Monday, October 04, 2010

Understanding Don Quixote

Anthony Close, who has died suddenly aged 73, was one of the world's leading experts on the early 17th-century Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, and particularly on his masterpiece, Don Quixote. A member of the department of Spanish and Portuguese at Cambridge University from 1967 to 2004, he did much to enhance our understanding of the work.

Don Quixote tells of the misadventures of a deranged lover of reading whose passion for chivalric romances leads him to believe that he can imitate the knights of these stories and wander the dusty roads of Castile, rescuing damsels in distress and fighting evil sorcerers. Thus, he quits his quiet life in the countryside and convinces a naive peasant neighbour, Sancho Panza, to join him in his quest.

The book represents better than any work of fine art the thin layer that separates fiction from reality, through offering a series of comic episodes based on the contradictions that arise when Don Quixote imagines himself to be facing giants or armies of soldiers, instead of – as Sancho tries to make him see – windmills or flocks of sheep. The novel therefore explores the power of imagination, the boundaries of everyday life and the pleasure and the risks that arise when we try to challenge them under the stimulus of art. But it is also the story of a friendship that endures failures, defeats and ridicule, and that grows deeper and stronger against all the odds.

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