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Don Quixote and Hamlet: Comparative Analysis Essay

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Updated: Sep 4th, 2022

There can be no doubt as to the fact that illusions affect the existential mode of both: Hamlet and Don Quixote to a significant degree. Yet, there is also a difference in how both characters deal with the imaginary – whereas Don Quixote’s illusions reflect his biologically predetermined idealism, Hamlet’s illusions seem to be psychiatric. In this paper, we are going to explore this thesis even further.

For us to get a better understanding as to what prompted Don Quixote to fight windmills as “evil giants”, to free criminals as “noble prisoners” and to challenge peasants to a fight, as “knights”, we will need to define a metaphysical foundation, upon which Western civilization is built. It is because Europeans were being entitled with the sense of existential idealism that allowed them to indulge in abstract philosophizing, which in its turn, created preconditions for the emergence of science and culture. Therefore, even though Don Quixote’s eccentric perception of the world does not seem to have anything to do with the objective reality, it nevertheless cannot be referred to as counter-productive, in its essence. We can say that Don Quixote perceives things as not what they are, but as what they should have been. It was not Don Quixote’s mental inadequacy that had prompted him to embark on his quest, but the fact that he experienced an “epiphany”, as to the fact that staying at home while struggling with boredom, could hardly be thought of as the pursuit worthy of a man. Upon his return home, Quixote’s niece tried to prevent her uncle from acting “foolishly” again: “What’s this, uncle? Now that we were thinking you had come back to stay at home and lead a quiet respectable life there, are you going to get into fresh entanglements?” (Cervantes Ch. LXIX), yet readers conclude that it was only the matter of very short time before Don Quixote would start seeking for new adventures, because of being an extreme idealist. It cannot escape our attention that Don Quixote’s illusions are strongly associated with his commitment to “protect justice”, therefore they cannot be discussed as “thing in itself”, as it is the case with Hamlet’s illusions, but the instrument of Don Quixote coming to terms with realization of his true destiny: “He is not mad,” said Sancho, “but he is venturesome” (Cervantes Ch. XVII). It is not by pure accident that Cervantes describes Don Quixote as belonging to Nordic anthropological type, whereas Sancho Panza is being presented to us as the product of racial mixing, which in its turn, explains his inability to expand his mind, in the way his master was capable of doing. The very concept of Western civilization is closely associated with white people’s ability to adjust the surrounding reality to their wishes; therefore, we cannot discuss Don Quixote’s willingness to fight windmills as simply a reflection of his mental inadequacy. We can say that by deciding to fight windmills as “evil giants”, Don Quixote had proven himself as a true European, because White people namely can deal with impossible odds and still be able to come out as winners, which allowed them to become undisputed masters of the world, by the end of 19th century. Don Quixote’s tragedy consists in the fact that he could not utilize his idealistic drive, within the context of achieving some practical results. The sheer strength of his convictions makes even Sancha Panza think that his master might not have lost all of its marbles, after all. This is because Panza senses that Don Quixote’s intention to fight windmills corresponds well to his assumed posture of a “defender of justice” – the imaginary reality is more “real” than the actual reality if it is being dramatic enough: “Well, senor,” answered Don Quixote, “if you do not like to be a spectator of this tragedy, as in your opinion it will be, spur your flea-bitten mare, and place yourself in safety” (Cervantes Ch. XVII). It appears that Don Quixote’s willingness to live in the world of illusions might not be as irrational as it is being generally assumed. This is because that by fighting windmills, Don Quixote fights energetic entropy. It is not simply an accident that Cervantes describes Spain’s countryside, where most of the book’s action takes place, as being closely associated with the concept of “existential stagnation”. Spanish peasants proceed with their daily routine, without being able to expand their intellectual horizons; Spanish nobility is being preoccupied with seeking entertainment – however, the representatives of both: nobility and peasantry feel that their lives lack something very important. This “something” appears to be very elusive, and it is only when Don Quixote emerges on the stage, that people around him seem to be getting revitalized. They gradually begin to think of such concepts as personal honor, justice, righteousness, beauty, and ugliness from Don Quixote’s point of view, because it is namely Quixote’s uncompromised positioning in life that deserves to be respected more than the conformist positioning of those that strived to bring him “down to Earth”. Even though Don Quixote lives in the world of illusions, he appears to be quite capable of imposing these illusions on people he meets, due to his intellectual integrity.

