Home > Literature essays > The Dangers of Idealism and Cervantes’ Satire of Catholicism in Don Quixote

Essay: The Dangers of Idealism and Cervantes’ Satire of Catholicism in Don Quixote

Essay details and download:

  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
  • Reading time: 7 minutes
  • Price: Free download
  • Published: 15 March 2023*
  • File format: Text
  • Words: 2,006 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 9 (approx)
  • Tags: Don Quixote

Text preview of this essay:

This page of the essay has 2,006 words. Download the full version above.

Prompt: The imitation of models (religion) in Don Quixote.

In Miguel De Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Don Quixote is a hidalgo living in La Mancha during the end of the 16th century. He has a vivid imagination, and an obsession with reading books of chivalry. He decides to act as a knight errant, wandering and performing what he believes to be righteous deeds. His obsession with the teachings of the novels of chivalry he reads inspires him to create a strict code for himself, one that makes him travel and search for injustices to correct. He becomes totally deluded by the fantasy he lives. He adheres to his system of beliefs based on fiction just as Catholics live by the Bible. Don Quixote studies and lives these books as religious fanatics act according to the teachings by which they abide. Also, just as Catholics perform deeds in the name of God, Don Quixote is constantly looking to defend the honor of his love, a peasant woman named Dulcinea he barely knows. In chapter I of Don Quixote, Cervantes writes that “His fantasy filled with everything he had read in his books , enchantments as well as combats, battles, challenges, and he became so convinced in his imagination of the truth of all the countless grandiloquent and false inventions he read that for him no history in the world was truer.” (21) Don Quixote’s reality is inseparable from his overzealous idealist beliefs, and the obsessive nature of his delusions often lead him and those he meets into trouble. Cervantes crafts a satirical imitation of the model of Catholicism in Don Quixote; he implies that Don Quixote’s ineffectual idealism is dangerous to both himself and those he encounters, and crafts Dulcinea, the inspiration for his misled misadventures, as a divine figure.

Cervantes portrays Don Quixote as a satire of the Orthodox Catholicism that was aggressively encouraged by the Spanish Inquisition. Desiderius Erasmus (c.1466-1536) was a humanist that died just before Cervantes’ time (c.1547-1616). He spread a new faith around Europe, Christian Humanism. In Cervantes in Perspective, Michael J. McGrath, author of the chapter “From La Mancha to Manresa: Sancho Panza’s Incarnational Spirituality,” wrote that “Erasmus believed that religion, therefore, should be an intimate and deeply personal experience between a person and God, as opposed to the opulent public displays of piety, such as ceremonies, parades and possessions that permeated Early Modern Spanish society.” (127) Erasmus’ criticized the Catholic Church’s “extreme ritualistic practices.” However, Erasmus’ radical ideas faced opposition. McGrath writes that “The strength of the anti-Erasmus movement, which began in earnest in the 1530s and included support from the Inquisition, weakened considerably Erasmus’ influence and made it possible for the Catholic Church to solidify its presence in Spain. At the same time Erasmus’ influence was spreading through Spain, St. Ignatius of Loyola was establishing the foundation for a new religious order who members and followers were committed to transforming the world though an awareness of God’s presence in every circumstance of life.” (128) The harsh reversal from Erasmus’ more relaxed budding religious vision to the stricter theology of St. Ignatius is representative of the harsh Catholic idealism that continued to take hold in Spain during this time period. Don Quixote carries out his duties as a knight-errant with zeal akin to the beliefs of St. Ignatius’s religious order in that one’s duties as a student of these teachings pervades every aspect of one’s life. In Christendom Destroyed, Mark Greengrass investigates how the Spanish Inquisition is alluded to in Don Quixote: “Don Quixote spots windmills on the horizon—part of the Extremadura landscape, they were also a symbol of Spain’s Dutch rebels. ‘Destiny guides our fortune more favorably than we could have expected,’ says Quixote. ‘Look there, Sancho Panza, my friend, and see those thirty or so wild giants, with whom I intend to do battle…This is noble, righteous warfare, for it is wonderfully useful to God to have such an evil race wiped from the face of the earth.” (126) The Spanish Inquisition vehemently fought the Dutch Protestants. Don Quixote charges wholeheartedly and foolishly at the windmills, that represent the Dutch Protestants. The ignorance and aggressiveness of his attack is similar to the force used by the Inquisition when it propagated Catholicism, at the expense of “Spain’s Dutch [Protestant] rebels.”

