Its admirers call it “the Quixote,” as if to say “the masterpiece” or even “the universe.”

Cervantes’s novel, completed exactly four hundred years ago, established him as one of the greatest writers in world literature. In his recent book, Quixote: The Novel and the World, Ilan Stavans is even “convinced that the Spanish language exists in order for this magisterial novel to inhabit it.”1 Some praise has been even more extravagant.

Ivan Turgenev, otherwise a skeptic to the core, detected a mystical significance in the apparent coincidence that the first part of Don Quixote appeared (he supposed) in the same year as Hamlet....

 

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