En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo . . .
"Some place in the Stain, whose name I can't even recall, not too long ago, there lived a man of some rank . . .
The first sentence of chapter one suggests that the writer is not going to be concerned about fixing events and persons in precise quadrants.
The reader is invited to take a relaxed attitude toward time and place. Or is this casual approach a protective conceit, which serves to locate the fanciful narrative in Cervantes' present?
Early on - in this first sentence - the reader is invited to laugh along with Cervantes, as he pokes fun at the very characters he is in process of inventing.
The main character lives in an unknown spot, in an area known as La Mancha - "the Stain" - which was an actual if nondescript region of Spain. (But which, made famous by Cervantes, has achieved a touristic lustre ever since.)
Don Quijote is locally prominent - an "hidalgo" - a reputable title, when part 1 of this work was published in 1605.
But hidalgo began life as a form of derision - hijo de algo - 'son of something or other.' Is Cervantes ridiculing Quijote? If so, then Cervantes' Quijote stands as a representative of . . . whom?
Quijote, as the name is written today, was written as Quixote, in Cervantes' first edition. Experts suggest that in the Spanish language of Cervantes' time, X and J shared a fluid, common sound, settled in Spanish today as J - which in English is translated as the H sound. Quijote.
-ote is a suffix which exaggerates an undesirable quality. Grandote - a hulking guy; gordote - a fatso. Here is one more indication that Cervantes is playing around. Reminds me of Mark Twain's bemused commentary on the passing scene.
By the end of the chapter, we are told that Quixote has gone nuts, having read far too much of the knights-errant romances, which was fashionable in Spain in the century prior to Cervantes publishing of DQ.
Con estas y semejantes razones perdía el pobre caballero el juicio, y desvelábase por entenderlas, y desentrañarles el sentido, que no se lo sacara, ni las entendiera el mismo Aristóteles, si resucitara para sólo ello.
"With these and similar causes the poor gentleman lost his reason, and lay awake, striving to understand them and work out their meaning, but which could not have been figured out or understood by Aristotle himself even if he had been raised from the dead for no other purpose."Insanity, described in this way, signals that Cervantes is having fun at Quijote's expense - 'this guy is nuts but let's enjoy what insanity may or may not mean, as the story unfolds.'
DQ is satire - characters and episodes are shape shifting entities. Cervantes has given himself plenty of scope to play again and again with his own characterizations of his own invented personages.