In the previous episode, Don Quixote had been carried away from the inn, in a cage on the back of an ox cart. To maintain the deception of enchantment by which that had been accomplished, the priest and his friend the barber wore masks. They met the canon of Toledo on the road, who turned out to be a fan of tales of chivalry. The priest explained the knight’s situation to the canon, and they discussed the vices and virtues of popular fiction. The group reached a beautiful valley where they stopped to rest and feed. This gave Sancho Panza the chance to speak to his master alone, and to try to explain the deception under which the knight had been carried away. At the end of this, Don Quixote admitted that he needed to be relieved in a hurry.
Sancho Panza seized on this physical need as evidence that there was no enchantment, and offered to find a way to release the knight, which the latter accepted. When the carter unyoked his oxen to let them graze, Sancho asked the priest if his master could be released from his cage to attend to his urgent call of nature, giving his guarantee that the knight wouldn’t try to escape. Don Quixote gave his word too.
Once he was released from his cage, the knight stretched, and after he had spoken to Rocinante, he went away with his squire to attend to his needs. When they returned, the canon asked Don Quixote whether it was true that he had been made mad by reading all those tales of chivalry, and thought that he had become enchanted. This attempt to reason with Don Quixote failed miserably, as the knight accused the canon of being mad, and of denying what was obviously true.
Don Quixote mustered all the evidence he could to demonstrate how it was the canon who was wrong, and in doing so confounded historical events with those told in fiction. The canon was forced to admit that there was some truth in what the knight had said, then tried to pick holes in the legends and stories, eventually dismissing them as nonsense.
The knight fell back on the popularity of those books, their air of authenticity, and convincing detail. This led Don Quixote into a long speech in which he rehearsed some of the stories which delighted and amazed readers. Sancho gave his master words of encouragement, in the hope that the squire would achieve the recognition he felt he deserved in the form of an earldom. The canon grew even more astonished at the madness of Don Quixote, and the simplicity of Sancho Panza with his ambition to be made a noble and acquire property.
The canon’s servants reached the group with the supply-mule they had brought from the inn, and they soon sat down on the grass to eat. As they were enjoying their meal, a goat broke out of the nearby thicket, followed by a goatherd calling after her. Ignoring her pursuer, the goat ran over to the picnic party and stopped, as if pleading for their protection. The canon invited the goatherd to join them, and he sat down to eat cold rabbit and to tell the group a story. While Sancho Panza went to make a pig of himself down by the stream, the goat lay down beside the goatherd, and he started his tale.
That completes the fiftieth 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.