On a stage somewhere there is a set that looks like a living room. The light gives the impression that it’s the period after work, before the evening starts. You look at the living room from the place where you might imagine a TV being.

There is one character lying on a sofa playing on his or her phone. At a right angle to this sofa is another two-seater. There is a radio on a small table in the square space between the arms of these sofas. The radio is playing quietly, texturally the sound is quite like a Radio 4 programme, or an enthusiasts podcast. It is not accompanied by any music.




The radio transmits:


On todays program we’re going to do a deep dive into fiction. We will be looking at The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. Specifically, we will be looking at Don Quixote through the lens of early medicine, the characters transition from choleric action to melancholic apathy, and its relation to the contemporary world.


As usual, before we start we would like to credit our sources: Both books of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes and the essay “A Study of Melancholy in Don Quixote” by Jorge Alardo.


If we look back through all the various forms of culture that incorporate the melancholy artistic tradition, we would at some point land on the two books known collectively as The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes.


The story goes that a middle-aged man called Don Quixote reads so many chivalric novels his brains ‘dry up’ and he becomes convinced that he is a knight. At the very beginning of the first book, he persuades a local innkeeper to knight him and sets out to perform chivalrous deeds. However, the age of knights has passed, and what follows is a depressing or hilarious read.


In the first book Don Quixote is choleric, a man of action, taking aim at windmills he believes are giants and rescuing people who don’t need rescuing, he passes from one situation to another, imposing his fantasy on the world and acting accordingly. However, in the second book he becomes melancholic, apathetic and hopeless. Less a man of action and more a man of contemplation, constantly concerned about how he is percieved and the relationship between his fantasy and his environment. Over the course of the two books the transition in Don Quixote’s personality is used to talk about imitation and authenticity.


This is simple enough; Don Quixote’s gradual transition from choleric action into melancholic apathy is presented as a passing from imitation to authentic. However, this is not due to Don Quixote’s self-development, it is not the Disney process of truly becoming oneself through trials and self-reflection. Rather, it is controlled by Cervantes, the author.


In the fictional universe of the second book, the first book actually exists, in other words, it is an object in its’ own sequel. Other characters have read the first book and receive Don Quixote with an awareness of him as a literary figure, and this eventually leads Don Quixote to realise his position as a character in a book.



Through this, he loses ownership of his sense of self, and his fantasy is replaced by a realisation of the world he actually lives in- he becomes aware of the absurdity of his life as a knight-errant where no other knights exist, aware of his fantasy and the way in which people read it.


Don Quixote sees he has no power over his imitation of a knight errant, and therefore he has no authorship of his fantasy or how it is received. This is because he knows the author of the books will always be able to contextualise his efforts to escape what he ‘actually’ is.


This realisation leads to Don Quixote’s death as a result of authentic melancholy, for in the end Don Quixote renounces the imitative and choleric personal fantasy of knighthood. This is important- for the author the completion of the moral question surrounding imitation culminates in an authentic death. A severe value judgement is being made, to die an authentic death and fall in line with your environment is better than to act upon your fantasy. We can see how throughout the two books Cervantes’ has linked choleric action to insincerity and melancholic apathy to authenticity. Unbelievably this prescient conclusion still continues in critiques of 20th century popular culture, think of comparing Queen to Leonard Cohen.


Jorge Alardo’s text neatly sums up Don Quixote’s death as being a result of "the inertia of a being that renounces to what is within their reach, because they are not able to reach what they yearn for”.


However, there might have been another way, for who decides what is possible and where? Why would we renounce what makes our life more than the process of dying? It is possible to recognise that our fantasy persona is a joke, yet sincerely believe in it. It is possible to oscillate between reverence and mockery. If we can have both, nothing dies as Don Quixote did. This means we can let our guard down and discuss why our fantasy is vital without killing it, it can be acknowledged without being relegated to an impotent shadow that haunts us.


This means no more deriding however we choose to embellish the sack of flesh that makes us, no more distinctions between the digital self and the physical one, no more contempt for the gaps between the sensibilities we were brought up with and what we desire to be. Especially if it is against the general consensus on what is acceptable, like a sworn knight in early modern Europe, or a relevant artist in a provincial suburb, a goth under the flourescent lights of Morrison’s, a femme fatale shoving a lasagna for one into the microwave.


Don Quixote’s fantasy was ruptured by an awareness of outside forces, but unlike Don Quixote, we have the luxury of re-contextualising our fantasies and including them as part of the real. Before renouncing his fake knighthood, his condition is just another version of the contemporary nineties outfit on a body in Kingsholm, flares on their partner, the 808 in a Churchdown bedroom, heavy metal at the Guildhall, film photography anywhere, Harley Davidsons, machines built for the straight open roads of the American midwest, tearing through the Gloucestershire countryside towards the M4, and so on. These are inescapable collective memories and signs that continue to prevail. This is the good stuff. No death, no imitation.


If Don Quixote is our champion, we might, for a fleeting moment, imagine that it were possible to move into the future in choleric fantasy, leaving behind the ironic detachment of the postmodern to fully become both our fantasies and our beginnings with no compromise.


Back in the living room, as the radio is concluding its final statements, Don Quixote trots in on a beautiful horse. This horse must be Rocinante from the books, but matches none of the descriptions, instead presenting as upright, firm and bold. In fact, it is hard to tell whether this combination of characters could actually be the famous Don Quixote and Rocinante as Don Quixote’s head remains out of the frame. All there is to be seen is from the neck down, a body in full armour on a majestic horse. The character who is playing on their phone looks up and towards them, acknowledging their presence. Slightly bewildered, the character swings their legs ninety degrees and places their feet on the floor. A brief moment passes, and then still looking at the invigorated duo, the character rises, walks around the sofa and out of the frame, perhaps to make dinner or have a shower, maybe even to welcome guests, or simply to remove themselves from the presence of another mythical figure and another agenda. The final act is finished, and the curtain falls on an average living situation containing what must be Don Quixote, sat on a horse that must be Rocinante, although they could be anyone.