In the previous episode, Sancho Panza made up for his lunchtime starvation by eating voraciously at dinner. It was then night, when as governor of the ‘Island’ of Barataria he had to do his rounds of the town accompanied by his full retinue. They first came across two men fighting with knives, who turned out to be a successful gambler, and someone without job or income who had helped him in a nearby gaming house. Sancho redistributed some of the winnings, and banished the vagrant for ten years. A pretty young woman was brought to him dressed as a man, and told her story of how she’d been kept in isolation, then went with her brother to explore the town in disguise. Back in the palace, the Duchess had sent a page to Sancho’s wife with letters asking for some acorns, and a gift of jewellery. Others in the village were disbelieving at first, but she got an altar boy to write replies to her husband and the Duchess.
The following morning, the governor rose and was allowed by his doctor to eat a little candied fruit with sips of water for breakfast, which he tolerated because he’d been told it would sharpen his mind. His first task of the day was to pass judgement on a logic puzzle involving a bridge, over which only those who told the truth were allowed to cross, liars being sent to the gallows. After the problem had been repeated several times, the governor’s solution involved dividing a man in half, one being allowed to live and the other to die.
With that, Sancho adjourned for a more generous lunch which broke his doctor’s rules. As that was being cleared away a messenger arrived with a letter from Don Quixote, which was read out aloud by the governor’s secretary. In it, the knight praised Sancho’s governorship for the good reports he had heard, then moved on to giving him further advice on how to conduct himself, including the importance of politeness and restraint in publishing edicts. After further advice, the knight told him that the Duchess had sent a page to Teresa his wife. He concluded by worrying Sancho over the injuries he had received from the cat, and with the suggestion that he was about to fall out of favour with the Duke and Duchess, without any explanation.
Sancho immediately dictated a reply to the knight in which he told him of the Duke’s letter of warning, and complained of the dietary restraints imposed by the doctor. He also asked Don Quixote to thank the Duchess for her generosity to his wife. The secretary despatched that response immediately before joining the others who were playing out this hoax on Sancho, and together they plotted how they would unseat the governor.
In spite of Don Quixote’s advice not to publish too many edicts, Sancho then made a series of by-laws regulating the sale of food and wine, lowering the prices of footwear, and more, which since proved so successful that they remained in force long after he had ceased being governor.
Back in the Duke and Duchess’s palace, Don Quixote had decided it was time to move on to Saragossa, to compete in its jousting contest for a full suit of armour, but just as he was about to compose his request to leave, two women in full mourning dress burst in and threw themselves at his feet. When he begged them to get up and unveil, he saw that one was the old duenna who had visited him in his bedroom, and the other was her daughter. The duenna implored the knight to challenge her daughter’s suitor to marry as he had promised, which Don Quixote accepted, threatening to kill the young man if he failed to do his duty.
The Duke assured them that he would make the young man in question aware of the knight’s challenge, and if necessary provide the two of them with the facilities for the duel. With that, Don Quixote threw in his glove to complete the challenge. Just as that was done, in walked the page the Duchess had sent to Sancho’s wife and presented Teresa Panza’s letter to the Duchess, who read it aloud.
Teresa Panza thanked the Duchess for her generosity, told her that she intended going to the capital to pose in her new role, and asked the Duchess for money to enable her to do so. At the Duchess’s request, Don Quixote opened Teresa’s letter to her husband and read it out to them. It expressed her delight at her husband’s governorship, how surprised she was that he had risen from being a goatherd, and the disbelief of the rest of the village. There followed some village news, and that of their family. The page gave the Duchess the acorns and cheese which Teresa had sent in return, and all were amazed.
Sancho lay still hungry in bed on his seventh night as governor, and just as he was about to fall asleep was disturbed by a great noise of ringing bells and shouting. He raced from the door of his bedroom to see a rush of people calling him to arms to respond to an invasion by the town’s enemies.
When Sancho insisted that he knew nothing of arms, they told him that he was expected to be their captain. The people put two long wooden shields over his body as a substitute for armour, and bound them together so tight that he could barely flex his knees or walk.
When they goaded him to move, Sancho fell flat on the floor, unable to get up again.
Just as Sancho was wishing he was dead came cries of victory, and he was called forward to share out the booty. As he still couldn’t rise from the floor, those around him helped him to his feet, mopped him down, and the shields were removed. He sat down on his bed and promptly fainted. When he came to, he dressed quickly, then went to the stable where he hugged and kissed his donkey.
Sancho put the pack-saddle on his donkey, mounted, and announced to his retinue that he was returning to his old life and freedoms. The butler told Sancho that they would miss him, but before he could leave he had to give an account of his governorship. The ex-governor told them that he owed that to the Duke, and his staff embraced him and bade him farewell.
That completes the fifty-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.