Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha valorizes idealism, not madness

In this Pit thread, an arts and literary discussion broke out. I’m recreating it here because the Pit seemed ill-suited to it.

Essentially, Revenant Threshold and I seem to have some divergent views on the character of Don Quixote/Miguel de Cervantes, as he appears in the musical Man of La Mancha.

My contention is that Quixote stands for the pursuit of ideals, impractical though they may be. He seeks to right the unrightable wrong; to reach the unreachable stars – to dream the impossible dream. This is a positive quality, admirable, as portrayed in the show. While it’s clear that Quixote is really the product of the madness of Alonso Quijana, the story ends with Quijana deliberately embracing the idealistic dreams, just as kitchen wench Aldonza and manservant Pancho have done. She seeks him out, in fact, to say that she can’t simply be Aldonza any more. And when he falls dead and Pancho addresses her as Aldonza, she draws herself up proudly and says, “My name is Dulcinea.”

He chooses idealism; it is in the end not forced on him.

I will let Revenant explain his contrary position, lest I not do it justice.


I haven’t seen Man of La Mancha, but

Don Quixote in Don Quixote represents idealism, taken to an extreme. There are scenes where his friends (and, once he’s recovered his wits, himself) ponder which one is madder: the man going about fighting windmills, or those who insist that a life of routine and repetition is more desirable. The first paragraph in Book 1 describes a man so embedded in routine that you’d be able to figure out where in the village he is by looking at the date and time.

He is mad (when he is) - of idealism. In Spain the opposition between him and Sancho is usually described as idealism vs practicality, not madness vs reason. Both of them reason, albeit in different ways, and both of them surprise their opponents, albeit again in different ways.

Now, whatever the people who wrote Man of La Mancha retconned about Dulcinea (who in the books is very much Aldonza) or other characters, like I said I do not know. All I can speak for is the original work.
And excuse me hits Bricker with a hardbound copy of El Quijote it’s Quijano. With an O!

I’m not sure what Revenant will say, but he has to remember that the musical is a frame tale.

Cervantes is thrown into prison by the inquisition and is on trial by his fellow prisoners who want to take his positions and burn his unfinished manuscript. He then acts out the story of Don Quixote.

The final scene has the prisoners finding him not guilty and letting him keep the manuscript. If the point were to be that he was insane, the prisoners would have burned the manuscript. An insane Don Quixote would have been shrugged off (“The man was mad. Who cares?”). An idealistic one would inspire the prisoners to let Cervantes keep the manuscript because the message spoke to them, and because they wanted to book to be finished. The prisoners are genuinely moved by the tale.

This is in addition to the points you’ve made.

I would add to start with that, since the tangent led to **Bricker **talking about his definition of quixotic, it makes sense to talk about the book as well as the musical. I don’t, alas, know the etymology, but I would make a guess that the usage of the term arises from the book at least as much as the musical.

In so much as this, I’m in agreement with Bricker.

Here’s where I disagree, and I think this is also how I’d respond to** RealityChuck’**s point. I’d argue that Quixote is, yes, the product of the madness of Quijana, but that he does not choose to go back to the delusion at the end of the story. He’s been forced to face reality; then at the end the forcing is removed and his madness encouraged. The lesson learned by the prisoners at the end (and by Aldonza and Sancho) is that even though he was mad, that doesn’t mean they personally don’t prefer the idealism he represents. The prisoners are moved because the man was mad - and yet they do care.

I don’t think Aldonza shares the madness, but as you point out, her new bearing is forced on her, too. She* can’t* simply be Aldonza any more.

I’m largely of the same position as Nava, the character is mad from idealism. It also makes us question if people who match this description are genuinely crazy – or if they are simply acting rationally in the world they inhabit, even if it may be psychologically different from ours.

It’s an extreme and eloquent version of the Far Side cartoon captioned, “Same planet, different worlds.” If it gave us a straight answer on the question, it wouldn’t be half as durable as art.

In the musical, Quixote is a creation of Cervantes. It is the product of an author making a point. And the point is to tell a story that moves the “jury” to allow him to keep the manuscript – to show them it is something inspiring and worthwhile. They certainly had seen plenty of madness (they are, after all, being held by the Inquisition) and more madness isn’t going to move them. It is the idealism – which is what Cervantes (and Dale Wasserman) is both creating and stressing – that they respond to.

This is not a fair description of choice and forced.

She can choose to ignore what she now feels inside her about the idealistic visions with which the description of Dulcinea imbued her, or she can choose integrity to herself and acknowledge them. I don’t think it’s strictly fair to say she has no choice – even though I certainly acknowledge that if you were to ask her, she might well say, “I can’t be Aldonza any more.” That language sounds like it’s not a choice, I admit – but the underlying context is “I can’t be Aldonza any more without denying the things I actually, truly, now feel..”

