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World Literature

Dorotea and Luscinda: Contrasting Portrayals of Female Characters in Don Quixote

Don Quixote, by Miguel Cervantes, is widely considered to be one of the most important works of fiction in history. The book was originally published in two different parts, over ten years apart, although it is now typically found as a single book. The author employs a number of literary techniques to tell his story, including what some critics have referred to as a “meta” approach in the second book. In this second part, the character of Don Quixote is portrayed as someone who actually exists in real life, and who is aware of his own existence as a literary character.  In his travels, Don Quixote meets a great number of different people, and he imagines many of them to be knights and noblemen and kings, even though most are peasants and innkeepers and other normal people. There are a number of important female characters in the book, some of whom impact Don Quixote directly and some who are involved in various circumstances with the people Don Quixote meets. Two of the notable female characters in the story are Dorotea and Luscinda, and the nature of these two characters will be discussed and compared in this examination of the story.

As the story begins the reader is introduced to Alonso Quijano, a middle-aged man who leads a quite life of retirement. Quijano is fascinated by stories of the age of knights and chivalry, and reads all the books and stories he can find about the adventures of knights in the Middle Ages. Quijano’s imagination is taken over by these stories to the point where he starts to lose touch with reality, and he begins to show signs of madness. Quijano eventually becomes convinced that he must set out on a quest as a knight, and he renames himself Don Quijote (or Quixote) de la Mancha. The first significant female character is discussed at this point in the story. A local girl named Aldonza Lornezo becomes the object of Quixote’s fascination, and in his mind he renames her Dulcinea del Toboso and believes that he must set out on a quest to show his chivalry in hopes of winning her love. Aldonza, or Dulcinea, is unaware of Do Quixote’s obsession with her, and the reader only knows her through Don Quixote’s imagination.

Don Quixote’s first adventure ends rather quickly. He comes to an inn, and belives that the innkeeper is actually the King of a castle. Don Quixote insists that the King knight him, which the innkeeper eventually does just to get rid of him. Don Quixote is roughed up by some men who are trying to move his suit of armor out of the water trough set aside for mules. Don Quixote is beaten up and left by the side of the road, where he is eventually found and returned to his home. Don Quixote is undaunted by this, however, and is convinced he must continue on his quest to prove himself as a knight. Some of the local people burn many of Don Quixote’s books about knights and chivalry, thinking this might stop him from continuing on his mad quest. Despite their efforts, however, Don Quixote does not change his mind. He decides that he needs a companion for his quest, and he enlists Sancho Panza, who lives nearby, to be his squire. Don Quixote promises great rewards to Sancho Panza, who is not very bright, and who seems to believe Do Quixote really is some sort of knight and can deliver on his promises. The two set off on a quest together and it during their travels that many of Don Quixote’s most well-known adventures take place.

As the story begins the reader meets Alonso Quijaano, a retired, middle-aged man with an obsession for the romantic literature of the Medieval Age. Quijano is so captivated by these stories that he begins to lose his grip on reality and starts to imagine that he is actually a knight who must set out on a quest to prove the strengths of his chivalry and valor. It is here that we meet the first female character, a neighboring girl named Aldonza Lorenzo. Although she is just a normal farm girl, Quijano imagines that she is really Dulcinea del Toboso, a woman he has dreamed up and made the center of his romantic vision. Quijano renames himself Don Quixote, and sets out on the first of many adventures, during which he comes across a great number of people. Many of these people are simple peasants and other common folk, but in his imagination Don Quixote sees them as characters in his fantasy world of adventure.

Perhaps the most well-known of the episodes in Don Quixote is the time where he and Sancho Panza, who he has enlisted as his squire (and who seems caught up in Quixote’s imaginary world) come across a field of windmills. Thinking that the windmills are actually giant monsters, Don Quixote charges his old, worn-out horse Rocinante at the windmills in an effort to kill the monsters he believes them to be. There are many other episodes in the tales of Don Quixote, and it is some of these that are the focus of this discussion. During their adventures together, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza come across a number of characters, including Luscinda and Dorotea, who will figure prominently in the story.

After meeting many different people, and traveling far and wide, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza come to an area called the Sierra Morena, and it is here that they meet Cardenio.  Cardenio is sad and dejected because he is in love with a girl named Luscinda, and believes that he must follow traditions in order to marry her. While he delayed pursuing Luscinda, he was betrayed by someone he believed to be a friend. Cardenios had been given the job of serving as companion to the son of a Duke. During his work as a companion, Cardenio becomes friends with the Duke’s younger son Fernando. Cardenio shares so much about his love for Luscinda that Fernando falls in love with her, and this sets up a complicated set of relationships and betrayals.

