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Fighting windmills: the many interpretations of Don Quixote

Miguel de Cervantes died on April 22, 1616, in Madrid, the same year as William Shakespeare. This anniversary is an opportunity to showcase some rarely seen material from a wide number of collections within the University Library.

This exhibition focuses on Cervantes’ most celebrated character: Don Quixote. The aim is to highlight some of the ways in which this figure has been appropriated by readers, artists and other writers throughout the centuries.

The first section addresses one of Don Quixote’s most distinct features: his ingenuity. The fact that Cervantes decided to characterise his protagonist as ‘ingenioso’ – a term loaded with philosophical and medical senses, but also susceptible to comic interpretations- points towards the multi-layered nature of the book.

After the novel’s publishing success, and as the fame of the character spread, the story sparked the imagination and creativity of writers and artists. In the second and third sections we focus on a selection of examples from England, ranging from printed illustrations to popular songs.

Eventually, the character of Don Quixote took on a life of its own and acquired an ‘iconic’ status, lending himself to varied reinventions, including those intended for a young audience. This is the theme of the fourth and final section, which features a wide range of beautifully illustrated material.


Clara Panozzo (Collections and Academic Liaison, Cambridge University Library)

Dr. Sophie Defrance (Rare Books, Cambridge University Library)

Dr. José Ramón Marcaida  (CRASSH, University of Cambridge)

Behind the scenes