Love #28: Recollections touching on The Knight of the Rueful Countenance


“Having thus lost his understanding, the old man unluckily stumbled upon the oddest fancy that ever entered into a madman’s brain; for now he thought it convenient and necessary, as well for the increase of his own honour, as the service of the public, to turn knight errant.” (Cervantes)

My Master, the renowned knight Don Quixote of La Mancha (once I knew him just as SeƱor Quexana), left his home, housekeeper and daughter and sallied forth into the world in search of adventure. He let his steed (a lean hack), the incomparable Rocinante, choose his path, for he believed that way lay the essence of adventures.

Before I joined his quest, he talked to himself. A lot. He talked about the fame his adventures and deeds would bring, worthy to be moulded in brass or carved in marble. When I joined, he still talked to himself, or Rocinante, or giants, but he also spoke kindly to me. And unkindly. Sometimes.

Too often, his heart wept for the unrequited love of a woman. He dwelt on the name he should give this lady of his thoughts. Eventually, he decided to call her his "sweetheart of El Toboso", or Dulcinea del Toboso, which he thought a musical, uncommon, and significant name, a bit like the one he had found for himself. 

It turned out that his Dulcinea was a real live person who already had a name. She was called Aldonza Lorenzo and lived at a farm close to a neighboring village of El Toboso.  

The world already knew a little of Aldonza, for in the margins of a history about Don Quixote's adventures (written in Arabic by Cid Hamete Benengeli) a side note claimed she had "the best hand of any woman in all La Mancha for salting pigs".

It appears that Don Quixote had conceived love for Dulcinea, although he had never learned her name and she had never learned of his love nor gave him a second thought. Still, from a distance, she seemed beautiful and I imagined she would be good thrashing grain. 

Nevertheless, her new name came in handy when a rude water carrier shifted the good knight's armor to let the carrier's team drink. Calling on Dulcinea's name, he smote the water carrier and laid him out flat. Sadly, not all his encounters in which her name was invoked went so well. 

His encounter with giants went particularly badly and because it is a good story, more so because I suffered no bruises, I will tell it again:. 

"At this point they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that there are on that plain, and as soon as Don Quixote saw them he said to his squire, “Fortune is arranging matters for us better than we could have shaped our desires ourselves, for look there, friend Sancho Panza, where thirty or more monstrous giants present themselves, all of whom I mean to engage in battle and slay, and with whose spoils we shall begin to make our fortunes; for this is righteous warfare, and it is God’s good service to sweep so evil a breed from off the face of the earth.”

“What giants?” said Sancho Panza.

“Those thou seest there,” answered his master, “with the long arms, and some have them nearly two leagues long.”

“Look, your worship,” said Sancho; “what we see there are not giants but windmills, and what seem to be their arms are the sails that turned by the wind make the millstone go.”

“It is easy to see,” replied Don Quixote, “that thou art not used to this business of adventures; those are giants; and if thou art afraid, away with thee out of this and betake thyself to prayer while I engage them in fierce and unequal combat.”

So saying, he gave the spur to his steed Rocinante, heedless of the cries his squire Sancho sent after him, warning him that most certainly they were windmills and not giants he was going to attack. He, however, was so positive they were giants that he neither heard the cries of Sancho, nor perceived, near as he was, what they were, but made at them shouting, “Fly not, cowards and vile beings, for a single knight attacks you.”

A slight breeze at this moment sprang up, and the great sails began to move, seeing which Don Quixote exclaimed, “Though ye flourish more arms than the giant Briareus, ye have to reckon with me.”

So saying, and commending himself with all his heart to his lady Dulcinea, imploring her to support him in such a peril, with lance in rest and covered by his buckler, he charged at Rocinante’s fullest gallop and fell upon the first mill that stood in front of him; but as he drove his lance-point into the sail the wind whirled it round with such force that it shivered the lance to pieces, sweeping with it horse and rider, who went rolling over on the plain, in a sorry condition. Sancho hastened to his assistance as fast as his ass could go, and when he came up found him unable to move, with such a shock had Rocinante fallen with him.

“God bless me!” said Sancho, “did I not tell your worship to mind what you were about, for they were only windmills? and no one could have made any mistake about it but one who had something of the same kind in his head.”

“Hush, friend Sancho,” replied Don Quixote, “the fortunes of war more than any other are liable to frequent fluctuations; and moreover I think, and it is the truth, that that same sage Friston who carried off my study and books, has turned these giants into mills in order to rob me of the glory of vanquishing them, such is the enmity he bears me; but in the end his wicked arts will avail but little against my good sword.”"  (Cervantes)

After such a terrible fall (and on countless succeeding nights different hurtful bruises following misadventures of many different types), the knight spent a sleepless night, with nought but thoughts of Dulcinea to comfort him... "in order to conform to what he had read in his books, how many a night in the forests and deserts knights used to lie sleepless supported by the memory of their mistresses." I found I got a better sleep after a pigskin of hard grog.