Although Luscinda was in love with Cardenio she eventually marries Don Fernando. Don Fernando goes to Luscinda’s parents and asks them to approve of a marriage between Fernando and Luscinda, and they agree. Cardenio becomes, in his own way, as mad as Do Quixote, though Cardenio is driven mad by what he sees as the betrayal by Fernando and Luscinda. Luscinda is portrayed as a woman who fits the definition of how a woman should behave in this time period, and it is clear that marriages in this era are not necessarily based on an agreement between two people who are in love, but can be arranged by parents or family members of the wives, in form of business arrangement or transaction. Luscinda did not love Don Fernando, she loved Cardenio, but she agreed to marry Don Fernando anyway.

Although Don Fernando married Luscinda, he had already agreed to marry another young woman named Dorotea. Don Fernando had seduced Dorotea, and taken her virginity, and then he betrayed her by not marrying her. While Luscinda is portrayed as a woman who fits the basic mold of what a woman of her time should be, Dorotea is portrayed quite differently. Although she loved Fernando, his betrayal drives her to act, and she sets out to exact some form of revenge on him. She dresses as a man and leaves town, shamed by her betrayal.

This characterization of Dorotea is, perhaps, somewhat unique for a female character of the time. Women of this era were supposed to be demure and remain virginal until marriage. Dorotea was coerced by Don Fernando into believing that he would marry her, and when she discovered his betrayal she chose to act. During her travels she meets Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, and Cardenio. Eventually she tells her story to them and Don Quixote realizes that she is the woman who was betrayed by Don Fernando. They all settle on the idea that they will work together to bring Cardenio back together with his true love Luscinda, which will also serve Dorotea’s purpose of getting Fernando back. Despite his betrayal, Dorotea still loves Don Fernando, and eventually Cardenio is reunited with Luscinda and Dorotea is reunited with Dorotea.

The two characters of Dorotea and Luscinda could not be more different. While both of them were in love, the way they responded to their individual circumstances shows just how different they were. Luscinda was truly in love with Cardenio, but she followed the wishes of her parents and married Don Fernando. This is what would be expected of a woman in this period, and also demonstrates what the nature of marriage was like at the time. Dorotea, by contrast, is not at all the typical woman of her day. Cervantes demonstrates this in a number of different ways, the first and perhaps most significant of which is her decision to do something about her betrayal and to take back the man she loved. Further, Dorotea used trickery and deceit to accomplish her goals, which was entirely out of character for women of this age, at least in terms of how they were portrayed and idealized in literary works and references.

Cervantes makes it very clear just how unusual Dorotea is by introducing her to readers as a woman dressed as a man. This image alone is enough to make it clear just how unusual Dorotea was as compared to Luscinda, or any typical woman of her time. For one thing, a woman who was shamed and betrayed by a man as Dorotea had been would likely suffer serious social consequences, and would not be likely to set out on the type of quest that Dorotea chose to follow. The character of Dorotea is further shown to be unusual when she is featured prominently in the ongoing adventures of Don Quixote, when she pretends to be a princess named Micomicon and engages in a plot intended to get Don Quixote to return home.

There are a number of notable and significant female characters in Don Quixote, and Luscinda and Dorotea are certainly among the most significant. By offering characters who contrast with each other so greatly, Cervantes is able to make the characterization of Dorotea that much more effective. By showing readers the character of Luscinda as one who exemplifies the classic portrayal of women in her time, the significance of Dorotea’s characterization becomes that much more effective. Both women are indeed beautiful and feminine, but Dorotea is also witty and charming and brilliant, which stands out in the history of literature. Don Quixote has had an enormous influence on the literature of other cultures and other periods of history, and Cervantes’ portrayal of characters such as Lucinda and Dortea have certainly shaped the way subsequent auhgtors have defined and shaped female characters since then. It is easy to see, simply by examining these two characters, just why Cervantes’ work has stood the test of time.

Works Cited

Close, A J. The Romantic Approach to Don Quixote: A Critical History of the Romantic Tradition in Quixote Criticism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1978. Print.

Donskis, Leonidas. Power and Imagination: Studies in Politics and Literature. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2008. Print.

Fox, Soledad. Flaubert and Don Quijote: The Influence of Cervantes on Madame Bovary. Brighton, UK: Sussex Academic Press, 2008. Print.

González, Echevarría R. Cervantes’ Don Quixote: : a Casebook. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.

Sullivan, Henry W. Grotesque Purgatory: A Study of Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Part Ii. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996. Print.