Sancho Panza is a fictional character in the novel Don Quixote written by Spanish author Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra in 1602. Sancho acts as squire to Don Quixote, and provides comments throughout the novel, known as sanchismos, that are a combination of broad humor, ironic Spanish proverbs, and earthy wit. "Panza" means 'belly,' and is alternately spelled pança.
Sancho Panza is not a servant of Alonso Quijano before his madness turns him into Don Quixote, but a peasant living in the same unnamed village. When the novel begins Sancho has been married for a long time to a woman named Teresa Cascajo and has a daughter, María Sancha (also named Marisancha, Marica, María, Sancha and Sanchica), who is said to be old enough to be married. Sancho's wife is described more or less as a feminine version of Sancho, both in looks and behaviour. When Don Quixote proposes Sancho to be his squire, neither he nor his family strongly oppose it.
Sancho is illiterate and proud of it but by influence of his new master he develops considerable knowledge about some books. During the travels with Don Quixote he keeps contact with his wife by dictating letters addressed to her.
Sancho Panza offers interpolated narrative voice throughout the tale, a literary convention invented by Cervantes. Sancho Panza is precursor to "the sidekick," and is symbolic of practicality over idealism. Sancho is the everyman, who, though not sharing his master's delusional "enchantment" until late in the novel, remains his ever-faithful companion realist, and functions as the clever sidekick.
In the novel, Don Quixote comments on the historical state and condition of Aragón and Castilla, which are vying for power in Europe. Sancho Panza represents, among other things, the quintessentially Spanish brand of skepticism of the period.
Sancho obediently follows his master, despite being sometimes puzzled by Quijote's actions. Riding a mule, he helps Quixote get out of various conflicts while looking forward to rewards of aventura that Quijote tells him of.
The two later encounter a pair of impostor dukes who pretend to make Sancho governor of a fictional fief, la ínsula Barataria (roughly "Isle Come-cheaply"; see Cockaigne). He eagerly accepts, and leaves his master. In a letter, Don Quixote gives Sancho nonsensical advice on governorship gleaned from the romances he has read, thought to have been inspired by the Diálogo de Mercurio y Carón attributed to Juan de Valdés, using the allegorical ínsula to satirize gullibility for philosopher-doctors' quackery and the current political quests for foreign riches of the Indies. The Dukes' "servants" are instructed to play several pranks upon Sancho. Surprisingly, Sancho is able to rule justly, applying common sense and practical wisdom in spite of fantastical, foolish advice that Don Quixote has read about. As Sancho triumphs in these staged parody battles he learns how difficult it is to rule and "resigns" to rejoin Don Quixote and continue the adventure.
Sancho encounters Ricote ("fat cat"), his former Morisco neighbor, who has buried a small fortune. Ricote, like all Moriscos, was expelled from Spain and has returned in disguise to retrieve the treasure he left behind. He asks Sancho for his help. Sancho, while sympathetic, refuses to betray his king.
When Don Quixote takes to his deathbed, Sancho tries to cheer him. Sancho idealistically proposes they become pastoral shepherds and thus becomes 'Quixotized'.
A further layer of characters playing other characters can be found in the Quantum Leap episode "Catch a Falling Star", in which Ernie Sabella plays the actor "Manny", who in turn plays Cervantes' manservant, who plays Sancho. This appearance predates Sabella's 2002 Broadway portrayal of Sancho Panza.
The Sancho Panza name is also used for a cigar brand originating in Cuba in 1852. While it is still made in Cuba, a Honduran version made by General Cigar was introduced in 2001 for the United States market.
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