Robert Browning’s quote “A man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” is very relevant to Dale Wasserman’ s play, Man of la Mancha. Characters are portrayed along the continuum with the realist as one extreme and the idealist as another. Browning speaks to the issue of these extremes and favors the idealist who has the capacity to perceive their reality as a temporary existence and allows for growth driven by imagination. A man’s reach should go beyond that which he can physically hold in his hand or grasp, or even touch. It is only when one reaches beyond the immediate that the possibility of reaching the stars becomes a reality. Wasserman develops this concept within the fabric of the play as he allows his characters to embrace a degree of one extreme to another.
“Dear god… it is she! Sweet lady… fair virgin… I dare not gaze upon thy countenance lest I be blinded by beauty. But I implore thee – speak once thy name” (page 22). In this moment, Don Quixote has just laid eyes upon Aldonza, the Prostitute/server girl. He falls in love with her almost immediately. However, while this man is trying his hardest to persue her, she is pushing him away with her cold and abrupt words. The reality, or the “grasp” of this situation is the fact that Aldonza is a prostitute; an undesirable woman that is not accepting any of the wooing that Don Quixote is trying to drown her in. Despite this fact, Don Quixote envisions Aldonza as a very fair, desirable lady who he refuses to leave alone. He changes the possibility that she might be a fair woman, into a sense of reality that she is! In the eye of the realist, this woman does not demonstrate any characteristics of a lady; she is a common woman who has had many other partners before him. However, the idealist does not require the subject or the environment to change. It is all about possibilities that exist within his visionary capacity.
“Like beauty my friend, ‘tis all in the eye of the beholder. Only wait and thou shalt see amazing sights” (page 13). At this point in the story, Don Quixote turns to Sancho and makes the statement when they are speaking with reference to the highway. To Sancho, this highway looks like “the road to El Toboso where you can buy chickens for cheap”. He did not see the marvel of the road. Conversely, Don Quixote sees the road in a very different light; he says that there would be “knights and nations, warlocks, wizards… and a cavalcade of vast, unending armies!” He perceived the street as a grand thing where as the other saw the street as cheap and dirty. This demonstrates the two extremes of idealism and realism. Sancho saw the road way for what it was – a dirty old road, he was personifying the qualities of a realist, as he did not have the ability to see the potential of what the road could be, almost like he was in a box. Don Quixote, however, saw all the possibilities of the road as he personified the qualities of an idealist. His “reach exceeded his grasp” He was able to imagine the potential that this road could indeed have instead of living in the oblivion of what the road was.
Don Quixote: “I would confess that I have never actually been dubbed a knight”, Innkeeper: “Oh. That’s bad”, Don Quixote: “And yet I am well qualified, my lord. I am brave, courteous, bold, generous, affable, and patient”. This excerpt is taken from a conversation between Don Quixote and the Innkeeper, who Don Quixote considers to be the “king” of the castle – which is in fact an inn. Don Quixote claims that he has all the qualities of a knight. As the conversation between the two men advances, we see that the innkeeper is a bit skeptical to dub Quixote into knighthood on the basis that he is not a knight. He can’t fathom the situation and see beyond the fact that this old man, considers himself to be a knight. However, Don Quixote is able to see beyond all this. He can envision the possibility that he is a knight on the basis that he exemplifies the qualities of one. He can look beyond the realistic attitude of those around him, and adopt the idealistic teachings that there is a possibility that he can truly be dubbed into knighthood. Aldonza: “A man died. He seemed a good man, but I did not know him.” Sancho: “But – “
Aldonza: “Don Quixote is not dead. Believe Sancho, Believe” Sancho: “Aldonza?”
Aldonza: “My name is Dulcinea”.
This is the point in the play shortly after Alonso dies. Sancho – Don Quixote’s servant is talking to Aldonza about the fact that he has passed away. He calls her by her “god given name”. However, the young woman corrects him and states that her name is in fact Dulcinea (the name to which Don Quixote referred to her as the fair maiden). She has taken this name, and the possibility of her being a fair maiden and personified that character. She tries to hold on to the memory of Don Quixote and the way that her saw her. Her grasp truly exceeded her reach. As a realistic individual would have seen the passing of this man as just a fatal occurrence and move on with their lives, as this is the obvious thing to do. However, being the idealistic characters that they were, Dulcinea referred to her self as Dulcinea, the woman through Don Quixote’s eyes.
Through out Dale Wasserman’s play, Man of La Mancha, we clearly witness Robert Browning’s philosophy “A man’s reach must exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for” weave it’s way through the workings of the play. Browning implies the fact that you can’t always visualize what you are capable of, or even what your potential is in this moment. One should dream big and aspire; otherwise there will be no scope for growth. Using Robert Browning’s philosophy behind his quote, it can be linked to the opinions and working of the realist as well as the idealist.
Leigh, Mitch, Joe Darion, and Dale Wasserman. Man of La Mancha: A Musical Play. New York: Random House, 1966. Print.