In the previous episode, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza freed a dozen convicts who were being marched to crew the King’s galleys, but the convicts turned on the pair and bombarded them with rocks before running away. Fearing that they’d soon be visited by officers from the Holy Brotherhood of Toledo, they rode off to hide in the mountains. There they found gold coins abandoned in a travel bag, and a dead mule, belonging to a young nobleman who had arrived six months ago, apparently to do penance. After they had searched for the young man, he appeared near them and approached. Don Quixote embraced the man, who prepared to speak.
The young noble started by thanking Don Quixote, following which the latter offered his services in his usual florid and obtuse way. The noble was speechless and could only stare at him, until he asked for food, which he devoured without pausing until he had finished. The young noble then lay back and stretched out on the grass, as the others did too.
Once he was comfortable, the noble started to explain his misfortunes, asking that he wasn’t to be interrupted nor asked to repeat them, because of the pain that they caused. He revealed his name was Cardenio, and that he was from a noble family in one of the richest cities in Andalucia. He had fallen in love with the young and beautiful Luscinda, who loved him too. When they grew older, her father refused him entry to their house, following the example of Thisbe’s parents in popular legend. Although they were unable to talk to one another, their ardour grew through an intense exchange of letters.
At this point, Cardenio decided the only way to put an end to this was to ask Luscinda’s father for her hand in marriage. When he did that, her father told him that it was Cardenio’s father who should be making the request. The young noble went to speak to his father, but discovered that Duke Ricardo, one of the grandees of Spain, had asked for Cardenio to be sent to him immediately as his companion.
When Cardenio joined the Duke, his younger son Fernando formed a close friendship with him in which he told the young noble all his thoughts and desires, including his intention to take the virginity of the daughter of one of the Duke’s tenant farmers. Cardenio tried to dissuade Fernando, but was unsuccessful, and felt obliged to inform the Duke. Fernando anticipated this, and to prevent that from happening contrived to stay with Cardenio in his home, under the pretext of buying horses there. But by this time, Fernando had already enjoyed his desires with the farmer’s daughter, and just needed the right moment to tell all to Cardenio.
The Duke agreed to Cardenio accompanying Fernando, and the two travelled to Cardenio’s home. Shortly after they had arrived, Cardenio went to visit Luscinda, with whom he was still passionately in love. He told Fernando, and made the mistake of letting the Duke’s son see Luscinda one night. Inevitably, Fernando immediately fell in love with her.
At this point in Cardenio’s story, he inadvertently mentioned a book of chivalry which Luscinda had asked him to obtain. Don Quixote immediately interrupted him with an aside about books of chivalry, on which he was something of an expert. Unfortunately this led to a heated discussion between the young noble and the knight, and the rest of the story was abandoned.
As tempers rose, Cardenio struck Don Quixote with a rock and knocked him backwards. Sancho Panza tackled Cardenio in his madness, only to be knocked down himself, as was the goatherd. Cardenio then disappeared into the bushes, while Sancho got into an argument with the goatherd, forcing Don Quixote to intervene.
When order was restored, Don Quixote asked the goatherd where Cardenio might be found, as he wanted to hear the end of his story.
Don Quixote rode away with Sancho Panza following reluctantly. After a period of stony silence, Sancho asked his master to be released to return to his family, as he couldn’t bear to be constrained to silence any longer. The knight gave him permission to speak while they remained in the mountains. The squire then questioned his master about the argument he’d got into with Cardenio, which led to a further argument with Don Quixote.
The knight launched into a long lecture about Amadis of Gaul, whom he described as the lord of all knights, and attaining perfection in chivalry. Sancho asked what he intended to do in the mountains, to which Don Quixote replied that he intended to imitate Amadis, then moved on to discuss characters from Orlando Furioso, and his Lady Dulcinea. He ended by asking whether his squire had been taking good care of Mambrino’s helmet, following its earlier damage.
Their argument turned to whether Mambrino’s helmet was just a barber’s basin, before they rode on into the heart of the Sierra Morena and slept between rocky crags and cork oaks.
While the two were asleep, one of the convicts who they had freed, who had also fled to the mountains to hide, stole Sancho’s donkey. When the squire awoke the following morning he burst into tears over his loss. He was eventually comforted by his master, who promised to compensate him with three out of the five donkeys which he owned, and they ascended a peak below which was a meadow and stream.
Don Quixote chose that spot for a profuse lament to the heavens, then dismounted from Rocinante, removed his saddle and bridle, and let his horse go free.
Don Quixote’s madness grew when he told Sancho that he was going to rend his garments, scatter his armour, and dash his head against a rock. This became worse as the pair discussed the Lady Dulcinea, and the squire informed his master of her true nature, and how far her voice could carry. This made Don Quixote rush to her defence, insisting her beauty could be matched by no other woman.
Don Quixote then wrote a letter to the Lady Dulcinea, and read it aloud to Sancho, who was thoroughly impressed by it. The knight proceeded to write a warrant which he promised Sancho would return him three of the knight’s five donkeys, which the squire had been waiting for since morning. Sancho promptly asked his master to let him saddle Rocinante and leave immediately for the donkeys.
Don Quixote had other ideas, wanting Sancho to witness him naked and performing mad deeds, so that the squire could vouch for his master’s madness. Sancho pleaded not to have to see his master naked, as the sight would make him so sorry that he would cry. The knight declared that his squire was no saner than he, but Pancho asserted that he wasn’t that mad, just more angry.
Sancho mounted Rocinante and rode off towards the plain. Before he’d got a hundred yards, though, he turned back to watch Don Quixote perform just one mad deed for the record. His reward was to see his master drop his breeches, leap twice into the air, and turn two somersaults. Sancho turned Rocinante so that he didn’t have to see any more of those mad deeds, and rode away from his master.
That completes the twenty-fifth chapter of the first book of Don Quixote.
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, trans John Rutherford (1604, 2000) Don Quixote, Penguin, ISBN 978 0 140 44909 9.
Roberto González Echevarría (2015) Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Yale UP, ISBN 978 0 300 19864 5.
Roberto González Echevarría (ed) (2005) Cervantes’ Don Quixote, A Casebook, Oxford UP, ISBN 978 0 19 516938 6.