Octavio Ocampo, Vision of Quixote

Don Quixote: Into the World of the Book

Instructor: Rachel Stein
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote is, perhaps above all else, a book about books. The title character’s voracious consumption of books of chivalry drives him mad, leading him to interpret windmills as giants, common inns as majestic castles, and prostitutes as highborn damsels. In addition to the medieval romances that Don Quixote reads, a variety of texts in different forms populate the narrative: Arabic manuscripts, short stories read aloud at inns, wax tablets found on mountaintops, and books being constructed in print shops. Cervantes’s meditations on reality, fiction, madness, friendship, and authorship are interwoven with literary references, as well as with the literal appearance of books within the story.

In this course, we will delve “into the world of the book” in three ways. First, we will closely analyze selections of Don Quixote, parts I (1605) and II (1615), reading as much of the work as the 4-week session allows. If you have always wanted to read history’s first—and in the opinion of many, best—novel, this is your chance. Second, we will focus on the many books that populate the narrative and analyze those passages in connection to broader themes. Third, we will learn about book production and circulation in 16th- and 17th-century Spain and Europe, historically grounding Don Quixote in its original context. Throughout, we will ask: What did early modern subjects perceive to be the effects of reading and writing on mind, body, action, and society? What did literacy mean in the early modern world—who read, and how? What is madness, what is the nature of Don Quixote’s madness, and is Don Quixote truly ‘mad’? What are the consequences of Cervantes’s obsession with writing in the trajectory of modern and postmodern fiction? We’ll be using the Edith Grossman English-language translation and the Spanish-language Alfaguara edition—students may choose to read the novel in either language.

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
June 14 — July 05, 2023
4 weeks


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