I am thinking again about Don Quixote–I believe I wrote about him before. I have written that what Cervantes admitted about his mad hero in the end by calling the poor madman “the good” was the truth: that it was Don Quixote that was good and it was the world that was bad. Yes, Don Quixote went out to save a savage and brutal world all by himself. Forget that the jokes supposedly at his expense were funny. If the reader could not look into the Duke and the Duchess’ eyes and see that the evil dilettantes harassing the poor madman the heartbeat of what is wrong with humankind. As people spoiled and rich and idle, they could not be anything but at war with what was wrong with the poor, kind saint. They had to put him in a bed and have a woman pretend to be in love for him, only for him to say that he was too committed to Dulcinea (imaginary or not) to lay a finger on the slut. Yes, Cervantes only failed to see the American genius: that Don Quixote must not denounce his delusions even on his death bed, but be raised to Heaven for believing in them. That is what the play Man of La Mancha portrayed.
There is a thin line between madness and genius, and that is what Cervantes intuitively knew. I ought to know. Genius or not I have Bipolar, and yes it probably does make me more creative. Shakespeare put it best:
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold:
That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt.
The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven,
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Yes, lovers, poets, madmen–they are all the same at heart, whether suffering in the depths of despair or enjoying the delights of an imagined paradise.
Yes, and this is why Don Quixote when distracted from his obsessions can sound profound as King Solomon himself to his listeners–even if Cervantes’ views on the pen and the sword are no longer politically correct. Why are they not? Because Cervantes was right that being brave was a virtue (he favored the sword), but he was wrong that real literature does not take courage, too. The anti-Communist patriot Solzhenitsyn wrote the Gulag Archipelago and had to leave Russia. Elie Wiesel struggled with the depths of his soul to write Night and his other books. Anne Frank in her attic made her testament of a little Jewish girl’s desire for a better world, a world in which she would be allowed to practice her faith in peace. The true book takes courage to create, as much as the true battle takes courage to fight.
Cervantes was a fine soldier, but it is Don Quixote, the book in which he pillories all he believed in before going to war, for which he was remembered. Fighting for Spain he was captured, and in captivity his King would not pay the money to save him. Yet if he only knew it, it was his poetic muse and not his serving the army that was his greatest gift. And that is why he could not reject his “fool” in the end. His fool is as brave and naïve as Cervantes himself. And that is why I will never give up on him, or the musical play made from his book. They might have been written in America.