In the previous episode, Don Quixote’s niece and housekeeper thought they could enlist the help of the young graduate to stop the knight from leaving on his third sally, but instead he egged him on. After his master refused to offer him a fixed wage, Sancho Panza was obliged to offer his services for the vague promise of a bounty. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza then left at nightfall and headed for El Toboso for the Lady Dulcinea to give the knight her blessing. But when they reached the town neither of them knew where to find her. Sancho persuaded his master to hide a couple of miles out of town in a wood, so he could go back to try to find the lady.
Cervantes opens the tenth chapter by warning the reader that he’d rather not have told of the events in that chapter, because Don Quixote’s actions exceeded those imaginable. However, he assures the reader that his record is accurate and faithful.
With Don Quixote hidden in the wood, he gave Sancho strict instructions that he wasn’t to return and fetch him until he had spoken to the Lady Dulcinea and been granted an audience for the knight. Inevitably this was wrapped up in a lengthy peroration, but the squire reassured his master of his imminent success. Sancho rode back towards town on his donkey, leaving Don Quixote waiting on Rocinante.
Once Sancho had ridden far enough to be out of sight of his master, he stopped, dismounted, and sat by a tree talking to himself. He first considered his task and convinced himself how impossible it would be. He then calmed himself down in the belief that he’d be able to convince his mad master that any woman was his Lady Dulcinea.
Once Sancho was ready, and had been away long enough to have gone into town, he remounted his donkey and saw three peasant girls riding towards him on asses. The squire rode quickly back to his master and told him that he had found the lady with two of her maids, and they were riding towards him as he spoke. When Don Quixote asked Sancho for confirmation, the squire insisted it was true, leading the knight to promise him the spoils of their first adventure, or three foals, as his reward.
At first when Don Quixote saw the three girls he didn’t fall for this deception, insisting that they were just three peasant girls on their asses. Sancho then rode up to one of them, fell on his knees, and burst into an effusive speech about her grace and beauty. Don Quixote joined him, but still couldn’t understand why his squire was saying this to what appeared to him to be a fairly ugly peasant. She responded by telling them both very bluntly to get out of their way, as they were in a hurry. Her companions joined in with further insults.
Don Quixote followed Sancho in heaping praise on the women, who again told him brusquely to move out of their way. The first of the women rode past the two men, and goaded her ass into a canter as it crossed the field. It bucked and dumped its rider among the flowers. Sancho and his master rushed over to help her, but she nimbly leapt back into the saddle. She and the other two women sped off, far from the knight and his squire.
Once the girls were out of sight Don Quixote turned to Sancho and lamented the enchantment which had made his Lady Dulcinea appear so ugly, and stink of raw garlic. His squire joined in, reinforcing his master’s deception, and turning their conversation to consider the moles on the woman’s face. Sancho struggled to conceal his laughter at this success as they remounted and headed for Saragossa for its jousting.
As they rode together, Don Quixote fell into melancholy again over the cruel enchantment which had prevented him from seeing his lady in all her glory and grace. He became so wrapped up in this sorrow that he dropped his reins, giving Rocinante the excuse to graze at every step. When Sancho tried to cheer his master up, they fell to discussing their encounter with the lady again, with the knight envious that his squire had seen her in her full beauty, but he had only seen her cruelly enchanted state.
Suddenly an open cart full of people crossed the road in front of them. It was being driven by a hideous demon, who seemed to Don Quixote to be Death with a human face, next to an angel and an emperor, with Cupid at its feet. When the knight called on the demon to identify himself, the latter stopped the cart and explained they were a troupe of actors on their way between performances in two villages. Don Quixote believed him and wished them well on their way.
Unfortunately, a clown from the troupe rushed up to Rocinante and frightened him, causing him to gallop away and put the knight in danger of being thrown. Sancho Panza dismounted to give chase, but didn’t arrive until both his master and his mount had fallen together to the ground. Meanwhile the clown had scared Sancho’s donkey into running away towards the village to which the players were heading. Sancho dutifully helped his master remount, then told him of the fate of his own mount.
By the time that Don Quixote was ready to give chase to his squire’s donkey, it too was on the ground, but the knight wanted to punish the actor devil who had ridden it away. He shouted at the cart and its occupants to stop so he could teach them a lesson. At that the players jumped out and armed themselves with rocks ready to throw at the knight should he come near them.
Sancho managed to persuade his master not to press his point any further. The players got back into their cart, Sancho retrieved his donkey, and they went their separate ways, for once.
That completes the eleventh chapter of the second 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.