In recognition of Cervantes’ legacy, we at STC want to extend our content to the Spanish-speaking community. We asked Jessica Peña Torres, STC Sales Associate and ASIDES Editorial Intern, to share her thoughts on Man of La Mancha, in her native language. (Para leer en Español, haga click aquí.)
By Jessica L. Peña Torres. Revisions by Sara Mercedes Medina González.
“Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember…”
Who doesn’t know the opening line of the Quixote novel? If you had the chance to go to school in a Hispanic country, chances are you have heard these words –or have memorized them, as I have. Putting aside the plot, the themes, the sociopolitical and historic context (and sometimes even the author), virtually all Hispanics know who the Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha and his squire Sancho Panza are. Both characters are an intrinsic and essential part of the Hispanic culture and the Spanish language to the extent that we have created idiomatic expressions such as “quixotic” to indicate that someone is a rotund idealist, or “Sancho” to refer to someone as a lover.
It is undisputed the fact that the Quixote novel is the foundation (after Cantar de Mio Cid) upon which Spanish literature was built. “The ‘Quixote’” says Professor Arturo Pérez Reverte, who recently adapted the novel commissioned by the Royal Spanish Academy, “is a unity factor between both sides of the Atlantic.” If we had to compare it to an English-language icon, we would have Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, for example, or one of William Shakespeare’s plays. And talking about Shakespeare, it is safe to say that Shakespeare and Cervantes are parallels in the English and Spanish cultures, respectively; they both became pillars of classic literature, they both created characters that are constantly emulated in contemporary arts, and it is even rumored that both writers died on the same day.
Without thinking about it twice, any theatre or literature aficionado could tell you of the importance, influence, and universality of the Shakespeare plays, which are produced daily around the world. And I wonder, what is the relevance of the Quixote today? Why did Joe Darion and Dale Wasserman go through the trouble of writing a musical that is fundamentally American in spirit but which is based on the Cervantes’ novel and why is it still being produced?
As Alan Paul would say, director Man of La Mancha, the musical represents “an internal battle of optimism and pessimism” of the characters. As a Hispanic in a foreign country, I have had quixotic thoughts. Like many immigrants, I came to this country to pursue the American dream, which for Don Quixote would constitute following a quest, saving a damsel, and be dubbed a knight. Simultaneously, I have looked at my situation through a realistic lens, what has taken me to discover the darkness in both my reality and that of the many others facing similar migratory circumstances. Sometimes I think of the legal immigration barriers as giant windmills daring me to a duel. Well, daring me and the rest of the Latino immigrants.
Having known about the knight errant since elementary school, it is hard not to think about the skinny medieval man standing next to his chubby confidant. The effects of watching Man of La Mancha spoken and sung in English are different than reading chapters of the novel in literature class. On one hand, it is very exciting to look at these characters I grew up with turn into people of flesh and blood and act out moments of their story: it’s like getting into Cervantes’ head and, literally, seeing what he saw. In addition, the music and lyrics give the story a sentimental value that is often lost in the complexity of the old Spanish. On the other hand, when changing the aesthetic of the novel by making it a musical, the product becomes something almost independent of the factors that created it… and this is a good thing. Man of La Mancha is not an adaptation of the novel from beginning to end, but a musical that brings Cervantes’ characters and situations to life. The musical pushes us to remember the stories we know and puts them on a frame where the struggle for liberty and the realization of dreams is a priority.
I cannot help making the connection between the themes in Man of La Mancha and the life of immigrants in the United States, especially when Don Quixote is such a big icon for the Hispanic community. It is impressive to think that a play that was published more than 400 years ago is still a pillar of our culture. In the words of Perez Reverte, “There’s one country, that of the Spanish language, that 500 million people share and the flag of that old country, very noble, is the ‘Quixote.’”
“El Quijote, lectura básica para estudiantes de habla hispana: Pérez-Reverte” Crónica.com.mx