Don Quixote is portrayed as dangerous through his overzealous pursuit of his chivalrous ideals, both to himself and others; this expresses how idealism can make people do immoral things, with absurd intensity—like how the Inquisition enforced its ideology violently. The Inquisition is famous for its swift and brutal condemnation of heresy. Ryan Edward wrote in Encylcopaedia Britannica of one of the most infamous leaders of the Spanish Inquisition: “The first grand inquisitor in Spain was the Dominican Tomas de Torquemada [(c. 1420-1498)]; his name became synonymous with the brutality and fanaticism associated with the Inquisition…. At Torquemada’s urging, Ferdinand and Isabella issued an edict on March 31, 1492, giving Spanish Jews the choice of exile or baptism; as a result, more than 160,000 Jews were expelled from Spain.” Torquemada is also responsible for burning protestants at the stake. He is responsible for the murder of thousands of people. The Inquisition would snuff out any hint of unorthodoxy present under its reign. Similarly, Don Quixote attacks those who question the legitimacy of his chivalric world. His ridiculous ideology makes him ironically attack innocents in his quest to correct injustices. The misjustices he perceives are usually not in tune with reality, and he frequently picks fights, which he often loses. In chapter IV of Don Quixote, he encounters a group of merchants from Toledo, who he believes to be knights errant. He stops and tells them they must declare that Dulcinea is more beautiful than the empress of La Mancha. When they refuse, reasoning that they have never seen her. Don Quixote charges at them, and he clumsily falls to the ground. Then one of the mule drivers took Don Quixote’s lance, broke it, and “thrashed Don Quixote as if he were threshing meat.” (40) Another instance of Don Quixote’s precarious and idealistic naivete is when he lets Rocinante wander toward horses that are tended to by some Yanguesans. The Yanguesans beat Rocinante, so Don Quixote attacks them. Cervantes writes “The Yanguesans, who saw themselves attacked by only two men when there were so many of them, had recourse to their staffs, and surrounding the two men, they began to rain blows down on them with great zeal and eagerness.” (104) Don Quixote does have some grounds to defend Rocinante, but this is ultimately another example of his ineptness. His negligence of Rocinante is responsible for the horses beating. The beating of Don Quixote, Sancho, and Rocinante in this scene is representative of the dangers that Don Quixote’s idealism-fueled recklessness poses to himself and those around him. In chapter XXII, with noble intentions at heart, Don Quixote frees a gang of galley slaves. He believes he is gallantly granting these poor souls their freedom, but after he frees them, they attack him: “Already aware that Don Quixote was not very sane, for he had done something so foolish as wanting to give them their freedom, and seeing himself spoken to in this way, he winked at his companions, and moving a short distance away, they began to throw so many stones at Don Quixote that he could even manage to protect himself with his shield…”(172) After this scene, Don Quixote is left “grief-stricken at seeing himself so injured by the very people for whom he had done so much good.” (172) Misled yet chivalric at heart, Don Quixote’s attempts to act nobly end in beatings and failure.

