I’ve always loved irony, whether it be in life or in literature, so I was delighted with the prologue of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. While seeking inspiration for the prologue, Cervantes confesses to a friend that, without scholarly quotes and literary allusions and sonnets, his book won’t be as learned as he would like it to be. No matter, his friend tells him before encouraging Cervantes to plagiarize his bibliography and footnotes. Aristotle, Plato, Aesop, Horace, and a few contemporaries are all name-checked. Along the way, Cervantes’ friend addresses the issue of the book’s readers–and namely scholars–by insinuating that they’ll be too stupid or lazy to bother double-checking a bibliography: “Besides, no one will take the trouble to ascertain whether you follow your authorities or not, as he has nothing to gain by it.”

The prologue probably has no basis on factual events and, given the tongue-in-cheek comedy of the entire dialogue, one is inclined to think that it’s apocryphal–writers are egotistical liars, always trying to outdo their peers, especially when it comes to the breadth of their knowledge, and in this respect, Cervantes seems to be admitting that he’s no different. The prologue also brilliantly sets the stage for the rest of the book–Don Quixote is a satire, so Cervantes makes an effort to dispel his readers’ notions of seriousness. The author is essentially announcing that his history, as it were, has no basis in fact. Readers don’t have to scholars to enjoy it, and indeed, Cervantes seems to prefer that unlearned individuals–commoners, really–read his book. And by keeping the common people mind, Cervantes is perhaps making fun of the literati and their pretentiousness by intentionally writing the world’s first work of popular fiction.

Yet, given the thought he put into the prologue, as well as his obsession with credibility, perhaps Cervantes wants us to take his book seriously after all.

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