Published in 1605 and 1615, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes, is in my opinion, one of the greatest works of literature ever written. Commonly referred to simply as Don Quixote, it is the story of a country gentleman who apparently goes mad and decides to live as a knight. The ensuing adventures (or rather, misadventures) are both entertaining and inspiring, which is a rare combination.
My favorite adaptation of the tale is the Broadway musical, Man of La Mancha. The 1972 film disappoints me because Peter O’Toole simply cannot sing, although Sophia Loren’s performance is brilliant. The emphasis of this version is placed on Don Quixote’s relationship with Aldonza (or as he calls her, Dulcinea).
Cervantes tells his audience that he has known “men who saw life as it is, yet they died despairing… their eyes, filled with confusion, questioning ‘Why?’ …why they had ever lived. When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? … Too much sanity may be madness! But maddest of all—to see life as it is and not as it should be.”
Aldonza is a just a poor country maid, but Don Quixote sees her as she could be, as the Lady Dulcinea. He describes her as “at least a princess, since she is my queen… the impossible and fanciful attributes of beauty which the poets apply to their ladies are verified in her… what modesty conceals from sight such, I think and imagine, as rational reflection can only extol, not compare.”
I love this story so much because again and again, when faced with brutal reality, the hero refuses to acknowledge despair. He repeatedly chooses to continue dreaming The Impossible Dream and persevere in The Quest. Everyone thinks he’s crazy—jousting with windmills, declaring shaving basins to be golden helmets, honoring a peasant girl as a great lady.
When confronted with the harsh insanity of the world, Don Quixote constantly reminds all of us to keep going, keep dreaming, keep trying. He knows that “if I'll only be true, To this glorious quest… The world will be better for this, That one man, scorned and covered with scars, Still strove with his last ounce of courage.”
Imagine what the world could be like if we all dreamed the same dream as Cervantes, seeing the world as it should be, rather than as it is. What if we actually tried to make it better? Even if we only changed the world for one person, each our own Dulcinea, it would be worth it.