In the previous episode, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza came across a group of falconers, including a Duke and Duchess who already knew of the knight and his squire from reading the book of their adventures. When both of them fell to the ground as they dismounted in front of the Duchess, her huntsmen helped them back to their feet. After they had exchanged pleasantries, the knight and his squire rode back with the Duke and Duchess to their castle, where the household had been briefed to treat them with great respect and not, under any circumstances, to laugh at them. After Don Quixote had changed into the fine clothing they lent him, they went to eat, with the knight seated at the head of the table. Sancho told a story which had a dig at his master, causing the knight to seethe with anger. The Duke’s chaplain next told Don Quixote that he wasn’t a knight errant at all. At that the knight rose to his feet to respond.
The knight launched forth in a tirade of criticism against men of letters, affirming that he was a knight and would remain so until he died, and that his intentions had always been good. At the end of his long speech, his squire praised his master’s words. For that, the Duke promised him the governorship of an island, so Don Quixote told Sancho to kiss the noble’s feet. The chaplain leapt up and accused the Duke of being complicit in the matter of the knight errant, then stormed out.
The Duke laughed at his chaplain’s behaviour, then reassured Don Quixote that he had no need of further satisfaction, given that the chaplain was only a churchman. To that the knight said that women, children and churchmen can’t defend themselves when they’re attacked. He went on to draw the distinction between being offended and affronted, which incited Sancho to add a comment which the Duchess found hysterically funny.
Tempers calmed as they resumed their meal, following which four maids arrived to wash Don Quixote’s beard and cover his face with lather, a procedure the Duke and Duchess hadn’t been expecting.
To the great amusement of their hosts and their staff, the knight was left sitting there with his beard full of soapsuds until his face was finally rinsed clean and dried. Before the maids could leave, the Duke added to the joke by insisting that his own face was washed too.
Sancho Panza was worried that they might wash the face of squires, rather than merely providing fingerbowls. The Duchess directed the butler to see to it that the squire’s face saw similar attention. While that took place, she invited Don Quixote to catalogue the beauty of the lady Dulcinea. That he eventually refused, claiming that all memory of her had been erased by her recent enchantment, which had transformed her completely. The Duchess then asked him to confirm the account in the book of his adventures, that the knight had never actually seen the lady, and that she was a figment of his imagination.
The Duchess then put to Don Quixote that the lady Dulcinea couldn’t match the nobility of established beauties in the chivalric records. She went on to question the knight over Sancho’s account of his meeting with Dulcinea sieving wheat. After a rambling reply, the knight said that it was Dulcinea who had been enchanted and not himself. He asserted again her nobility before expressing his opinion about Sancho’s strange combination of stupidity and good sense, which made him indispensable to the knight.
This conversation was interrupted by shouting as Sancho burst into the room, chased by a pack of scullions and other low-life from the household trying to wash his face. Their leader told the Duchess that the squire wouldn’t allow them to wash him, but Sancho insisted that his refusal was due to the dirt on the towels and their hands. Don Quixote intervened, followed by the Duchess, and the scullions left. For this, Sancho fell at the Duchess’s feet and thanked her.
The meal over, Don Quixote retired to take his siesta, and the Duchess invited Sancho to a cool room, which he accepted, promising to try not to fall asleep as he usually did in the afternoon.
The Duchess made Sancho sit on a stool beside her, and to answer her questions concerning various episodes in the book, in confidence. She first wanted to know whether he had made up his account of meeting the lady Dulcinea. With that, the squire inspected the nooks and crannies of the room to satisfy himself that they were weren’t being overheard. He then told the noblewoman that he thought his master was utterly mad, and that he felt able to get Don Quixote to believe almost anything.
The Duchess said that if that was true, wasn’t he even more of a mad fool. The squire agreed that, if he’d had any sense, he would have left Don Quixote long ago, but he was fond of him, and the knight was faithful. Sancho then dissolved into an incomprehensible mixture of sayings. That nonsense was matched by one of the Duchess’s duennas, causing the noblewoman to burst into laughter. Sancho tried to justify himself as the governor of an island, for which he said he’d be thoroughly competent.
Sancho Panza raised the incident in which his master was in the Cave of Montesinos, which the Duchess got him to describe in detail. She said that this only proved that the lady Dulcinea had been enchanted after all. They then talked about drinking, after which the Duchess dismissed him to go and rest, promising that they’d speak later about the arrangements for him to be made governor.
As Sancho kissed the Duchess’s hand, he asked about the safe-keeping of his donkey, leading her to promise that she’d take every care of it, and that he could take the animal with him when he became governor. When the squire went off to sleep, the Duchess went to tell the Duke about their conversation, and to devise a trick to play on Don Quixote, which led to the best of all the knight’s adventures.
That completes the thirty-third 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.