But the truth of the world is that many people make that second choice – they deny what they truly feel to present a false face to the world, for reasons that range from pathetic to understandable.

To the contrary, I’d argue that their ideas are being turned on their heads. The “jury” is moved to accept that even though Quixote is mad, his idealism and his story is inspirational to them. They do respond to the idealism - so much so, that their preconceived notions about the source are transcended.

I think it’s a fair description of choice and forced. To accept being Aldonza again (again, assuming she too hasn’t been taken in by the madness) would be to destroy herself. Your same objection would also work for someone being forced to do something at gunpoint; technically speaking, they have the “choice” to do what the bidder wants or to die, but I wouldn’t consider it fair to call that a choice. That the “forcer” is not someone with a weapon, but her own inner sense of self as kindled by Quixote, doesn’t make a difference to me. It’s “Do this; or die.”

And depending on those reasons, it may be that it is no choice at all.

I think the song To Each His Dulcinea pretty much sums up the plusses and minuses of Alonzo Quijana/Don Quixote. Relevant excerpts:

Yes… although remember that the song is the point of view of the Padre, who is somewhat sympathetic to Alonso but hasn’t really seen and heard exactly how he’s “applying” his view of Don Quixote – and he’s swayed by Antonia, Dr. Carrasco, and the housekeeper’s concerns (“I’m Only Thinking Of Him”). The Padre is not, in other words, the best witness for the cause.

A couple of points

The book is actually two books and the first book is a lowbrow satire/farce about the chivalric ideals of the nobility. The second book (which is now mushed together with the first in a single volume) is a lot darker. Much like the musical, Quixote is defeated by a local pretending to be a knight…and then it gets WAY darker than the musical: he regains his sanity, and not only renounces his knighthood and the deeds he did, but on his deathbed he writes it into his will that his daughter/niece will only inherit his money if she marries a man who also renounces chivalry.

The musical (which I like a lot) completely ignores Cervantes main point (which seems to be “Chivalry is teh stoopid”) and make a far more uplifting story about a man who sees the wonder in the mundane and the goodness in almost everyone*

The thing is, they’re two completely different stories with some of the same characters and interactions and you really can’t debate the issue of idealism or madness until you agree on which version: the book or the musical you’re talking about.
*Possibly everyone. Even the muleteers are greeted by Quixote saying something like “If you noble gentlemen have need of my assistance, you have but to ask and my good right arm is at your service.”…of course this is before Pedro tries to rape Aldonza. His feelings change soon afterwards.

Great point – I was quoting the lyrics from “Impossible Dream,” which kicked this discussion off, so I, at least, was thinking more of the musical.

Yes… but even then, after the muleteers are beaten, he undertakes to bind their wounds. (And then lets Aldonza take over the task, with bad results for her).

Sancho: Come, Your Grace. Let’s get you to bed.

Quixote: Not yet, Sancho. I owe something to my enemies.

Aldonza: That account’s been paid.

Quixote: Not yet, milady. We must minister to them and bind their wounds.

Aldonza (flatly): What?

Quixote (loftily): Nobility demands.

Aldonza (dubious): It does?

Quixote: Yes. Therefore I will go to them. (this line and the next one aren’t accurate. He has a fainting spell or something*)

Aldonza: I’ll go. I’ll minister.

Quixote: But my lady…

Aldonza: They were my enemies, too.

( Later, after Quixote leaves)

Pedro: What the hell do you think you’re doing?

Aldonza: I’m going to minister to your wounds.

Pedro (incredulous) You’re what?

Aldonza (imitating Quixote) Nobility demands. (bluntly) Now turn over, you poxy goat!
*I did a looooong paper in college about Man of La Mancha vs Don Quixote (the novel) and ended up memorizing a fair share of the script. And yet, I have to put my mom’s birthday on a calendar

At some point, given your reference to the definition of quixotic, you must have been thinking (albeit indirectly) of the book, however.

As an aside, the more I look at the title, the more I don’t think it’s representative of our differences on this. I too think that Man of La Mancha valorizes idealism, not madness. Where we differ is in that you believe Quijana* chooses* idealism; I believe it is as a result of his madness, and that he has no choice in the matter. I’m not really sure how to limit that down to a thread title, though.

Fenris, what would you say in terms of the book and the musical (if they differ on this point) about whether Quixote and his idealism are a result of choice or madness?

That’s absolutely a difference, yes.

Whatever might have been the case at first, when he surges out of his bed and cries, “Sancho! My armor! My sword!” THAT is his choice, not his inability to keep madness at bay.

At the end of the musical, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it: Quijana isn’t tempted or tricked into choosing idealism, he makes a conscious choice. In the musical, Sancho and Aldonza “revive” his memories but Quijana makes the choice to accept them.

