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Vol. 11 No. i (2023): Spring 2023

Don Quixote and the Spanish Criminal Justice System

January 18, 2024


This paper evaluates how convicted criminals in 17th- century Spain were punished for their crimes from the perspective of author Miguel de Cervantes. The evaluation is based on a literary analysis of Cervantes’ depiction of galley slaves throughout the twenty-second chapter of Don Quixote where he used humor as a literary device to illustrate Don Quixote’s encounter with the slaves. Cervantes’s past as a prisoner before writing his esteemed novel and a historical assessment of Spanish judicial traditions are also used to understand further the message the author is trying to convey. In this analysis, it ultimately becomes clear that Don Quixote is used by Cervantes to advocate for criminal justice reform in a highly creative manner. Instead of simply speaking out against the manner convicted criminals were punished, Cervantes opts to create a fictional scenario that mimics the unfortunate realities of being a galley slave. Today, the twenty-second chapter of Don Quixote can be utilized for commentary in regard to how little criminal justice
systems have changed since Cervantes’s time.