I just finished reading two translations of the first part of Don Quixote and I’ve begun to see it in a whole new way, at least in terms of theatrical production. Cervantes does something that was greatly improved upon by later writers: he brings a number of subplots together with the main plot. It isn’t clear that he knows that he’s doing this, because he doesn’t make good use of it.
Probably the most surprising thing he does is to reintroduce of the 15 year old lad from Chapter 4. When we first see him, his master is whipping him. Don Quixote, that righter of wrongs, makes the lad’s situation even worse. And Don Quixote, lost in his dream world, rides off thinking he has done a great deed.
Here the boy comes back and explains all that happened. Don Quixote wants to right this further wrong, the boy stops him. He explains that Don Quixote only makes bad situations even worse and that the best thing is to stay the hell out of other people’s business. This is the only time in the whole novel that Don Quixote seriously considers that he is not right.
These last chapters also set right the story of Cardenio, Lucinda, and Ferdinand. This involves Ferdinand’s first love, Dorothea, who he abandoned. They leave as two couples: Cardenio with Lucinda and Ferdinand with Dorothea. The evil Ferdinand gets no punishment for his actions, probably because he is of noble birth who are not only above the law but beyond moral expectations.
There is also yet another couple of young lovers who get together, but why they are thrown in the book is not clear. Gines de Pasamonte shows up long enough to return Sancho’s sometimes stolen sometimes not donkey. The barber whose basin Don Quixote stole is bought off. And the innkeepers are paid for Don Quixote’s lodgings and all the destruction he has caused.
The most important tying up is done with Don Quixote’s friends the priest and barber—but not the barber who lost his basin (this is very confusing when they are together in the story). They bring him home where he is cared for by his niece and housekeeper. The plot is left there, but Cervantes writes that he has heard of further adventures, but hasn’t been able to get his hands on them. So the book ends with as shameful a lead in to a sequel as the new Spider-Man film.
The main thing about all of this is that if plotted correctly, all of these story threads could come together to great comedic effect. The story does not have to be a sequence of adventures—it can have real dramatic momentum.
One thing though: the windmills have got to go!