Dreaming of Dulcinea

~ a reflection on the epic novel Don Quixote (1605), by Miguel de Cervantes.

Volume III: Short discussion on Don Quixote’s imaginative dreaming of the symbol of a woman he fights for, from afar, and without even actually knowing her… Dulcinea is his lady back home — and the chosen soul of his hearty fight.

[Don Quixote], having cleaned his armor and made a full helmet out of a simple headpiece, and having given a name to his horse and decided on one for himself, he realized that the only thing left for him to do was to find a lady to love; for the knight errant without a lady-love was a tree without leaves or fruit, a body without a soul.

He said to himself: “If I, because of my evil sins, or my good fortune, meet with a giant somewhere, as ordinarily befalls knights errant, and I unseat him with a single blow, or cut his body in half, or, in short, conquer and defeat him, would it not be good to have someone to whom I could send him so that he might enter and fall to his knees before my sweet lady, and say in the humble voice of surrender: ‘I, lady, am the giant Caraculiambro, lord of the island Malindrania, defeated in single combat by the never sufficiently praised knight Don Quixote of La Mancha, who commanded me to appear before your ladyship, so that your highness might dispose of me as you chose’?”

Oh, how pleased our good knight was when he had made this speech, and even more pleased when he discovered the one he could call his lady! It is believed that in a nearby village there was a very attractive peasant girl with whom he had once been in love, although she, apparently, never knew or noticed. Her name was Aldonza Lorenzo, and he thought it a good idea to call her the lady of his thoughts, and, searching for a name that would not differ significantly from his and would suggest and imply that of a princess and great lady, he decided to call her Dulcinea of Toboso, because she came from Toboso, a name, to his mind, that was musical and beautiful and filled with significance, as were all the others he had given to himself and everything pertaining to him.

“I am of the same opinion,” replied the traveler, “but there is one thing, among many others, concerning knights errant that seems objectionable to me, and it is that when they find themselves about to embark on a great and perilous adventure, in which there is a manifest danger that they will lose their lives, never at the moment of undertaking it do they think of commending themselves to God, as every Christian is obliged to do at times of danger; instead, they commend themselves to their ladies with as much zeal and devotion as if those ladies were their God, and to me this seems to have a somewhat heathenish smell.”

“Señor,” responded Don Quixote, “under no circumstances can they do any less, and the knight errant who did otherwise would fall into disrepute, for it is tradition and custom in knight errantry that the knight errant who is about to embark on some great feat of arms and has his lady before him must gently and lovingly turn his eyes toward her as if asking her to favor and protect him in the fearful battle he is undertaking; even if no one is there to hear him, he is obliged to murmur a few words under his breath in which, with all his heart, he commends himself to her; we have countless examples of this in the histories. But one should not assume, therefore, that they fail to commend themselves to God, for they have the time and place to do that in the course of combat.”

“Furthermore, I don’t believe that all the knights errant have ladies to whom they can commend themselves because not all of them are in love.”

“That cannot be,” responded Don Quixote. “I mean, there cannot be a knight errant without a lady, because it is as fitting and natural for them to be in love as for the sky to have stars, and, just as certainly, you have never seen a history in which you find a knight errant without a love, for if he had none, he would not be deemed a legitimate knight but a bastard who entered the fortress of chivalry not through the door but over the walls, like a robber and a thief.”

~ Cervantes, Don Quixote

Dulcinea Del Toboso, the Peasant Mistress of Don Quixote, c.1839
by Charles Robert Leslie


The keystone component of Don Quixote’s mad adventure comes with his chosen lady. By his completionist education on the subject, every knight needs a lady — same as a body needs a soul. To be of any use, and to call himself a true knight, he needs a beauty back home by which all his sword swings and dashing leaps into action against ruffians, giants, dragons will be utterly dedicated.

Known indirectly from back home by the truename of Aldonza Lorenzo, the brazen knight reimagines her (much like himself) with a new name and a devotion — “Dulcinea of Toboso,” and she is filled with a lovely longing for him, which is mutually reciprocated.

Don’s mad dreaming of Dulcinea (a falsehood, as she does not really know him) over his march reckons him further into his own myth. By fighting for the love and admiration of another, his knighthood is solidified. It is harder to run away from such responsibility, from the honor bestowed by a beautiful patron that he may one day face again with his glories and trophies in tow…

Don Quixote dreaming of home?
~ Don Quixote De La Mancha
 by Gustave Dore

Dulcinea is the mythic representation of home as a personhood. She’s your sweetheart. Every hero on his journey needs a home to go back to — all the better if it is the person you love.

It calls to mind the oath of the paladin. Or the domain of the cleric. For priests, zealots, cultists — Dulcinea is their chosen God.

Importantly, a lady is chosen. She is a conscious decision to deploy devotion unto. Fate or chance does not enter into it, not directly. A knight chooses his lady — just as a lady should choose her knight.

To Don, a knight paired with his lady is as natural as trees and leaves, stars and sky, bodies and souls. To enter the profession (“the fortress of chivalry”) without one, to him, is to live a lie. {Ironic, yes. But if anyone is completely ‘committed to the bit’, it is Don Quixote.}

A knight venturing over the land, slaying men or monsters, all without a lady back home to name as his own, is akin to a revolutionary without a cause. {Then, you are just a murderer…}

Best case for a knight, your lady is someone to bask in life’s glory with {“check out this giant skull!”}. Worst case, it is someone to cry at your funeral {to be there delicately placing the rose upon your empty gravesite with a tear streaming down her cheek…}.

In a synthesizing truth speaking to their greater role, the knight’s lady is the promise of an end to his quest.

Men need a return home; we need a dream to build towards, a love to fall back into when all the mystery and violence and darkness recedes from the maddening play of our day.

Meditating on this dream of the unseen character of Dulcinea — who nevertheless plays an irreplaceable part in Quixote’s quest — you realize that everyone needs their own iteration of Dulcinea.

I sincerely believe — whether you are a knight or not, whether she is real or not, whether it’s a woman or a friend, or anyone else (even just a sacred object, an ideal, a symbol, a God, etc.) — everyone needs a Dulcinea to dream of while they painstakingly partake in the conscientiously chaotic fight of this mortal coil that is LIFE.

Who is your Dulcinea? ~

Bonus: Dulcinea by the world metal band, ISIS