I’ve been learning the music from “Man of La Mancha,” and am more and more convinced that Don Quijote is a “Christ figure” and that the play has distinct Christian overtones.
There has been discussion for centuries about whether Quijote was “mad” or if his “quest” was rooted in beautiful and wise ideals. It seems that both idealism and realism were at work in the mind of Quijote, who kept dreaming and fighting that the “world would be better for this, that one man scorned and covered with scars, still strove with his last ounce of courage, to reach the unreachable stars.”
This theme song has such beautiful words and aspirations, and it seems obvious that so many of them have parallels in the Christian story.
Quijote may well be a figure of Christ, as is rather obvious in the lyrics above. Another phrase, “to bear with unbearable sorrow,” echoes Isaiah’s words about a suffering servant who is “well acquainted with grief,” and echoes Jesus’ words about “taking up one’s cross.”
“To fight the unbeatable foe” could be a reference to demonic forces. “To march into hell for a heavenly cause” could refer to Peter’s insistence that Christ preached even to souls in hell.
And what of the song “Knight of the Woeful Countenance”? Again, a “man of sorrows” as Isaiah describes a leader who could heal the nation.
Sancho Panza could represent Jesus’ disciples ... the faithful though questioning followers. Aldonza could represent Mary Magdalene, a woman of ill repute, or perhaps she echoes the harlot of the prophet Hosea. Jesus and Hosea both love and heal a woman (or nation) with “many sins” … and in Jesus’ words, “though her sins were many, she who is forgiven much, loves much.”
I want to highlight the transforming power for Aldonza in Cervantes’ novel that echoes the story of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Cervantes captures the gaze of unconditional love in the novel, with Quijote saying, “I see beauty. Purity. I see the woman each man holds in his heart … Dulcinea” (meaning sweet one).
The play also captures the healing, loving gaze of Quijote, as Aldonza reminds him on his death bed: “You spoke to me, and everything … was different. You looked at me and called me another name … Dulcinea.
“When you spoke, an angel seemed to whisper … please bring back the dream of Dulcinea.”
She was transformed by his visions and dreams, no matter how “impossible” they may have seemed. She came to believe in his words and in her own inner beauty, transcending her self scorn and abusive world.
The spirit of Christ, in the gospels and in great literature like Don Quijote, asks us to keep divine dreams alive … dreams for a better world, dreams that peace and love can still flourish, dreams that love is indeed the strongest force in the world, even stronger than evil and death.
Cervantes talked about his role as a poet: “It is one thing to write as a poet, and another to write as a historian. The poet can recount or sing about things not as they were, but as they should have been.”
So let the world be better for this: that one man “scorned and covered with scars” was relentlessly courageous, and his “impossible” dream, compassionate love, is victorious, against all odds. Such love resounds with power to heal and transform in great works of literature, theater and song.
The Rev. Ross Varney is pastor of Belleville Congregational Church in Newburyport.