Selections from the Essays of Montaigne

In Sickness and In Health: Exploring the Paradox of Pain in Cervantes and Montaigne College

In Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the titular character embarks on a journey to enact knight errantry, transfiguring the quotidian Spanish countryside into a world of his own making—one modeled after the many chivalric romances he has read and an alternate reality in which the knight-errant Don Quixote, and not the aging hidalgo Alonso Quixano, acts and exists. Armed with a horse, a squire, and resolute conviction in the truth and sanctity of his own ideals, Don Quixote’s attempt to subvert objective reality in favor of fantasy is only flawed by the unwelcome intrusion of nature. The foundations of his idealism and intellectualism begin to corrode as his adventures and travails inevitably lead Don Quixote to feel fatigue, hunger, lust, and other reminders of his own physicality which he wishes to deny. It is pain, in particular, that appears as Don Quixote’s primary obstacle, as his illusions are shattered by the various acts of violence that punctuate the plot. Like Michel de Montaigne in his essay, “On Experience,” Cervantes presents pain as an exemplar of human existence and a source of illumination. Ultimately, while Don Quixote and Montaigne’s respective attitudes towards pain differ, it is through physical suffering in...

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