In the previous episode, the priest continued to read The Tale of Inappropriate Curiosity to the group at the inn, while Don Quixote was asleep upstairs. In that story, Anselmo’s wife Camila was successfully seduced by his close friend Lotario. In a series of misunderstandings, Lotario told Anselmo, who was stunned by his wife’s behaviour. Camila came up with a deception to convince her husband of her virtue, which involved her first threatening to kill Lotario, then apparently killing herself with a dagger. In reality though all she did was cut herself slightly in the armpit. That took place in front of her husband, who was watching from her garderobe, and convinced him completely of her virtue.
At that point in the story, Don Quixote, still fast asleep, dreamed that he was attacking Princess Micomicona’s giant, when all he was doing was slashing open the innkeeper’s wineskins and flooding the bedroom with red wine. Order was eventually restored, and the priest finished the reading with the tragic ending to the story. Camila’s maid was compromised, and her mistress thought all was to be revealed, so she fled to Lotario, who put her in a convent and fled himself, only to die later in battle. When he discovered his wife and his friend had disappeared, Anselmo struggled to reach another friend, in whose house he died that night.
Four masked horsemen accompanying a noblewoman in white (also with her face covered) and two footmen then arrived at the inn. As Dorotea veiled her face and Cardenio went to hide in Don Quixote’s bedroom upstairs, the priest asked one of the servants who they were, but he replied that he didn’t know, merely that they were on their way to Andalusia. The lady with them appeared to be going to become a nun, and spent most of the time sobbing and groaning. Dorotea asked the woman what was wrong with her, only to be met with stony silence. She eventually responded, and Cardenio immediately recognised her voice and cried out.
The lady in white became alarmed and her face-covering slipped, revealing her great beauty. She was restrained by one of the horsemen, whose mask also slipped down and revealed to Dorotea that he was Fernando, her husband, at which she collapsed and had to be caught by the barber. Cardenio rushed down to join them, bringing all four together, staring at one another in amazement: Dorotea, Luscinda, Fernando and Cardenio, whose tangled relationships had been described earlier.
Luscinda was the first to speak, beseeching Fernando to allow her to return to Cardenio. Dorotea, kneeling in tears at Fernando’s feet, next implored him to return to her. This moved Fernando to release Luscinda, who swooned into Cardenio’s arms, and to accept Dorotea as his wife. There was initial tension between Fernando and Cardenio, but the others with them persuaded Fernando to relent. When Cardenio and Luscinda knelt before Fernando to thank him, he told them the end of the story of Fernando’s wedding to Luscinda.
When Fernando had discovered the paper hidden in his new bride’s clothing, declaring that she was already married to Cardenio, he’d intended to kill her. But her parents put a stop to that, allowing her to escape. He later discovered that she’d entered a convent, and took the three horsemen now accompanying him to abduct her, and that was how his group had come to the inn.
Sancho Panza’s aspirations of nobility were shattered by this, when he learned that Princess Micomicona didn’t exist, and he became concerned for his master who was still asleep and ignorant of the collapse of his chivalric quest. The innkeeper’s wife was delighted, though, as Cardenio and the priest had promised to cover all the costs of their stay at the inn. Sancho went up to Don Quixote, who had only just woken, and broke the news to him. The knight, though, seemed unsurprised at the turn of events, insisting still that this castle was enchanted.
As Sancho helped his master dress upstairs, downstairs the others debated whether to continue his deception. When the knight appeared in full panoply they were astonished at his gaunt face and ramshackle arms and armour. Don Quixote launched into a speech in which he immediately revealed his total lack of understanding, and assumed that Dorotea had been transformed by a sorceror to thwart his knightly intentions. She responded eloquently, guiding him back to reality, which caused the knight to blame his squire for misinforming him, calling Sancho a fool.
This was brought to an end with the arrival of a Christian man and a woman, who looked as if they had travelled from Moorish parts. The woman was still in Moorish dress, her face covered with a veil.
Dorotea welcomed them diplomatically, but the Moorish woman acknowledged her in silence, as if she couldn’t speak Spanish, a fact confirmed by her companion. He explained that, although she was Moorish, she wanted to convert to Christianity, but hadn’t had a chance to be baptised since leaving Algiers, and still needed instruction in her new faith. He also revealed that, despite appearances, she was of high rank. When she removed her veil, the others saw how beautiful she was too.
Night was falling, and the innkeeper hastened to put together a meal fit for his noble guests. As they were reaching the end of their supper together, Don Quixote spoke to them in an unusually rational way. When he had described the hardship of being a student, he told them that was nothing compared to those of a warrior, who receives far smaller rewards from his endeavours in battle. He argued in favour of the pre-eminence of arms over letters and learning, giving vivid descriptions of combat on land and at sea, and of the destruction wrought by artillery.
After the table was cleared, the innkeeper’s wife and her staff went to prepare the attic for the women to sleep in. Fernando meanwhile asked the man who was accompanying the woman from Algiers to tell of his life. When he agreed, they all sat down and fell silent to listen to him.
That completes the thirty-eighth chapter of the first book of Don Quixote.
List of characters
English translation by John Ormsby (1885)
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.