Published in two volumes a decade apart, Don Quixote is the most influential work of literature to emerge from the Spanish Golden Age and perhaps the entire Spanish literary canon. As a founding work of modern Western literature, it regularly appears at the top of lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published.
The novel's structure is in episodic form. It is a humorous novel in the picaresco style of the late sixteenth century. The full title is indicative of the tale's object, as ingenioso (Span.) means "to be quick with inventiveness". Although the novel is farcical, the second half is serious and philosophical about the theme of deception. Quixote has served as an important thematic source not only in literature but in much of later art and music, inspiring works by Pablo Picasso and Richard Strauss. The contrasts between the tall, thin, fancy-struck, and idealistic Quixote and the fat, squat, world-weary Panza is a motif echoed ever since the book’s publication, and Don Quixote's imaginings are the butt of outrageous and cruel practical jokes in the novel. Even faithful and simple Sancho is unintentionally forced to deceive him at certain points. The novel is considered a satire of orthodoxy, truth, veracity, and even nationalism. In going beyond mere storytelling to exploring the individualism of his characters, Cervantes helped move beyond the narrow literary conventions of the chivalric romance literature that he spoofed, which consists of straightforward retelling of a series of acts that redound to the knightly virtues of the hero.
Farce makes use of punning and similar verbal playfulness. Character-naming in Don Quixote makes ample figural use of contradiction, inversion, and irony, such as the names Rocinante (a reversal) and Dulcinea (an allusion to illusion), and the word quixote itself, possibly a pun on quijada (jaw) but certainly cuixot (Catalan: thighs), a reference to a horse's rump.
The world of ordinary people, from shepherds to tavern-owners and inn-keepers, which figures in Don Quixote, was groundbreaking. The character of Don Quixote became so well-known in its time that the word quixotic was quickly calqued into many languages. Characters such as Sancho Panza and Don Quixote’s steed, Rocinante, are emblems of Western literary culture. The phrase "tilting at windmills" to describe an act of futility similarly derives from an iconic scene in the book.
Because of its widespread influence, Don Quixote also helped cement the modern Spanish language. The opening sentence of the book created a classic Spanish cliché with the phrase de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, "whose name I do not want to remember."
En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo de los de lanza en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco y galgo corredor.
"In a place at La Mancha, which name I do not want to remember, not very long ago lived a country hidalgo, one of those gentlemen or hidalgos who keep a lance in the lance-rack, an ancient shield, a skinny old horse, and a fast greyhound.
He sets out in the early morning and ends up at an inn, which he believes to be a castle. He asks the innkeeper, whom he takes to be the lord of the castle, to dub him a knight. He spends the night holding vigil over his armor, during which he becomes involved in a fight with muleteers who try to remove his armor from the horse trough so that they can water their mules. The innkeeper then "dubs" him a knight, advising him that he needs a squire, and sends him on his way. Don Quixote battles with traders from Toledo, who "insult" the imaginary Dulcinea, and he also frees a young boy who is tied to a tree by his master because the boy had the audacity to ask his master for the wages the boy had earned but had not yet been paid. Don Quixote is returned to his home by a neighboring peasant, Pedro Crespo.
Back at home, Don Quixote plots an escape. Meanwhile, his niece, the housekeeper, the parish curate, and the local barber secretly burn most of the books of chivalry, and seal up his library pretending that a magician has carried it off. Don Quixote approaches another neighbour, Sancho Panza, and asks him to be his squire, promising him governorship of an island. The rather dull-witted Sancho agrees, and the pair sneak off in the early dawn. It is here that their series of famous adventures begin, starting with Don Quixote's attack on windmills that he believes to be ferocious giants.
Although the first half of the novel is almost completely farcical, the second half is serious and philosophical about the theme of deception. Don Quixote's imaginings are made the butt of outrageously cruel practical jokes. Even Sancho is unintentionally forced to deceive him at one point; trapped into finding Dulcinea, Sancho brings back three peasant girls and tells Quixote that they are Dulcinea and her ladies-in-waiting. When Don Quixote only sees three peasant girls, Sancho pretends that Quixote suffers from a cruel spell which does not permit him to see the truth. Sancho eventually gets his imaginary island governorship and unexpectedly proves to be wise and practical; though this, too, ends in disaster.
