The Impossible Dream -or- The Romantic Dreams of Don Quixote

The Historical Novel -or- The Phantasmagoria of the Knight Errant 

In part, my earliest recorded dreams resemble those found in Fyodor Dostoevsky's "Notes from the Underground" and his character "Underground Man". Those literary dreams will be part of another dream interpretation, part of another story. This dream interpretation talks about the dreams of a man found in Miguel de Cervantes literary masterpiece "Don Quixote". 

Don Quixote is a "knight errant" in search of adventure. This Man of La Mancha has read one too many chivalric romance novels, which have fueled his romantic dreams and imagination. Don Quixote can be viewed as an adventure of reading romance but also of the history of reading and the historical novel

The reader is informed in Chapter I/Part 1; "In short, he so immersed himself in those romances that he spent whole days and nights over his books; and thus with little sleeping and much reading, his brain dried up to such a degree that he lost the use of his reason. His imagination became filled with a host of fancies he had read in his books-enchantments, quarrels, battles, challenges, wounds, courtships, loves, tortures and many other absurdities. So true did all this phantasmagoria from books appear to him that in his mind he accounted no history in the world more authentic." 

From a literary perspective, Don Quixote is one of the greatest characters, readers and dreamers who has ever been animated and brought to life. Said differently, Don Quixote poetically embodies the "phantasmagoria" of the Spanish literary canon and connects it to the Western literary tradition. 

The dreams found in Don Quixote provide a literary context and framework to read the book. Here are the dreams;

Damsels in Distress -or- Writing the History of Fallen Women

Near the beginning of chapter XVI/Part 1, the dream of an Innkeepers daughter is recorded; ‘I myself have often dreamed that I was falling from some high tower without coming to the ground; and when I did awake, I found myself as bruised and shaken as if I had fallen.' 

The dream most likely was typical of women's dreams for those historical times. It could be argued, especially from a psychoanalytic perspective, that this dream reached well into the 20th in some places in the Western world. The dream speaks about the fear of being a "fallen woman". The fact that the innkeeper's daughter found herself bruised and shaken "as if" she had fallen, testifies to the idea that conversion neurosis or what Freud would nearly 300 years later label as "hysteria" has enjoyed a long history. Taking this idea one step further, one could surmise that such collective conversion neurotic dreaming amounted to nothing short of ongoing historical "mass hysteria". 

Near the beginning of Chapter XXV/Part 1, we hear Don Quixote say; ‘Every knight-errant, is bound to stand up against everyone, sane or mad, in defense of the honor of all women, whoever they may be...' The dream speaks about "falling from some high tower", and it is in this sense, that Don Quixote answers the call of all "damsels in distress".

Sleep Talking and Fighting -or- As If Battling the Giant in a Dream 

At the beginning of Chapter XXXV/Part 1, we can listen and watch Don Quixote sleep talking and fighting; ‘Stand back, robber, rascal, rogue! Now I have you in my power. Your scimitar will not save you!' With drawn sword Don Quixote "is slashing about, shouting as if he were truly battling with a giant." "His imagination was so intently fixed upon the forthcoming adventure that it made him dream that he had arrived at the kingdom of Micomicon and was already at war with his foe." 

Don Quixote is always enchanted by the adventurous idea of reading and dreaming, he never truly awakens. If the dream is as Freud says the guardian of sleep, then Don Quixote is the archetypal figure who stands on guard protecting and defending the dreaming and literary imagination of the collective unconscious. Don Quixote's literary tools and devices are based on "verisimilitudes" of the dream. Over fifty years later John Bunyan "Pilgrim's Progress" would tell the story of a Christian journey that is; "Delivered under the Similitude of a DREAM". Said differently, from a popular film "The Matrix", Morpheus says; "Your mind makes it real". 

What intertextually connects the dream vision of the innkeeper's daughter to Don Quixote's, is the idea that both dreams are dramatically acted out "as if" they were real. By acting, "as if", Don Quixote is once more far ahead of his literary time. It would take another three hundred years before Hans Vaihinger would publish his "Philosophy of As If". 

Flowers of the Field -or- Life is a Dream 

In Chapter XX/Part 2 Don Quixote is lowered into the depths of a cave. When he is pulled up again "he appeared fast asleep". When he finally is shaken by those with him, he; "...stretched himself as if he had just awakened from a deep sleep." "He cried"; ‘God forgive you, friends; you have snatched me from the most delightful vision that any human being has ever beheld. Now indeed I know that all the pleasant things of this life pass away like a shadow and a dream, or whither like the flowers of the field. O hapless  Montesinos! O sorely wounded  Durandarte! Oh unlucky  Balerma! Oh tearful  Guardiana, and ye reckless daughters of Ruidera, who show by your waters the tears your eyes did shed!' 

Don Quixote's idea of "life as a shadow and a dream", is a literary allusion to Plato's cave. Over twenty years after part 2 of Don Quixote was published, Calderón de la Barca would use the "Life is a Dream" metaphor as his literary point of departure.

From a musical theatre perspective, "The Man of La Mancha" features its signature song, "The Impossible Dream" which speaks to the audience about the need of having a dream. Listen to the film version of "Impossible Dream". 

Postscript: Postmodern Transformations -or- Shrek's Hollywood Phantasmagoria 

Anne Sexton is considered by some a confessional poet, her book "Transformations" is a feminist subversion of "Grimm's Fairy Tales". If as Joseph Campbell believes that the hero has a thousand faces, then the Hollywood dream factory's face and poster boy for postmodern re-telling of the stock characters of fairy tales is "Shrek". The film Shrek is the postmodern embodiment of Don Quixote's "knight errant" who lampoons the fairy tale phantasmagoria of the Hollywood dream factory itself.

Further Reading: 

  • Sigmund Freud "Studies in Hysteria"
  • Denis de Rougement "Love in the Western World"


All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.