s pride in his Old Christian heritage, and Don Quixote’s ironies about it), see Henry Kamen, “Racialism and Its Critics,” The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision, pp. 230-254, on e-reserve   

15. On Cervantes’s later literary influence, see:           
a. Harry Levin, “The Quixotic Principle: Cervantes and Other Novelists,” in the required edition for the course, pp. 936-944           
b. Alexander Welsh, “The Influence of Cervantes,” in The Cambridge Companion to Cervantes, ed. Anthony J. Cascardi, pp. 80-99, on e-reserve