In July of 1604 Cervantes sold the rights of El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha (known as Don Quixote, Part I) to the publisher-bookseller Francisco de Robles for an unknown sum. License to publish was granted in September, the printing was finished in December, and the book came out in January 1605. The novel was an immediate success. Most of the 400 copies of the first edition were sent to the New World, with the publisher hoping to make a better price in the Americas . Although a lot of them disappeared in a shipwreck near La Havana, approximately 70 copies reached Lima, from where they were sent to Cuzco in the heart of the defunct Inca Empire .
There is some evidence of its contents having been known before publication to, among others, Lope de Vega. There is also a tradition that Cervantes read some portions of his work to a select audience at the court of the Duke of Bejar, which may have helped in making the book known. Don Quixote, Part One remained in Cervantes' hands for some time before he could find a willing publisher. The compositors at Juan de la Cuesta's press in Madrid are now known to have been responsible for errors in the text, many of which were attributed to the author.
No sooner was it in the hands of the public than preparations were made to issue derivative ("pirated") editions. "Don Quixote" had been growing in favour, and its author's name was now known beyond the Pyrenees. By August 1605 there were two Madrid editions, two published in Lisbon, and one in Valencia. A second edition with additional copyrights for Aragon and Portugal, which publisher Francisco de Robles secured. Sale of these publishing rights deprived Cervantes of further financial profit on Part One. In 1607, an edition was printed in Brussels. Robles, the Madrid publisher, found it necessary to meet demand with a third edition, a seventh publication in all, in 1608. Popularity of the book in Italy was such that a Milan bookseller issued an Italian edition in 1610. Yet another Brussels edition was called for in 1721.
In 1613, Cervantes published Novelas Exemplares, dedicated to the Maecenas of the day, the Conde de Lemos. Eight and a half years after Part One had appeared, we get the first hint of a forthcoming Segunda Parte (Part Two). "You shall see shortly," Cervantes says, "the further exploits of Don Quixote and humours of Sancho Panza. Don Quixote, Part Two, published by the same press as its predecessor, appeared late in 1615, and quickly reprinted in Brussels and Valencia (1616) and Lisbon (1617). Part two capitalizes on the potential of the first while developing and diversifying the material without sacrificing familiarity. Many people agree that it is richer and more profound. Parts One and Two were published as one edition in Barcelona in 1617.
Some theories exist that question whether Cervantes alone wrote Don Quixote. Carlos Fuentes raises an intriguing possibility that, "Cervantes leaves open the pages of a book where the reader knows himself to be written and it is said that he dies on the same date, though not on the same day, as William Shakespeare. It is further stated that perhaps both were the same man.
The second half of Cervantes' Don Quixote, finished as a direct result of the Avellaneda book, has come to be regarded by most literary critics as being far superior to the first, because of its greater depth of characterization, its discussions, mostly between Quixote and Sancho, on random subjects, and its philosophical insights.
The elusive Thomas Shelton's English translation of the First Part appeared in 1612. Some claim Shelton was actually a friend of Cervantes, although there is no credible evidence to support this claim. Although Shelton's version has been a cherished translation, according to John Ormsby and Samuel Putnam respectively, it was far from satisfactory as a carrying over of Cervantes's text. Shelton's translation of the novel's Second Part appeared in 1620.
Near the end of the 17th century, John Phillips, a nephew of poet John Milton, published what is considered by Putnam the worst English translated version. The translation, as literary critics claim, was not based on Cervantes' text but mostly upon a French work by Filleau de Saint-Martin and upon notes which Thomas Shelton had written previously. Around 1700, a version by Pierre Antoine Motteux appeared. As stated by translator John Ormsby, this version was "worse than worthless". The prevailing slapstick quality of this work, especially where Sancho Panza is involved, the obtrusion of the obscene where it is found in the original, and the slurring of difficulties through omissions or expanding upon the text all made the Motteux version irresponsible. In 1742, the Charles Jervas translation appeared, posthumously. Through a printer's error, it came to be known, and is still known, as "the Jarvis translation". The most scholarly and accurate English translation of the novel up to that time, it has been criticized by some as being too stiff. Nevertheless, it became the most frequently reprinted translation of the novel until about 1885. Another 18th century translation into English was that of Tobias Smollett, himself a novelist. Like the Jarvis translation, it continues to be reprinted today.
