Comparative Essay: Don Quixote and Oedipus
Oedipus is a play written by the great Greek tragedian Sophocles sometime before 400 B.B. about a Greek king who committed the grievous crimes of patricide and incest. Don Quixote, on the other hand, is written by the author Spanish Miguel de Cervantes sometime in the 17th century about a man who deluded himself into thinking that he can revive the knight-errant period and become the savior of helpless women and the conqueror of evil. Evidently as can be gleaned from the storylines alone, Oedipus is a tragedy while Don Quixote is a light farcical drama. The primary difference, however, between these two great classics is that while Oedipus is an orthodox, straightforward narrative told within the bounds of narrow literary conventions, Don Quixote shatters that convention through a shifting and disorienting type of narration that leaves the reader confused and totally at the mercy of the author.
Oedipus’ story revolves around a man who, as a newborn baby, was ordered cast out and left to die by his father, the king, to prevent the happening of a prophecy of patricide and incest. But no matter how distant and remote his world subsequently takes place, events manage to pull Oedipus closer to his destiny. After being spared by the shepherd, Oedipus is adopted by the king and queen of Corinth. As a man, Oedipus consults an oracle about the truth of his birth, but the oracle instead tells him of the same prophecy told to his real parents. He flees away, thinking his adoptive parents are his real ones, to keep the prophecy from happening. While he is in the middle of a road junction, however, he kills a man and his companions out of rage for rushing heedlessly towards him not knowing that the man was Laios, his own father. He proceeds to Thebes and marries its queen, Iokaste, again not knowing that she is his real mother. The real truth is subsequently revealed and in the end, Iokaste kills herself out of extreme distress and Oedipus crushes out his eyes as a way of punishing himself (Sophocles et al, pp 21-94).
On the other hand, Don Quixote is set in Spain, and the story is divided into two parts. In the first part, romantic tales are spoofed with Don Quixote dedicating his ‘chivalrous’ deeds to a woman (Dulcinea) he has not seen but believes to be a princess (but is actually a peasant). He rides atop an old horse and is aided by his sidekick, a fat man who offers a stark contrast to his thin, lanky frame. In the second part, the characters reveal the existence of a published historical piece of their past adventures, which they assail for being spurious. The adventures of the characters in this part center on the objective to disenchant Dulcinea who they believe has been turned into a peasant (in reality, she is a peasant) and the condescending tricks played on Don Quixote by a Duke and Duchess (Cervantes pp 1-57).
Differences exist between the stories of Oedipus and Don Quixote and these differences are not confined to their plotlines, setting and characters. Oedipus is told in a conventional, straightforward manner reflecting a conventional literary form of narration. Although the narration started in the middle of the story with hints of what the story is all about gradually being revealed, its narration follows the conventional pyramid kind, which starts off with the exposition, followed by the rising action, climax, falling action and finally, the denouement. The story of Don Quixote, on the other hand, uses an unorthodox manner of narration that does not necessarily follow the pattern observed in Oedipus. It is told in sections with each section observing a distinctive style from the others. The first section is a parody of romantic chivalry; the second section is treated like documentary or history, with the author himself interrupting the narration and commenting about the supposed errors of the historical manuscripts of Don Quixote’s adventures, and; the third section is told in a more conventional manner where characters are more developed and events are arranged thematically.
Sophocles & Berg, Stephen & Clay, Diskin. ‘Oedipus the King.’ The Greek Tragedy in New Translations. Oxford University Press US, 1988.
De Cervantes Saavedra & Palacios, Argentina. ‘Adventures of Don Quixote.’ Dover Childrens Thrift Classics. Courier Dover Publications, 1999.