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Don Quixote and Catholicism: Rereading Cervantine Spirituality

Michael J. McGrath

Four hundred years since its publication, Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote continues to inspire and to challenge the reader. The universal and timeless appeal of the novel, however, has distanced its hero from its author and its author from his own life and the time in which he lived. The discussion of the novel’s Catholic identity, therefore, is based on a reading that returns Cervantes’ hero to Cervantes’ text and Cervantes to the events that most shaped his life. The authors and texts McGrath cites, as well as his arguments and interpretations, are mediated by his religious sensibility. Consequently, he proposes that his study represents one way of interpreting Don Quixote and a complement to other approaches. It is McGrath’s assertion that the religiosity and spirituality of Cervantes’s masterpiece illustrate that Don Quixote is inseparable from the teachings of Catholic orthodoxy. Furthermore, he argues that Cervantes’s spirituality is as diverse as early modern Catholicism. McGrath does not believe that the novel is primarily a religious or even a serious text, and he considers his arguments through the lens of Cervantine irony, satire, and multiperspectivism. As a Roman Catholic who is a Hispanist, McGrath proposes to reclaim Cervantes’s Catholicity from the interpretive tradition that ascribes a predominantly Erasmian reading of the novel. When the totality of biographical and socio-historical events and influences that shaped Cervantes’ religiosity are considered, the result is a new appreciation of the novel’s moral didactic and spiritual orientation.


“Don Quixote, an example par excellence of multiperspectivism, fittingly lends itself to diverse interpretations. A lesson of Don Quixote is that, as with the dancer and the dance, the interpreter cannot be separated from the interpretation. Michael McGrath emphasizes precisely this point as he posits that Cervantes’s novel solidly reflects the principles of Catholic theology. McGrath does not eliminate Erasmus from the picture, but he does remove the noted humanist as a guiding force of the commentary. Here, the aims of satire and irony are juxtaposed with a deep respect for Catholicism and its teachings. McGrath’s personal faith and analytical skills serve him well. This is a thoughtful and well-argued study that will add to the critical dialogue on Don Quixote by accentuating a key ingredient of Spanish life, culture, history, and, lest we forget, fiction.”

—Edward H. Friedman, Vanderbilt University


Michael J. McGrath is a Professor of Spanish at Georgia Southern University and a Corresponding Fellow of the San Quirce Royal Academy of History and Art (Segovia, Spain). His research focuses on early modern Spanish life and literature, with special emphasis on cultural studies, the comedia, Don Quijote, and intellectual history. He is the author of more than 60 publications, including two books based on archival research, La vida urbana en Segovia: Historia de una ciudad barroca en sus documentos and Teatro y fiesta en la ciudad de Segovia (siglos XVIII y XIX), editions of four of Miguel de Cervantes’s Novelas ejemplares and plays by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, María de Zayas, Diego de San Pedro, articles that have appeared in the journals Cervantes, Comedia Performance, Bulletin of Comediantes, Estudios Segovianos, ehumanista, and Romance Quarterly, several book chapters, and over 20 book reviews. He has been the editor of Juan de la Cuesta Hispanic Monographs since 2008.

PSRL 79. Paper. $45.00. e-Book available. 


Page last updated on 26 June 2021.

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