In the previous episode, Sancho Panza was in pain after he had been beaten by the villagers who brayed, but Don Quixote just told him off for upsetting them. A couple of days later the pair reached the River Ebro, where the knight found a boat and decided that they’d drift over in it to some large watermills, which he was sure was a fortress holding a victim captive. Their boat became entrained in the mill race putting their lives in immediate danger. The millers tried to fend the boat away but ended up capsizing it, then rescuing the pair from drowning in the river. When they had compensated the owners of the boat, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza returned to their mounts, leaving the millers standing in amazement.
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza mounted their animals and rode off in stony silence. Towards sunset the following day they came across some falconers, among whom was a fine lady with a goshawk.
The knight told his squire to present his compliments to her, which he did. Sancho was surprised to learn that she already knew of his master, and that they were welcome at the house of the lady and her husband, a Duke. The Duchess next revealed that she had read of Don Quixote’s adventures, and knew of his lady Dulcinea.
When the knight heard this he rode towards the Duchess, while she was informing her husband that the famous Don Quixote was present. Don Quixote reached the lady with his visor raised, and Sancho started to dismount to assist his master. Unfortunately the squire’s foot became tangled up in a rope leaving him suspended from his donkey, his mouth and chest pressed to the ground. His master assumed that his squire was ready to help him dismount, but as he swung from his saddle, it slipped and the knight fell to the ground ignominiously.
Don Quixote was helped back to his feet by the Duke’s huntsmen, then limped over to kneel before the Duke and Duchess. After an exchange of pleasantries in which the lady complimented Sancho on his humour, the squire sorted himself and Rocinante’s saddle out. They then rode together to the castle of the Duke and Duchess, Sancho amusing the lady with his conversation as they went.
The Duke rode on ahead and ensured his staff were prepared to welcome their guests and pamper them. Their household crowded the galleries around a courtyard and saluted Don Quixote as the best of all knights errant.
Sancho hailed a senior maidservant (a duenna) and asked her to have his donkey taken care of, but managed to upset her, and brought the Duchess and Duke into the matter before the Duke took charge and arranged for the animal to be looked after.
The household had clearly been instructed to treat Don Quixote as if he were a real knight errant, and never to laugh at him, however tempting it might be.
When Sancho was alone with his master, helping him change into the clothing his hosts had provided, Don Quixote chided him for his coarse and thoughtless behaviour towards the duenna. He told Sancho not to play the buffoon, and to mind what he said. The two then left the room and, washing their hands ceremoniously on the way, they went to eat with their hosts and their chaplain.
With Don Quixote sat at the place of honour at the head of the table, Sancho launched into a speech about a rich hidalgo in his village. The knight took exception to this, and invited his hosts to throw his squire out before he made a fool of himself, but the Duchess insisted that Sancho was allowed to continue. The squire told of that hidalgo, who had invited a poor but honourable farmer to eat with him. But each insisted that the other take the head of the table, until the hidalgo pushed the farmer down into the seat and told him to sit there, as wherever the hidalgo sat he’d always be the head of the table as far as the farmer was concerned.
Don Quixote sat seething with anger at his squire, as the Duke and Duchess struggled to contain their laughter. The Duchess quickly changed the subject to that of the lady Dulcinea. Talk then turned to enchantment, which led the chaplain to realise that this was the same Don Quixote that he’d warned the Duke about. The chaplain admonished the Duke for encouraging the knight’s absurd antics, then turned to Don Quixote and told him that he wasn’t a knight errant at all, but was imagining giants and the rest of the nonsense written about him.
Don Quixote became enraged, and rose to his feet to respond.
That completes the thirty-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.