Stoic lessons in Man of La Mancha

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Don-QuixoteI had the pleasure of seeing Man of La Mancha preformed on the stage last night.  During the performance, I could not help but note some Stoic themes in the story.  I would not classify the whole as a Stoic work, nor do I think it was intended per se to be such, but it was an interesting lens through which to view the show.  I will look at a few instances in which I think Stoic lessons can easily be gleaned from the show, but this is by no means exhaustive nor complete.

***This will container SPOILERS of the show, so if you do not want the ending revealed, please read no further.***

Firstly, the story is of two parts. Miguel de Cervantes is imprisoned for levying a tax and foreclosing on a monastery, in 17th Century Spain, and in the prison he preforms a play for the prisoners who are determining his guilt.  One of his charges is “for being an honest man.”  The trial is a ploy to rob him of his belongings, the only one of which he actually cares about is his work, a manuscript.  He pleads guilty to the charges, but wishes a defense nonetheless, that the jury might have mercy.  These are the two stories, Miguel’s imprisonment, and Quijana/Don Quixote’s adventure which he preforms for the prisoners.  Cervantes does not fight his imprisonment, nor does he overly lament his station.  In a very Stoic way he attempts to make the best of it, to protect his work.

Now, Don Quixote:  Don Quixote is a man in search of a few things, Truth and Virtue, represented by Dulcinea, and adventure.  He warns Pancho that their enemy, the Enchanter, is a danger to them.  The Enchanter might be illusion of external indifferents, and internal values.  Where others see Windmills, he sees Ogres.  Where others see simple life, he sees Dragons, Knights, and honor.  Throughout the story, Don Quixote talks of the quest, the desire for perfection, truth, honor, and chivalry.  In the story, he is (maybe) quite mad.  Others see a sickened mind, or one under illusion.  His family and countrymen see a sick Quijana, whereas we see the noble Knight Don Quixote.

And do we not seem the same when we work towards our goals in philosophy?  We see an Ogre in the the illusion of what is or is not virtue.  We see the two things which we can either effect or not as a real problem to solve.  We see our thoughts, emotions, actions, and responses to those things as thing to be subdued.  Others see a windmill.  “So what,” they say, “if you’re mad at a traffic jam, it’s a damned inconvenience!”

Quixote stands a vigil before he is to be made a knight by the Innkeep cum Lord, and during it he fights off a number of men, protecting Dulcinea.  While his perception of the events are different than everyone else’s she is saved nonetheless.  Quixote extends kindness to the men, wanting to tend to their wounds, but Aldonza/Dulcinea goes in his stead.  She is, however, kidnapped and violence is done upon her afterwards.  She comes back to the Inn/Castle, and throws this in Quixote’s face.  She is used to abuses and violence, but the tender, chaste care of Quixote is a hurt she cannot weather.  Quixote sympathizes with her hurt, but he maintains throughout her lament her Virtue and his Quest.  We see a need for Virtue and Goodness, as philosophy and reason tells us it is, whereas others may see a scullery maid.

Quixote’s relatives come looking for him, and they stage a ruse, whereby Don Quixote will be restored to his sanity.  They do this, not for his own benefit, but so that he can make an disbursement of his estate to them.  Their ruse is successful, and Don Quixote faces the Knight of Mirrors who show him to himself in such clarity that he faints.  How so, does philosophy show us ourselves, and we can either faint and “return to sanity” by ignoring what we’ve learnt, or we can face up.  Sometimes, we faint.Don_Quixote

Quijana is taken back to his estate, and there in bed, he is restored to activity by his squire Pancho.  He does not recall himself as Don Quixote, however, and begins to disburse his property to those assembled.  At the last, Aldonza/Dulcinea comes to see him, and finally, she teases out of him Don Quixote!  Don Quixote is saved by Virtue and Truth!  They stand and rejoice in their shared experience, and Don Quixote breathes his last.  He dies triumphant.

Afterwards, we return to the Prison, and Cervantes offers comfort to his compatriot, and with noble acceptance, walks to his real trial before the Inquisition.  A Stoic act, indeed; Cervantes accepts his end with Stoic calm, as the Prisoners sing The Impossible Dream to their courageous exit.

To dream … the impossible dream …
To fight … the unbeatable foe …
To bear … with unbearable sorrow …
To run … where the brave dare not go …
To right … the unrightable wrong …
To love … pure and chaste from afar …
To try … when your arms are too weary …
To reach … the unreachable star …

This is my quest, to follow that star …
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far …
To fight for the right, without question or pause …
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause …

And I know if I’ll only be true, to this glorious quest,
That my heart will lie will lie peaceful and calm,
when I’m laid to my rest …
And the world will be better for this:
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach … the unreachable star …

One thought on “Stoic lessons in Man of La Mancha

  1. Pingback: SLRP: LVIII. On Being (Part 3: 20 – 27a) | Mountain Stoic

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