Don Quixote and Sancho Panza set out to search for Dulcinea and experience a number of adventures. While these adventures will seem like failures to a three-dimensional, complex man, to the two-dimensional man there is always a reason because the fantasy is his inner reality.
The most famous of Don Quixote’s exploits is his battle with the windmills. It is truly amazing, when you think about it, how many of our sayings and even how we look at life have come about through fiction. In this case, we say someone is “tilting at windmills” when they are engaged in behavior that is clearly out of the realm of reality.
So, despite the fact that Sancho Panza tries to warn him that he is about to battle windmills, Don Quixote sees only giants. When he loses the battle and is thrown from his horse, the giants become windmills through the magic of Quixote’s nemesis Freston. Don Quixote is more upset about the loss of his lance than his defeat.
Tilting at windmills today, according to Johnson, may be no more than dealing with unresolved psychological dynamics, but it is still a very real part of life. This is why it is so easy to empathize with Quixote, Johnson says, “he is our selves served up to us in palpable form.”
He sees and hears what he wants to see and hear—a shepherd’s horn becomes a page announcing his arrival; prostitutes become ladies; pub food, a sumptuous feast. Don Quixote’s inner reality is so strong that it translates to the outside world. You can see this today most particularly in children who feel certain they are the thing they want to be—the ballerina, the super hero, etc. And, admittedly, there are even the few adults who have not made the transition to three-dimensional man and still live in a fantasy world.
At the end of the book, Don Quixote lies dying having failed in his search to find Dulcinea. Quixote finally makes the transition to three-dimensional man while Sancho Panza reverses his normal position and tries to talk Don Quixote into setting forth on another quest. In a sense, the true journey of knighthood and chivalry they have taken was to draw the ego and shadow sides together, Johnson explains. Cervantes doesn’t dwell on it, but Johnson says we will see that shadow/ego split intensified in Faust and Mephistopheles. And Hamlet, he says, will spend the last moments of his life in the next higher stage of consciousness—four-dimensional man.
Interestingly, Cervantes and Shakespeare lived during the same time period and both died on the same day—April 23, 1616. Don Quixote was published in 1605, Hamlet in 1603 or 1604.
“It is as if,” Johnson says, “the two men stood back to back, Cervantes looking backward and Shakespeare looking forward.”
Cervantes was illuminating the medieval consciousness that was ending in Europe while Shakespeare looked forward to the modern man who was to come.
“Cervantes spoke of the childhood of Western man,” Johnson writes, “man who had not yet suffered the shock of being expelled from the Garden of Eden. No better description of the two-dimensional man can be found.”
Next Week: Hamlet