At the beginning of Book II, Don Quixote says, “tell me, friend Sancho, what do folks say of me about this town? what opinion has the common people of me? what think the gentlemen, and what the cavaliers? what is said of my prowess, what of my exploits, and what of my courtesy? What discourse is there of the design I have engaged in, to revive and restore to the world the long-forgotten order of chivalry?” (481). Sancho will only agree to discuss his lord’s reputation, however, if he promises not to get angry. The knight gallantly accedes.
“‘First and foremost then,’ said Sancho, ‘the common people take your worship for a downright madman, and me for no less a fool.'” The gentlemen say that Quixote has unrightfully taken upon himself the title “Don” and “invaded the dignity of knighthood, with no more than a paltry vineyard.” The well-dressed cavaliers insinuate that he is not well-dressed, to which our knight-errant objects, “for I always go well clad, and my clothes are never patched: a little torn they may be, but more so through the fretting of my armour; than by length of time” (482).
Our hero is not abashed. “‘Take notice, Sancho,’ said Don Quixote, ‘that wherever virtue is found in any eminent degree, it is always persecuted” (482), and then he names several other great men, whose names were slandered in their own day: Julius Caeser, Alexander the Great, Hercules, and Don Galaor, the brother of Amadis de Gaul. The knight is blending history and legend here, which is exactly his problem, that he cannot tell the difference between fiction and reality. Well, neither can you, dear reader, if the post-structuralists have anything to say about it, who say that none of us can think outside of our language which limits and directs our thought, in other words fictionalizing our world, yet we still take statements like, “There are two apples in a basket” as truth. The fourth Quixote mentioned was the brother of Amadis de Gaul. Amadis de Gaul was one of the earliest chivalric romances that established the genre that drove Quixote mad, which brings us back to the story of Quixote.
Such criticism is alright, the knight says, if there is no more than the few he mentioned. “‘Body of my father! There lies the jest,’ replied Sancho. ‘The tail remains to be flayed,’ quoth Sancho: ‘all hitherto has been tarts and cheese-cakes” (483). A scholar visiting from Salamanca had told him that “the history of your worship is already printed in books under the title of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha; and he says it mentions me too by my very name of Sancho Panza, and the lady Dulcinea del Toboso, and several other things which passed between us two only; insomuch that I crossed myself out of pure amazement, to think how the historian who wrote it, could come to know them'” (483).
Sancho is especially concerned that the writer somehow magically was able to view their most embarrassing exploits and listen to their private conversations. “‘Depend upon it, Sancho!’ quoth Don Quixote, ‘that the author of this our history must be some sage enchanter; for nothing is hid from them when they have a mind to write” (483). In fact, this is a supreme moment of metafiction. Someone does in fact hear and see everything, the author. In their world, the author is omniscient and omnipotent, all-knowing and all-powerful, which reminds readers they are reading a romance, although the book apparently condemns such fictions.
The excellent squire is a bit surprised to hear the author called a sage and an enchanter, since his name is Arabic, “Cid Hamet Berengena” (483), a name Sancho gets wrong, since the name is “really” Cid Hamet Ben Engeli. The misnomer, however, convinces the squire because Moors love the music called “berengenas.”
Don Quixote sends him to fetch the scholar who had read the book and while he is away, he wonders if his book is written by a friend or an enemy. If by an enemy, he would present his exploits as below those of a squire, although Don Quixote peevishly thinks that the feats of squires are never written about. (Peevishly, because he must resent a bit having to share the spotlight with the corpulent Sancho Panza, whose last name by the way refers to his paunch, or pot-belly.) “But if it should prove true that such a history was really extant, since it was the history of a knight-errant, it must of necessity be sublime, lofty and true” (484). The truth of the matter is the book Don Quixote is all of these things: sublime, lofty in an earthy way, and true to the experience of the idealist in a stuck in a real world.
This comforts the knight somewhat until he recalls that the author is a Moor, “who were all impostors, liars and visionaries” (484). Although this seems a harsh assessment, the word “visionaries” is a positive term. And, of course, we must keep in mind that the “real” author is Cervantes, the visionary telling lies in order to tell the truth about a knight and a squire who find a book about themselves.
Cervantes, Miguel de. Don Quixote. Trans. Charles Jarvis. Ed. E. C. Riley. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.