Dulcinea is both a peasant girl and the subject of Don Quixote’s irrational and unrequited love; she bears a striking resemblance to historical impressions of God and is portrayed as a satire of the futility of worshipping divine figures. In Javier Herrero’s “Dulcinea and Her Critics,” he writes of A.F. Michael’s Atlee’s “Concepto y Ser Metafórico de Dulcinea” and his discussion of Dulcinea’s resemblance to Aristotle’s concept of God: “He argues that, for Aristotle, God is the ‘[Mobile of the motion, change and development within the universe] ’ and that Aristotle himself explained God’s active power through an erotic metaphor: ‘[God moves the world as the beloved inspires the lover] ’ (pp. 227-28).” (37) An important aspect of Aristotle’s concept of God is the manner in which a disciple of God’s life is totally determined by God. Also, fundamentally, the significance of Aristotle’s erotic metaphor is that Dulcinea is Don Quixote’s inspiration, his romantic muse for life. Atlee identifies Dulcinea as being the active power, or driving religious basis, for Don Quixote’s actions. He writes “[Now for Dulcinea to be the heretical Aristotelian concept of God, it is necessary that Don Quixote’s purpose as a knight-errant be religious; that Don Quixote’s works are the result of what has been written about his passive intellect, the tabula rasa; that these works be set in motion, by an active power, by an inspiring force; that this inspiring force is “the immobile mobile”; that “the mobile” is pure idea; that does not manifest physically.] ” Atlee proves that Dulcinea is the Aristotelian concept of God in his carefully defined argument. First, Don Quixote lives by a code derived from his chivalric novels. Second, Dulcinea inspires him to act on his bank of chivalric beliefs. Third, her inspiration is not physical; Don Quixote and she do not have a legitimate relationship, and Dulcinea is physically absent for most of the novel. Therefore, like God, Dulcinea is an intangible force that inspires Don Quixote to live by his chivalric code, one that resembles the moral teachings of the Bible. Dulcinea has also been likened to the medieval cleric St. Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God. In his meditative work, Proslogion, he writes that God is “something than which nothing greater can be thought.” Dulcinea embodies this because she is Don Quixote’s manifestation of his perfect ideals. Anselm writes that a faithful disciple “understands what he hears; and what he understands is in his understanding [in intellectu], even if he does not understand that thing to exist.” Dulcinea is a catalyst for his intense belief of his chivalric code. Even though the novels by which he lives are fiction, they are the foundation of his understanding and intellect. Acting on this understanding, he lives by his chivalric code, and he believes he honors Dulcinea by doing so. This is analogous to how a faithful Catholic lives according to the Bible to please God. In chapter IV of Don Quixote, when Don Quixote demands that the merchants he encounters from Toledo declare the unparalleled beauty of Dulcinea, he tells the merchants: “The significance lies in not seeing her and believing, confessing, affirming, swearing, and defending that truth; if you do not, you must do battle with me, audacious and arrogant people.” (39) He posits the importance of their reliance on faith; he specifies that “the significance lies in not seeing her and believing.” Devout religious people must rely on faith alone in their belief in God. Don Quixote commands the merchants to observe a similar faith in Dulcinea, his God. One of the merchants respond that they cannot “burden [their] consciences with the confession of something we have never seen or heard, and which, moreover, is so prejudicial to the empresses and queens of Alcarria and Extremadura…” (40) Cervantes makes a veiled comment about the importance of religious tolerance. The empresses and queens of Alcarria and Extremadura are representatives of the respective divine figures of faiths other than Catholicism, such as Protestantism. Cervantes calls for peace between people of differing faiths and satirizes religious conflict. He implies the absurdity of the idea that one should purport their God as more legitimate than another person’s faith.


...(download the rest of the essay above)

Discover more:

About this essay:

If you use part of this page in your own work, you need to provide a citation, as follows:

Essay Sauce, The Dangers of Idealism and Cervantes’ Satire of Catholicism in Don Quixote. Available from:<https://www.essaysauce.com/literature-essays/the-dangers-of-idealism-and-cervantes-satire-of-catholicism-in-don-quixote/> [Accessed 18-05-24].

These Literature essays have been submitted to us by students in order to help you with your studies.

* This essay may have been previously published on Essay.uk.com at an earlier date.