In the previous episode, Sancho Panza had set off for his home village to deliver a letter from Don Quixote to the Lady Dulcinea, and to obtain three donkeys as replacements for his own which had been stolen. The knight remained in the mountains, in melancholic madness for his lady. Sancho Panza met the village priest and barber at an inn on the road, and they decided to return with him to the mountains, where the barber would dress up in women’s clothing and try to persuade Don Quixote to return to his village and be treated for his madness. Cardenio, the young noble, told them the conclusion of his story, in which he had been tricked by Luscinda, his one true love, and his master’s son Fernando, who married, driving him to flee to the mountains to end his life there.
Cervantes starts the fourth part of the first book of Don Quixote with the priest about to give comfort to Cardenio, when they heard another voice in lament. This came from a lad in rough clothing who was bathing his feet in a nearby stream. As the group watched this figure, it removed its hat and shook out the long blonde tresses of a beautiful woman.
As soon as she saw the men, she picked up her bundle of clothes and started to run away, before tripping over a rock. She was persuaded to tell them how she, Dorotea, came to be in disguise in the mountains.
She was the daughter of a tenant farmer whose land in Andalucia was owned by a grandee of Spain. Although her parents were of humble origin and only tenants, they had grown rich, and loved her greatly as their daughter. She had grown to run their household and their farm, as the mistress. One day Fernando, the younger son of the grandee, had taken a fancy to her. At this, Cardenio started to sweat, given that it had been a Fernando who had married his one true love.
Fernando bribed her servants and did everything he could to weaken the woman’s resistance to his desires. Her parents gave their full support to her resistance, and she did nothing to encourage Fernando’s advances. One night she found him in her room, and he swore that he would give her his hand in marriage.
She called her maid in to be witness to his solemn promises, and that night succumbed to him. Before leaving her in the morning he gave her one of his rings. Although he returned the following night, she never saw him again.
She later heard that Fernando had married another great beauty named Luscinda, which drove to anger. She dressed in the clothes of a young herdsman and left her house to track Fernando down. She then heard an account of what had happened at his wedding to Luscinda, in which the bride had fallen into a swoon after she had given her consent. When her mother loosened her clothing, a note had fallen out declaring that she was already married to Cardenio, and intended to kill herself with a dagger straight after the ceremony.
Fernando tried to kill her with that dagger, but others intervened, so he left immediately. His bride didn’t recover until the following day, when she confirmed her prior marriage to Cardenio. She then disappeared too, leaving the city buzzing with the story and speculation as to what would happen next.
Dorotea couldn’t find Fernando to get him to make amends with her, then discovered that a large reward was being offered for her own arrest, so she fled with her servant towards the Sierra. Even he turned against her when they were alone in a wood, and tried to seduce her, then became violent in pursuit of his lust, forcing her to push him into a ravine. She made her way up into the mountains where she next worked as the assistant to a herdsman. When he discovered that she was a woman, he too was overcome with desire towards her, so she escaped into the wilderness where she could be alone.
She concluded by asking the priest, the barber and Cardenio where she could go next to avoid all those who wanted her.
When she fell silent, Cardenio confirmed that she was the woman he thought she was, and identified himself to her. He then wished that heaven would restore Fernando to Dorotea, and Luscinda to himself, and promised to do all in his power to make that happen. As they were agreeing this, they heard Sancho Panza shout and went off to meet him. He told them that Don Quixote was still in the grip of his madness and refused to go with him. Following discussion, Dorotea agreed to act as the damsel in distress, and they put their plan into action.
Dorotea dressed herself up as a fine lady, so effectively that Sancho – who hadn’t heard her story – asked who she was. The priest told him that she was the Princess Micomicona who had come all the way from Guinea to ask a boon of the knight, and the squire came to believe that his master was about to become an emperor. Dorotea, Sancho and the barber (wearing his disguise of a long red beard) went on ahead, with the priest and Cardenio following on foot. After a couple of miles, they found Don Quixote and the fictional princess played her part well.
The subsequent chivalrous exchange was protracted and awkward, but culminated in the knight ordering his squire to prepare Rocinante without delay, so he could leave with the Princess Micomicona on his quest to kill the giant. The priest and Cardenio watched behind some bushes as the barber, the princess and Don Quixote rode away, with Sancho following on foot, as his stolen donkey hadn’t been replaced.
When they all met, there was some rearranging of mounts, which ended up with the barber getting up onto a hired mule, who immediately threw its hind legs up, bringing the barber to the ground, where his false beard fell off. When Don Quixote saw this, he declared it a miracle that the mule had plucked the beard from the man’s face. The priest reattached the barber’s beard, muttering an incantation which Don Quixote understood was a spell for beard reattachment.
There ensued a discussion about routes and destinations, as three of them rode and three followed on foot, taking it in turns to rest their legs on one of their mounts. In the course of this, the priest revealed that he and the barber had been on their way to Seville with silver bars worth a considerable sum. On the road they had been robbed by four convicts who had apparently escaped from a chain gang, released from their guards by someone who was clearly mad or as criminal as the convicts. The priest declared that whoever had done that would lose his soul as a result.
Don Quixote’s face changed colour at the priest’s condemnation, but the knight said not a word.
That completes the twenty-ninth 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.