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"Don Quijote": A numismatic and economic analysis. Literary images of coinage, wealth and poverty

David Brian Fiero, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation focuses on the function of money in the novel Don Quijote, and the economic context in which Cervantes' masterpiece was written. The time frame examined corresponds to the author's lifespan, the second half of the sixteenth century until his death in 1616. As the preponderance of Spanish wealth originated in precious metals arriving from the Indies, Spain's colonial empire was a necessary component of the economic equation, reflected in Cervantes' writings as well. Historical realism, through the filter of literary verisimilitude, characterizes Cervantine prose to the extent that several of Spain's leading historians consider Cervantes a major source. We find his texts one of the primary numismatic resources available to the modern scholar of Golden Age literature, economics or history. Where this has been forgotten, annotations within editions of Don Quijote have themselves suffered. Wherever other Cervantine texts either corroborate or contrast with the findings of this study, they have also been utilized, especially the Persiles, exemplary novels, and 'captivity dramas'. It may never be easy to accept that the plot of Don Quijote is largely driven by money, perhaps because the relationship of money to the written word, and thus to both scholarship and literary creation, is itself highly problematic. Less so is the fact that the Knight's 'professional debut' is motivated by his lack of useful work, and enabled by the exchange of medieval wealth--seen since Aristotle in terms of property--for books, and by entrance into the money economy through employment of a squire who insists upon a salary to look after his master's 'cash and shirts'. This he does so thoroughly--and comically--that the circularity of the plot of Volume One revolves around accumulating debt and self-interest. By Volume Two, Maravall's notion of 'money economy' as characteristic of the early modern has already been fulfilled, and necessity--as viewed by contemporary 'arbitristas' and regarding ethnic marginalization has become the norm. Corresponding implications for Spain itself prove undeniable.

Subject Area

Romance literature

Recommended Citation

Fiero, David Brian, ""Don Quijote": A numismatic and economic analysis. Literary images of coinage, wealth and poverty" (1997). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9815885.