Quixote is considered insane because he “see[s] in his imagination what he didn’t see and what didn’t exist.” He has a set of chivalry-themed hallucinations. But then, they are not quite hallucinations, which by definition occur without any external stimulus. They are distorted perceptions of real objects and events. To see giants instead of windmills is, in a way, just a very peculiar interpretation of large, vaguely threatening objects in motion. And many other instances of Quixote’s madness – his rigid principles, his obsession with knighthood – are also peculiarities. The priest and the barber, who persecute Quixote in the guise of well-wishers trying to restore his sanity, are simply trying to stamp out his unsettling peculiarity. They are conducting a witch-hunt in the timeless manner of narrow-minded people threatened by strangeness.
Quixote’s madness is ambiguous and paradoxical, because he both and does not see; he sees the giants in his imagination, but he does not hallucinate giants in the world outside. His madness consists in his trusting his imagination over his perception, and his imagination is captivated by the values of chivalry books. His madness is a state of thrall to a coherent imagined world. But in the course of his adventures, that world loses its coherence: it is shaken by internal inconsistencies and by the world’s complications and contradictions. When Quixote declares on his deathbed that he is finally sane, he means that the imagined world has lost its grip on him, and he is left with a chilling blankness that cannot sustain him.
Madness and Sanity ThemeTracker
Madness and Sanity Quotes in Don Quixote
And to what can my barren and ill-cultivated mind give birth except the history of a dry, shriveled child, whimsical and full of extravagant fancies that nobody else has ever imagined – a child born, after all, in prison, where every discomfort has its seat and every dismal sound its habitation?
In short, our hidalgo was soon so absorbed in these books that his nights were spent reading from dusk till dawn, and his days from dawn till dusk, until the lack of sleep the excess of reading withered his brain, and he went mad. … The idea that this whole fabric of famous fabrications was real so established itself in his mind that no history in the world was truer for him.
But Don Quixote was so convinced that they were giants that he neither heard his squire Sancho’s shouts nor saw what stood in front of him.
… for in those very many [histories] that I have read, I have not found any mention of knights errant eating, except when it happened that some sumptuous banquet was held for them, but otherwise they used to live on next to nothing.
…whatever I have done, am doing, and shall do is totally reasonable and in conformity with the rules of chivalry.
Is it possible that in all the time you have been with me you have failed to realize that all things appertaining to us knights errant seem like chimeras, follies, and nonsenses, because they have all been turned on their head? Not because that is their real state, but because we are always attended by a crew of enchanters.
…the poets themselves invent most of [their ladies], to have something to write their poetry about, and to make people think that they are in love and that they have it in them to be lovers.
That’s the kind of love… that I’ve heard in sermons we’re supposed to feel for our Lord – for his own sake, without being moved by hopes of glory or fears of punishment. Though I must say I’d prefer to love him for what he can do for me.
Don Quixote was developing his arguments in such an orderly and lucid way that for the time being none of those listening could believe he was a madman.
It is possible that, since you have not been knighted, as I have, the enchantments in this place do not affect you, and that your understanding is unclouded, and that you can form judgments about the affairs of the castle as they really and truly are, rather than as they appeared to me.
But one man had been plunged into the deepest depths of despair, and that was the barber, whose basin, there before his very eyes, had turned into Mambrino’s helmet, and whose pack-saddle, he was very sure, was about to turn into the splendid caparisons of some handsome steed.
… enchantment can take many different forms, and it could be that these have changed in the course of time, so that what happens nowadays is that the enchanted do all the things that I do, even though formerly they did not. So one cannot either argue against the customs of the times, or draw any conclusions from them.
O pride of your family, honour and glory of all La Mancha and all the world – now that you’ve gone from it, it’ll fill up with evil-doers who won’t be frightened of being punished for their wicked ways! ... O you who were humble to the haughty and haughty to the humble, tackler of dangers, taker of insults, in love without a cause, imitator of the good, scourge of the wicked, enemy of villains – in a word, knight errant, and that says it all!
We shall soon see where this great fabric of absurdities leaves this knight and this squire – anyone would think they’d been made in the same mold, and that the madness of the master wouldn’t be worth a farthing without the foolishness of the man.
… the envy that some evil enchanter must feel for all my affairs transforms all things that can give me pleasure into shapes quite unlike their real ones; and so I fear that if perchance the author of the history of my exploits that is said to be in print is some hostile sage, he has no doubt altered everything, mingling a thousand lies with one truth.
On my faith as a knight errant… when I saw this cart I imagined that it heralded some great adventure, and now I do declare that appearances must be examined closely to discover the hidden truth.
I cannot bring myself to believe that everything recorded in this chapter happened to the brave Don Quixote exactly as described… Yet I can’t believe that Don Quixote was lying, because he was the most honest hidalgo and the noblest knight of his time: he couldn’t have told a lie to save himself from being executed. … so I merely record it, without affirming either that it is false or that it is true.
…the ploy of these enchanters who pursue me is to place before my eyes things as they are, and then change them into what they want them to be.
Although they look like water-mils, that is not what they are: I have already told you that enchantments transfigure al things and deprive them of their natural forms. I don’t mean to say that they really convert them from one thing into another, but that it seems as if they do.
…the Dolorous Duenna’s face is indeed the butler’s, but this does not mean to say that the butler is the Dolorous Duenna; for if he were, this would imply a major contradiction, and now is not the time to make sure enquiries, which would take us into inextricable labyrinths.
I say it was an inn because that’s what Don Quixote called it, contrary to his habit of calling all inns castles.
They dismounted at an inn, which Don Quixote recognized as such and not as a castle with its deep moat, towers, portcullises and drawbridge; because now that he’d been defeated his judgment on all subjects was sounder, as will soon be shown.
My mind has been restored to me, and it is now clear and free, without those gloomy shadows of ignorance cast over me by my wretched, obsessive reading of those detestable books of chivalry. Now I can recognize their absurdity and their deceitfulness, and my only regret is that this discovery has come so late that it leaves me no time to make amends by reading other books that might be a light for my soul.
You must congratulate me, my good sirs, because I am no longer Don Quixote de la Mancha but Alonso Quixano, for whom my way of life earned me the nickname of “the Good”. I am now the enemy of Amadis of Gaul and the whole infinite horde or his descendants; now all those profane histories of knight-errantry are odious to me; now I acknowledge my folly and the peril in which I was placed by reading them; now, by God’s mercy, having at long last learned my lesson, I abominate them all.