Most modern translators take as their model the 1885 translation by John Ormsby. It is said that his translation was the most honest of all translations, without expansions upon the text nor changing of the proverbs. The most widely read English-language translations of the mid-20th century are by Samuel Putnam (1949), J. M. Cohen (1950; Penguin Classics), and Walter Starkie (1957). The last English translation of the novel in the 20th century was by Burton Raffel, published in 1996. The 21st century has already seen two new translations of the novel into English — by John Rutherford, and by Edith Grossman. One New York Times reviewer called Grossman's translation a "major literary achievement and another called it the "most transparent and least impeded among more than a dozen English translations going back to the 17th century.
The cultural legacy of Don Quixote is one of the richest and most varied of any work of fiction ever produced. It stands in a unique position between medieval chivalric romance and the modern novel. The former consist of disconnected stories with little exploration of the inner life of even the main character. The latter are usually focused on the psychological evolution of their characters. In Part I, Quixote imposes himself on his environment. By Part II, people know about him through "having read his adventures," and so, he needs to do less to maintain his image. By his deathbed, he has regained his sanity, and is once more "Alonso Quixano the Good".
The novel contains many minor literary "firsts" for European literature—a woman complaining of her menopause, someone with an eating disorder, and the psychological revealing of their troubles as something inner to themselves.
Subtle touches regarding perspective are everywhere: characters talk about a woman who is the cause of the death of a suitor, portraying her as evil, but when she comes on stage, she gives a different perspective entirely that makes Quixote (and thus the reader) defend her. When Quixote descends into a cave, Cervantes admits that he does not know what went on there.
Quixote's adventures tend to involve situations in which he attempts to apply a knight's sure, simple morality to situations in which much more complex issues are at hand. For example, upon seeing a band of galley slaves being mistreated by their guards, he believes their cries of innocence and attacks the guards. After they are freed, he demands that they honor his lady Dulcinea, but instead they pelt him with stones and leave.
Different ages have tended to read different things into the novel. When it was first published, it was usually interpreted as a comic novel. After the French Revolution it was popular in part due to its central ethic that individuals can be right while society is quite wrong and seen as disenchanting—not comic at all. In the 19th century it was seen as a social commentary, but no one could easily tell "whose side Cervantes was on." By the 20th century it had come to occupy a canonical space as one of the foundations of modern literature.
The novel was recently voted The Greatest Book of All Time by the Nobel Institute.
The novel is also responsible for the adjective quixotic, which alludes to behavior that is noble in an absurd way, or the desire to perform acts of chivalry in a radically impractical manner.
It has also been a centrepoint to an Quantum Leap episode, in which Scott Bakula plays an understudy in the role of Don Quixote.
The novel's landmark status in literary history has meant it has had a rich and varied influence over later writers, from Cervantes' own lifetime to the present-day. Some leading examples of Don Quixote's influence include:
The 18th century French baroque composer Joseph Bodin de Boismortier wrote a short ballet titled Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse. The ballet, which includes sung parts, is about a Duke's and Duchess' efforts to fool Don Quixote.
A play by Thomas D'Urfey with music and songs by Baroque composer Henry Purcell, entitled The Comical History of Don Quixote (1694), adapts and rearranges some of his adventures. The play, like other eighteenth-century adaptations of the novel, reflects that era's view of Don Quixote as a comic work, with no hint of seriousness.
Die Hochzeit des Camacho, an early opera by Felix Mendelssohn (composed in 1827) is based on the same section of the book on which Telemann based his opera.
Ludwig Minkus composed the music for Marius Petipa's ballet Don Quixote, which was staged for the Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow in 1869, and was revised in more elaborate production for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg in 1871. The libretto was based on the same chapters in the novel which attracted Mendelssohn and Telemann. Petipa's ballet was substantially revised by Alexander Gorsky in 1900 for the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, a version which was staged for the Imperial in 1902. It is Gorsky's 1902 staging which has been revisited by several other choreographers in the course of the twentieth century in Soviet Russia, and has since been staged by ballet companies all over the world. In 1972, Rudolf Nureyev filmed his celebrated version of the ballet with the Australian Ballet. The choreography, credited to Nureyev, was based closely on the Soviet edition.