This is nothing like the book. At the end of the second book, the stories diverge to the point where there’s no similarity. In the book, Quijana is mortified by his previous behavior and at no point does he re-embrace his madness/idealism and he’d have been horrified at the thought of it.

Actually…thinking about it, the divergence is a little earlier. If you remember the musical, the bit where Dr. Carasco/The Knight of the Mirrors forces Quixote to “see life as it truly is and not as you wish it to be” happens in both versions and Quixote collapses, seeing himself as a crazy old man, rather than the dauntless knight known as Don Quixote De La Manacha! The narrative diverges right there though. In the book, it cuts to Quijana’s bedside.

In the musical, the prisoners who are participating in the reenactment of the story say “Yeah…and then…?” and Cervantes says (paraphrased) “That’s all there is. That’s the end”. The Judge says “It seems as though your fellow prisoners aren’t happy with this ending. Neither am I. Therefore it is the sentence of this court…” and Cervantes says “Gimme a minute” realizing that if he doesn’t give them something like a happy ending, he’s gonna lose his book, his props and probably going to get the crap beaten out of him.

And quickly, he improvises the musical’s ending. A bed, in the house of Quijana. The old man lies there…deep in a coma. Sancho sings “A Little Gossip” and the hint of chivalry (“a dragon with it’s firey tounge a’ waggin’”) is enough to wake Quijana up. He is confused, dying, broken. He starts his will. Aldonza barges in and begs Quijana to remember. He doesn’t and says “I…am confused by shadows…if I once knew you, I do not remember.” She sings a reprise of Dulcenea which is enough to get him to start to remember his credo (“The Impossible Dream”) and there’s where the “Sancho! My armor! My sword!” comes in. He decides that Quixote’s clarity of purpose and idealism is better than being a sick, regretful old man dying confused. He makes the choice to accept Quixote’s beliefs. And then he dies. But he’s died making the choice. And that satisfies the prisoners in the Inquisition’s dungeon and gives them hope. It also allows Cervantes to keep his stuff. (so…win/win :wink: )

The other problem with the “the madness was forced on him” idea is that if it’s madness and not idealism (in the musical), why were the barber, the innkeeper (at least for a while until it wears off), and Aldonza also caught up in it? Madness isn’t contagious and doesn’t work that way. Idealism does.

As an aside, there’s no doubt that at the beginning of the musical Quijana just goes mad. It’s not idealism that starts him out. Per the character of Cervantes, Quijana reads too much “and all he reads about oppresses him about man’s murderous ways towards man. He broods, and broods and broods and finally from so much brooding his brains dry up. He lays down the melancholy burden of sanity and conceives the strangest project ever imagined; to take up arms and go into the world and right all wrongs. No longer will he be plain Alanzo Quijana, but a dauntless knight known as Don Quixote de la Mancha! < trumpet fanfare >” Quijana is just lucky that his mind conjured up Don Quixote as his alter-ego: a better man than he was and not say, Charles Manson or Pennywise the Clown or something. Brooding about man’s inhumanity to man usually doesn’t lead to idealism, it leads to drinking poisoned Kool Aide.

In any case, Quijana (in my opinion) decided that even if he died from it, having Quixote’s ability to see life as it ought to be was better/nobler than Quijana dying confused and miserable.

As an aside, I find the musical’s ending one helluvalot more satisfying than the book. Even if you accept the books premise that there was absolutely nothing noble in what Quixote did and he’s no more serious than a Three Stooges short, dying in shame and disgrace just doesn’t fit. The musical is simply more satisfying in the way the ending meshes with the rest of the story.

I went and re-watched a couple of versions of this scene online, and I’m not getting what you’re getting. My impression is that Quijana either truly doesn’t remember or is actively trying to suppress those memories, but they take him over once again at the urging of his friends. I’m not getting where he has a choice in the matter.

When he, as Bricker puts it, surges out of bed, he’s not doing so because Quijana prefers the idea of being Don Quixote. He’s doing so because he’s Don Quixote, and that’s what Don Quixote does.

I don’t discount the idea that Aldonza was simply moved by his idealism, even in his madness. After all, that’s my impression of the jury, too. But considering what happens to her, a mental break isn’t all that odd. As for the barber and innkeeper, I kind of assumed they were just in it because why not, the old man’s a hoot. Which is essentially the same thing, an attraction to his idealism.

I haven’t seen the musical but the book certainly, in my opinion, supports Bricker’s take rather than that of Revenant Threshold.

For what it’s worth, there’s a similar moment in C. S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, when the evil queen has just about convinced the protagonists that the Sun and sky and Aslan are mere dreams or delusions… but they reply that even if they are delusions, they still prefer and choose them.

That would be an example where I’d very certainly say that the protagonists choose idealism, even if it’s utter madness. Puddleglum basically spells the whole thing out, in much the same way that Don Quixote doesn’t.