In the previous episode, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza enjoyed several days rest in luxury at the villa of a hidalgo they had met on the road. Soon after leaving that village, they met two students and two farmers riding asses back from shopping in a town. The students quickly concluded that the knight was mad, but he only confused the farmers. The students invited them to attend a wedding in their village, but fell to arguing, and one challenged the other to a fencing duel. The underdog quickly fell exhausted, then the pair made up and rode on. They arrived in the village as it was getting dark, and saw lanterns festooned from the trees, and heard music from many different instruments. Don Quixote refused to sleep in the village, and took Sancho Panza off for them to sleep rough in a field outside.
Don Quixote awoke at dawn the next morning, and prodded his squire with the butt of his lance to wake him from his slumber. When Sancho Panza started talking about the rights and wrongs of the imminent wedding, his master told him to shut up, which Sancho reminded him he’d agreed not to do. But the knight claimed to have forgotten that part of their agreement, so they saddled up and rode into the village.
As they entered, Sancho was excited to see prodigious quantities of food being prepared and cooked, and counted no less than sixty wineskins full and ready to drink. While Sancho secured himself a large free breakfast from one of the chefs, Don Quixote watched a dozen farmers riding in their best clothes, all wishing the bride and groom the very best. Next a troupe of dancers entertained them, and after them came a group performing a spoken masque about love and wealth.
Sancho Panza was enjoying the food so much that he’d come to praise the groom, Camacho the Rich, rather than the bride’s first suitor, Basilio the poor shepherd. Just then there was a great noise made by a group of horsemen whooping to meet the happy couple, who were approaching with the priest. When Sancho caught sight of the bride he praised her beauty in thoroughly rustic terms.
As the couple reached the platform where the ceremony was to take place, a cry went up to delay its start, as the bride’s original suitor Basilio was seen heading towards them. He was wearing a black coat covered with scraps of red silk cut to look like flames, and a wreath of cypress, the tree associated with death and funerals.
When Basilio reached the couple, he planted his staff in the ground and told the bride that she couldn’t marry anyone else while he was still alive. After admonishing her, he told her that he would resolve the situation for her. He then drew a rapier from his staff (which had been constructed as a swordstick) and impaled himself on it.
Don Quixote dismounted and rushed over to the dying shepherd, who mustered enough breath to invite the bride to marry him just before he was overcome by death. The priest urged him to make his confession instead, but Basilio refused unless he was first married to the bride. She remained cold, as hard as stone, until she finally took the shepherd’s hand and the couple were married.
With that, Basilio sprang back to life and revealed his deception, that the blade of the rapier hadn’t passed through his body at all, but through a metal tube, just as in an illusionist’s trick. Strangely, Quiteria the bride seemed unsurprised at this turn of events, as if the two of them had planned it together.
Supporters of Camacho the Rich then fell upon Basilio, but his supporters fought back until Don Quixote rode at them with his lance and shield ready, driving them apart. As his squire took to grabbing food from the cooking pots, the knight announced that Quiteria belonged to Basilio, and Basilio to Quiteria.
Camacho the Rich composed himself and reconciled himself in the knowledge that his former bride would have left him for Basilio anyway. He declared that the festivities would continue, but the newlywed couple left for Basilio’s village immediately, taking Don Quixote with them. Sancho Panza was bitterly dismayed at having to leave all that food and wine behind to follow his master.
That completes the twenty-first 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.