So for this post, I wanted to look at the way women are portrayed in Don Quixote. I’ll start by sharing a few passages and then provide my thoughts.
If, then, the mine of her honour, beauty, virtue, and modesty yields thee without labour all the wealth it contains and thou canst wish for, why wilt thou dig the earth in search of fresh new veins, of new unknown treasure, risking the collapse of all, since it but rests on the feeble props of her weak nature?
At these words Luscinda looked up at Cardenio, at first beginning to recognise him by his voice and then satisfying herself by her eyes that it was he, and hardly knowing what she did, and heedless of all considerations of decorum, she flung her arms around his neck and pressing her face close to his, said, “Yes, my dear lord, you are the true master of this your slave, even though adverse fate interpose again, and fresh dangers threaten this life that hangs on yours.”
I follow another, easier, and to my mind wiser course, and that is to rail at the frivolity of women, at their inconstancy, their double dealing, their broken promises, their unkept pledges, and in short the want of reflection they show in fixing their affections and inclinations.
At first, I felt disgusted and angered at the way women are depicted in this book. I find it deeply offensive to assert that anyone’s race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation makes that person less than equal. I understand that ideas shift throughout history, and what is considered an acceptable belief at one point can be completely rejected at another stage in history, but that still doesn’t make it any more palatable to me.
But as I sat and pondered on this, an idea struck me that changed my view of how Cervantes was portraying women. This text is a complete farce. It is meant to be ridiculous and comical, while addressing truths between the lines. This made me begin to wonder if Cervantes was putting these beliefs out there as being ludicrous, in the same way that Don Quixote’s beliefs regarding chivalry are completely insane and comical. And the more I thought about this, the more it seemed to ring true for me. I believe that Cervantes was pointing out just how silly the established belief of women being lesser than men actually is. He basically used comedy as a form of social criticism, and I love that.
When artists challenge the paradigms of their time, humor is a great tool. It is less threatening, but still forces people to face their prejudices and biases, a tradition that is still alive and well thanks to SNL and Stephen Colbert.