More about Hamlet

The life of Shakespeare’s Hamlet also appears to be affected by illusions, yet, unlike Don Quixote, Hamlet is capable of recognizing them as what they are – the product of his imagination. Such his ability, however, comes at a heavy price – Hamlet gradually loses his “cool” and becomes a mentally unstable individual who is having a hard time, while deciding on how he should act. This is because, unlike Don Quixote, Hamlet lacked the intellectual integrity of recognizing his life as such that does not represent much of a value, as opposed to the value of the abstract principle of defending one’s honor. Hamlet is egoist – the well-being of Denmark seems to have very little value in his eyes, as opposed to the value of what he was striving to achieve – existential comfort. This is why Hamlet tends to think of even very real manifestations of his father’s spirit as illusion: “It is a damned Ghost that we haue seene: And my Imaginations are as foule As Vulcans Stythe” (Shakespeare, Act 3, Scene 2). Deep inside, Hamlet knows that his illusions do correspond to the objective reality; however, he still prefers to think of them as nothing but illusions, up until the very end of the play. Whereas, by remaining loyal to his illusions, Don Quixote had proven himself as a stoic, Hamlet acts like an overly rationalistic individual, within a context of deciding to whether to give in to his perceptional illusions or not: “Stay Illusion: If thou hast any sound, or vse of Voyce. Speake to me. If there be any good thing to be done” (Act 1, Scene 1). This is because, even though Hamlet can be the least described as such that lacks intelligence, he lacks the strength of his willpower, which in its turn, prompts him to adjust itself to the objective circumstances, rather than subjecting these circumstances to his control. Unlike Don Quixote, Hamlet realizes the full extent of its existential weakness, which is why he appears to be an utterly indecisive individual. “O God! God! How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable, seem to me all the uses of this world!” (Shakespeare, Act 1, Scene 2) – says Hamlet, which allows us to conclude that he was unsatisfied with “boredom”, just like Don Quixote. However, the realization of life’s futility does not cause Hamlet to begin actively seeking the true meaning of his life. He is simply toying with his allusions of committing a suicide and murdering Claudius, while remaining unaware that talking about doing something is not the same as doing something. Hamlet is a Prince – yet, he proves himself quite incapable of revenging the death of his father, even after his father’s ghost had asked him to do so numerous times. Don Quixote, on the other hand, is nobody – he is old, he does not have any money, his health is ailing, yet he willingly assumed the role of defender of a justice in the whole world. Hamlet would never confuse windmills with evil giants, but even if these giants existed for real, he would never be able to challenge them to a mortal combat. Whereas Don Quixote’s delusionary state of mind allows him to experience a true love towards Dulcinea: “I am called Don Quixote of La Mancha, knight-errant and adventurer, and captive to the peerless and beautiful lady Dulcinea del Toboso” (Cervantes, Ch. VIII), Hamlet’s apparent “existential soberness” results in his love to Ofelia being revealed as nothing but illusion: “You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it: I loved you not” (Shakespeare, Act 3, Scene 1). Thus, even though Hamlet can be the least referred to as a mentally inadequate individual, his way of addressing life’s challenges seems to be significantly less “real”, as opposed to the one of Don Quixote, whatever the illogical this statement might sound. It is the intensity of one’s perceptional experiences that accounts for their realness. Hamlet had failed to realize this simple fact, which eventually led to his ultimate demise.


Alpeche, Jennifer “Hamlet: Setting the Trap”. 14. 2004. Suite 101.Com.

Cervantes, Miguel “Don Quixote”. 2001. The Project Gutenberg EBook.

Shakespeare, William “The Tragedie of Hamlet”. 2000. The Project Gutenberg EBook.

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