The nautical adventures of SpongeBob SquarePants have delighted audiences since 1999. By giving his wholesome characters adult identities, Stephen Hillenburg earned the praises and viewership of adults as well as children for his masterpiece. Below the surface of its slapstick humor are concepts inspired by Cervantes’ esteemed novel Don Quixote, and no episode is better suited for such an analysis than “Hall Monitor.” Interpreting “Hall Monitor” as one of Quixote’s sallies illuminates SpongeBob’s intense dedication to his performance as the hall monitor, the knight-squire relationship formed in this episode between SpongeBob and Patrick, and the gravity of the pair’s downfall when their fantasies are corrupted by the real world.
From the moment the eager SpongeBob is dubbed hall monitor of the day at Boating School (the underwater version of Drivers Ed), he vows to protect the weak and uphold law and order. His dramatic acceptance speech costs him the entire day, but his instructor allows him to wear the cap and sash until class meets again. With his new title and uniform, SpongeBob begins his descent into the delusion that it is his duty to act as legitimate member of law enforcement. Though he has good intentions, he terrorizes the city of Bikini Bottom and causes massive property damage, earning himself an arrest warrant with the nickname “the Maniac.” Unaware that he himself is the Maniac, SpongeBob enlists the help of his portly friend Patrick in an all-out manhunt. Patrick comes face-to-face with a menacing silhouette and warns SpongeBob via walkie-talkie that the Maniac is right on his tail. As he attempts to flee the criminal, SpongeBob encounters a wanted poster, and the reality that he has been the Maniac all along finally sinks in (Hillenburg 00:01:05-00:08:45).
The official-sounding designation and uniform empower SpongeBob to become the protector and enforcer he portrays in his monologue. He fails to recognize the realistic consequences of living out his fantasies as Bikini Bottom falls into chaos, because rather than accept the reality of a hall monitor’s duties, he instead relies on works of literature to form his new identity. In his long, dramatic acceptance speech, SpongeBob includes an ironic shout out to Fyodor Dostoevky’s novel Crime and Punishment and quotes the words of the supposed greatest hall monitor of all time, “Friends, students, juvenile delinquents, lend me your ears,” a derivation of Mark Antony’s monologue in Julius Caesar (Hillenburg 00:01:21-00:02:07; Shakespeare 3.2 15). Don Quixote, models his identity as a knight errant by using the words of others. He adapts a ballad about Lancelot to narrate his own first sally at the inn (Cervantes 28). Amadís of Gaul is frequently cited as his inspiration, and he bases his world view on often-misremembered tales chivalry (73-74). Both characters are unaware of the constraints of their position within their habitus; SpongeBob turns a chore into a position of power and Quixote adopts a role which does not even exist in the real world anymore.
Don Quixote feels the absence of his squire during his first sally when he realizes that he is ill-prepared for his adventures. The innkeeper informs him, “the knights of yore deemed it proper for their squires to be provisioned with money and other necessities… and if it happened that these knights had no squire – which was a rare and uncommon thing – they themselves carried everything…” (Cervantes 31). In pursuit of the Maniac, SpongeBob teams up with Patrick despite believing his friend lacks a clear understanding of the law (Hillenburg 00:04:35-00:04:45). This mirrors Don Quixote’s relationship with his illiterate squire Sancho Panza. SpongeBob, like Quixote, knows his mission can not be carried out alone, and he believes Patrick’s perspective as an “ex-criminal” can help in his investigation. Patrick, in the role of the squire, wishes to learn from his master, though he knows just as little about law enforcement as SpongeBob does (00:05:05-00:05:26). SpongeBob’s speaking pattern changes the further he is immersed in his imaginary law enforcement role, and he demands to be treated with the respect befitting an authority (00:04:30-00:04:36). This brings to mind Don Quixote and Sancho’s famous encounter with the fulling hammers. When Sancho dares to mocks his master’s flowery speech and Quixote strikes him with his lance, Quixote is reestablishing a hierarchy. He tells Sancho, “From everything I have said you must infer, Sancho, that it is necessary to distinguish between master and minion, gentleman and servant, knight and squire. Therefore, from this day forward, we must treat each other with more respect and refrain from mockery”(Cervantes 142, 150-152). Don Quixote’s knighthood is authenticated by Sancho Panza. Just as SpongeBob’s acceptance speech falls on deaf ears, Quixote’s pageantry is met with silence until Sancho engages in his world (Cervantes 25). Sancho, though somewhat self-serving, speaks to Quixote with terms befitting a true knight, and his view of knight errantry is based entirely on the words of his master:
“Forgive me, your grace,” said Sancho. “Since I do not know how to read or write, as I told you before, I don’t know and am not aware of the rules of the chivalric profession; from now on I’ll stock the saddlebags with all kinds of dried fruit for your grace, since you are a knight, and for me, since I’m not, I’ll fill them with other things that have wings and are more substantial.” (74)
Patrick, like Sancho, is the only one who responds to SpongeBob’s artificial authority, which earns him the title of deputy (Hillenburg 00:04:30-00:04:36, 00:05:23-00:05:26). Though Patrick follows his commanding officer’s lead, he is less invested in his friend’s delusions of power and more intent on enjoying himself, using the first opportunity SpongeBob presents him to enjoy a couple extra rounds of ice cream (00:05:23-00:05:38).
A version of the duke and duchess from Don Quixote make an appearance as Bikini Bottom police officers. When the two friends split up to find the Maniac, Patrick is confronted by legitimate policemen who show him a wanted poster. Seeing the police sketch causes Patrick to screech in terror each time he sees it, which the officers milk for their own amusement before returning to duty (Hillenburg 00:05:54-00:06:38). The officers clearly recognize Patrick’s instability when he gestures toward the ice cream cone on his head as a symbol of authority, yet they have no concern for his well-being and continue showing him the drawing. This encounter alludes to the duke and duchess’s elaborate Clavileño contraption which is used to deliberately frighten and scorch the pair of adventurers as a form of entertainment (Cervantes 724). In both works, the abuse of the protagonists marks a turning point in which the illusion begins to fall apart. SpongeBob, faced with the reality that he is the Maniac, loses his will to act out his fantasies and crumples into a pile of shame (Hillenburg 00:08:30-00:08:45). No longer able to enjoy his chivalric adventures, Don Quixote dies of melancholy at the end of Part Two. Before his death, he confesses, “My judgment is restored, free and clear of the dark shadows of ignorance imposed on it… I now recognize their absurdities and deceptions, and my sole regret is that this realization has come so late it does not leave me time to compensate” (Cervantes 935). Though it is unclear whether Quixote’s testament of his sanity is genuine, he does wither away and portray remorse in a way that is reflected in SpongeBob. Neither character can continue to enjoy his performance after acknowledging that his fun has caused irreparable harm to others.
Though simplified for a ten minute cartoon segment, “Hall Monitor,” like many SpongeBob episodes, contains undeniably cervantesque themes of identity, friendship, and performance. The optimistic, naive sponge lives in a world of his own imagination, and is largely unconcerned about whether or not the world around him is willing to play along. Fortunately, SpongeBob does not meet the same fate as poor Alonso Quixano. SpongeBob and Patrick have gone on to enjoy twelve seasons of sallies thus far, carrying with them the legacy of Don Quixote and his squire.