After many other adventures, and bruises, Don Quixote was asked about the object of his love, for as you would know being book learned, all knight-errants have a love:

"At this Don Quixote heaved a deep sigh and said, “I cannot say positively whether my sweet enemy is pleased or not that the world should know I serve her; I can only say in answer to what has been so courteously asked of me, that her name is Dulcinea, her country El Toboso, a village of La Mancha, her rank must be at least that of a princess, since she is my queen and lady, and her beauty superhuman, since all the impossible and fanciful attributes of beauty which the poets apply to their ladies are verified in her; for her hairs are gold, her forehead Elysian fields, her eyebrows rainbows, her eyes suns, her cheeks roses, her lips coral, her teeth pearls, her neck alabaster, her bosom marble, her hands ivory, her fairness snow, and what modesty conceals from sight such, I think and imagine, as rational reflection can only extol, not compare.”"  (Cervantes)

To this not inconsiderable picture of her undoubted beauty and skills with salting pigs, should now be added a landslide of detail.

While writing a letter professing his love for Don Quixote admitted: "...Dulcinea can neither read nor write, nor in the whole course of her life has she seen handwriting or letter of mine, for my love and hers have been always platonic, not going beyond a modest look, and even that so seldom that I can safely swear I have not seen her four times in all these twelve years I have been loving her more than the light of these eyes that the earth will one day devour; and perhaps even of those four times she has not once perceived that I was looking at her: such is the retirement and seclusion in which her father Lorenzo Corchuelo and her mother Aldonza Nogales have brought her up."  (Cervantes)

At that stage, I, Sancho, had to admit I knew her quite well: "and let me tell you she can fling a crowbar as well as the lustiest lad in all the town. Giver of all good! but she is a brave lass, and a right and stout one, and fit to be helpmate to any knight-errant that is or is to be, who may make her his lady: the whoreson wench, what sting she has and what a voice! I can tell you one day she posted herself on the top of the belfry of the village to call some labourers of theirs that were in a ploughed field of her father’s, and though they were better than half a league off they heard her as well as if they were at the foot of the tower; and the best of her is that she is not a bit prudish, for she has plenty of affability, and jokes with everybody, and has a grin and a jest for everything..."  (Cervantes) But then, perhaps some of these things should been left unspoken, for I am sometimes inclined to chatter.

The letter Don Quixote wrote to his love benefitted a little from his encounters with other love mad fools, alive and dead, and may be stated in full:

“Sovereign and exalted Lady,—The pierced by the point of absence, the wounded to the heart’s core, sends thee, sweetest Dulcinea del Toboso, the health that he himself enjoys not. If thy beauty despises me, if thy worth is not for me, if thy scorn is my affliction, though I be sufficiently long-suffering, hardly shall I endure this anxiety, which, besides being oppressive, is protracted. My good squire Sancho will relate to thee in full, fair ingrate, dear enemy, the condition to which I am reduced on thy account: if it be thy pleasure to give me relief, I am thine; if not, do as may be pleasing to thee; for by ending my life I shall satisfy thy cruelty and my desire.

    “Thine till death,

    “The Knight of the Rueful Countenance.”

Alas, when I went to deliver the said letter, I could not find it (for it appears that the knight tucked it away out of sight), and so I had to rely on memory alone to produce this second copy:

‘Exalted and scrubbing Lady.’”

‘The wounded, and wanting of sleep, and the pierced, kisses your worship’s hands, ungrateful and very unrecognised fair one. [And it said something or other about health and sickness that he was sending her; and from that it went tailing off until it ended with]

   ‘Yours till death, 

   the Knight of the Rueful Countenance.’”

Perhaps, it was best for Aldonzo's and Don Quixote's sakes, that the letter was never delivered. 

Copyright Dark Aelf, 2021 

Return to Love (Short Story Series) INDEX 


Unlike modern theatre versions, in Cervantes' books, Don Quixote and Dulcinea never meet. And perhaps that was a good thing, for the meeting in the theatrical reconstructions breaks the tension of the plot and the shows crash in dreary sentimentality.

Like Aurelius, Cervantes took aim at Diotima, pricking the spiritual idea of love whenever the opportunity presented itself. Still, Cervantes' message has not simply been taken as an attack on high blown thoughts of love. Instead, it has strangely become an exemplar of how love can inspire the doing of good deeds, even if the love is entirely imaginary, and the good deeds only good in name.

To be fair on Certantes, it was not all laughs and destructive comedy: the speech from Marcela stands against the ravages of time. 

So why should Don Quixote and Dulcinea be remembered as one of the great human love stories? Perhaps it is our desire to laugh, or hear silly love songs, or to watch mistakes and errors repeated over and over, and because all of us, at one time or another, against the advice of the ruler of the world, have let Imagination into our room, and let her (or him, or they) inspire us to new highs or lows. 

Image: Across the ages, the Knight of the Rueful Countenance inspired by his hopeless love, has become a potent symbol for doing good deeds and righting wrongs, regardless of the personal consequences. Here, the front of a local politician's car, renown for fighting impossible battles.

Copyright Dark Aelf, 2021 

Return to Love (Short Story Series) INDEX 


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