In Malory's literature, men were knights, ladies were damsels, and magic was preponderant. By the time that Cervantes wrote Don Quixote, men got real jobs, the innocent damsel had become a myth, and magic was reduced to superstition. These works both examine the chivalric ideal: physical prowess, courtesy, truth in love and friendship, tenderness, humility, gentleness (The Legend of Arthur in British & American Literature, p. 65) and remark much on it. While they both find this ideal to be too much for a man to maintain, they express it in different ways. Malory's knights are generally chivalrous, but sometimes deviate from the righteous path. His opinion is that men are incapable of being wholly magnanimous at all times.
Cervantes character is always noble and always courageous but is also mentally ill. This paper will discuss both authors point of view on the institution of chivalry. Le Morte d Arthur and Don Quixote are very dissimilar in many ways. The first is a tragedy, the second a comedy.
Le Morte d Arthur is a compilation of several dozen smaller stories, each written with an individual focus on one central character. Don Quixote is one story written around one character, Don Quixote. Malory's work is filled murder, death, and violence, while in Cervantes piece, no one is killed, all injuries are recoverable, and all the violence is mitigated by a touch of absurdity. But these two pieces are very similar in that they both are about multi-faceted characters who succumb to temptation, act rashly, and make bad decisions. These types of realistic characters aren t very often seen in genuine tales of chivalry. The stories Malory used as a basis and those that Cervantes spoofed were about knights who were larger than life, and therefore never felt tempted, or acted rashly.
They were above human emotions like jealousy. They were chaste, and pure in heart and motive But nearly all of Malory's knights swam in immorality Lancelot was a cuckolded, Sir Gawain has been depicted as cowardly, depraved, cruel and treacherous (The Knightly Tales of Sir Gawain, Nelson-Hall, 1976 p. 7) and even good King Arthur, in an effort to protect his throne from his eventual usurper, slaughters all the children of high birth born on May Day. Malory gave personality to the characters he worked with, which, though it made them less noble, it made them much more believable. The question is, did their immorality make them any less heroic The Knights of the Round Table took an oath, never to do outrageous ity nor murder, and always to flee treason; also, by no means to be cruel, but to give mercy unto him that ask eth mercy, upon pain of forfeiture of their worship and lordship of King Arthur for evermore; and always to do ladies, damsels, and gentlewomen succour, upon pain of death. Also, that no man take no battles in a wrongful quarrel for no law, nor for no world's goods.
Unto this were all the knights sworn of the Table Round, both old and young The knights, Don Quixote's morality and ability to resist temptation can never be questioned. He is the noble, chaste hero that Malory's knights fail to be. The problem is though, his world no longer needs a knight-errant, to roam the world on horseback, in a suit of armor [righting] every manner of wrong, placing himself in situations of the greatest peril. (The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha, p. 2) It had been doing very well, for several hundred years, without knights to correct it's injustices. The very idea of a knight in shining armor, evening the scales and battling giants reduces bystanders to fits of laughter.
Tragically, Don Quixote can never be like Am adis de Gaul and El Cid, who are the heroes he would like to imitate. The time that heroes like that walked the earth, if they had ever, had passed long before Don Quixote mounted Rosinante. So if Quixote is so chivalrous, and morally irreproachable, then why doesn t he seem to be heroic.