Jules Massenet's Don Quichotte premiered at Monte Carlo Opera on February 24, 1910. In the title role at the first performance was the legendary Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin, for whom the part was written.
Jacques Ibert composed music for the 1933 film Adventures of Don Quixote starring the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin, directed by G.W. Pabst. Three versions were filmed, in French, English, and German. The French and English versions have been released on home video.
Richard Strauss composed the tone poem Don Quixote, subtitling it "Introduction, Theme with Variations, and Finale" and 'Fantastic Variations for Large Orchestra on a Theme of Knightly Character.' The music makes explicit reference to many of the novel's most entertaining sections, including the sheep (described famously by double-tongued brass) and windmill episodes.
The Catalan composer Roberto Gerhard, shortly after being exiled to the United Kingdom at the end of the Spanish Civil War, composed in 1940–41 a ballet on Don Quixote as the most important of a number of tributes to Spanish culture. Not staged in this original form, the ballet became the source for a number of orchestral suites and Gerhard also used it in the extensive incidental music he provided for a BBC radio adaptation of Cervantes’s novel by Eric Linklater, The Adventures of Don Quixote (1940). Gerhard re-wrote the ballet in 1947–49 and it was staged by Sadler’s Wells Ballet at Covent Garden with choreography by Ninette de Valois and décor by Edward Burra.
Man of La Mancha, with music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion and book by Dale Wasserman based on his non-musical teleplay I, Don Quixote, is a one-act Broadway musical which combines episodes in the novel with a story about its author, Miguel de Cervantes, as a play within a play that premiered in 1965.
The British composer Ronald Stevenson has composed an extensive work for two guitars, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, subtitled 'a Bagatelle Cycle' (1982–3) and consisting of a double theme with seventeen variations based on various events in Cervantes' novel. The work was premiered in Glasgow in 1998.
Also the Austrian-born Finnish composer Herman Rechberger wrote a piece for two guitars with the titel "Hola Miguel". It was premiered in 2001. His recent miniopera "La piedra the Don" is scored for historical instruments and three female singers. It was premiered in Helsinki in February 2007 by the Ensemble "Hi!Barock". British singer-songwriter Nik Kershaw released a song entitled Don Quixote, which reached No. 10 in the UK top 40 in 1985.
French writer Alexander Dumas compares D'Artagnan to Quixote in The Three Musketeers.
The 1998 Concept Album La Leyenda de la Mancha by popular Spanish Rock band Mägo De Oz is a modern retelling of the story of Don Quixote. The most popular song from that album 'Molinos De Viento' is about Don Quixote's conversation with Sancho Panza after the adventure with the windmills, in which Don Quixote attacks the windmills because he believes them to be giants.
The story is the subject of the aptly named Don Quixote, a ska punk song off the album Kids on the Street by multi-genre band the Cherry Poppin' Daddies. In it's lyrics, the narrator sympathizes with Quixote's chivalric code of honor, expressing resentment towards today's generation who, like Quixote's foes in the story, are too blind to see the true nobility of the love and honor he fights for.
The x was pronounced like an English sh sound (voiceless postalveolar fricative) in medieval times — [kiˈʃote] — and this is reflected in the French name Don Quichotte, the Dutch Don Quichot (or Don Quichote), as well as in the Italian name Don Chisciotte. However, in Spanish such words (now virtually all spelled with a j) are now pronounced with a voiceless velar fricative sound like the Scottish or German ch [kiˈxote]. English speakers generally attempt something close to the modern Spanish pronunciation when saying Quixote/Quijote, as , although the incorrect traditional English pronunciation /ˈkwɪksət/ or /ˈkwɪksoʊt/ is still frequently used, more in the United Kingdom than in the United States .
In Spanish, the "qu" in "qui" and "que" are pronounced almost identically to the English "k", so when people pronounce it /ˈkwɪksoʊt/, it is ultimately incorrect. The e at the end of "Quixote" is pronounced, not silent. The traditional English rendering is also preserved in the pronunciation of the adjectival form quixotic.