In Miquel Cervantes’ 1605 novel The Ingenious Low-Born Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, the great romantic Alanso Quixano decides to become a knight errant to revive chivalry. He adopts the name Don Quixote de la Mancha, recruits a farmer named Sancho Manza to be his squire, and embarks on great adventures, living what he envisions to be the life of a knight. The book was initially accepted as a comic novel, but it was in fact meant to be the opposite of what it seems to portray. Is Don Quixote living in an imaginary world, tilting at windmills, or is it the world that is actually upside down?
This 1843 etching by the great master Adolf Schrödter illustrates the scene in which Don Quixote battles with the Biscayan.
After his great battle with the windmills (the subject of another etching by Schrödter), Don Quixote and Pancho return to the road where they come across a pair of friars and a coach. Don Quixote declaims the friars as devils and demands that they release the highborn princesses whom he supposes are in the nearby traveling coach. Though the friars protest that they are but two brothers of St. Benedict and that they have nothing to do with the coach, Don Quixote charges them, knocking one of the friars to the ground and sending the other flying away. Don Quixote, having bravely vanquished his fierce foes, then goes to the carriage to free the kidnapped princesses. As reward for freeing them, he asks them to go to the Lady Dulcinea and report to her that they were freed by the noble Don Quixote.
One of the coach’s squires, dismayed that Don Quixote intends for the coach to stray from its intended destination, tells Don Quixote to go away. As you might expect, this devolved quickly into a fight, with Don Quixote charging after the Biscayan squire with sword drawn. The Biscayan grabs a pillow from the coach as a shield, and though he is able to wound Don Quixote he is unable to defeat him. Just before Don Quixote renders the killing blow, though, the ladies from the coach plead for the Biscayan’s life. Don Quixote graciously agrees, demanding only that the squire report to Lady Dulcinea that she might deal with him however she deems best.