In the previous episode, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza were travelling homeward and turned off the road to rest for the night. Sancho slept well until his restless master woke him up to tell him to lash himself to make progress with the disenchantment of the lady Dulcinea, but his squire refused. They heard the distant din of a herd of over six hundred pigs being driven towards them, and were soon knocked over and trampled by the swine. In the morning they went on their way, and just before sunset met ten armed men who abducted them in silence, taking them in the dark to the Duke and Duchess’s castle.
Once the pair were inside the courtyard, under the bright light of hundreds of torches and lanterns, the ten men swept them up in their arms. In the middle of the courtyard was a catafalque bearing the body of a beautiful young woman, and on one side was a platform where two crowned kings were seated. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza were ushered to sit on chairs at the side of the platform before the Duke and Duchess arrived with their retinue, and seated themselves by the kings.
At this point, Don Quixote realised the body in front of them was that of Altisidora. Servants put a black cloak with flames painted on it over Sancho, and a conical hat with devils on it on his head, whispering in his ear that he must remain in absolute silence. The knight laughed at his appearance.
Next came flute music and a youth with a harp who sang a couple of verses in praise of Altisidora before one of the kings told him to stop. The kings then revealed that Sancho had to undergo punishment in order to resurrect Altisidora, and summoned the servants to hit the squire on the nose, to pinch him and subject him to pinpricks. Sancho broke his silence to express his defiance, but six duennas walked in a line towards him to inflict his punishments. After another bellowed protest, Sancho resigned himself to the blows of the duennas, followed by pinching inflicted by servants. What he couldn’t stand were the numerous pinpricks, though, which drove him to seize a torch and charge his tormentors with it.
At that, Altisidora rolled onto one side, causing the crowd to shout with joy. When Don Quixote took the opportunity to suggest that his squire should lash himself as well, Sancho bluntly refused. Altisidora then sat up to the acclaim of everyone, and was helped down from the catafalque. After she had curtseyed to the Duchess, she told Don Quixote that she had suffered for his cruelty, and promised Sancho six of her shifts to be made into shirts for him in recognition of her gratitude. After the squire had kissed her hand, his hat and black cloak were removed. The Duke had the courtyard cleared, and Don Quixote and Sancho Panza were taken to their bedroom for the night.
The knight wouldn’t let his squire rest at first, but soon his questioning relented and they both fell asleep.
Cervantes takes this opportunity to explain how Sansón Carrasco had become the Knight of the White Moon, and had visited the Duke and Duchess in his quest for Don Quixote. The Duke had informed Carrasco of some of the tricks they had played on the knight, and of Sancho’s penance for the lady Dulcinea to be disenchanted, and asked him to return to let him know of the outcome of his quest for Don Quixote.
After Carrasco had defeated the knight and obliged him to return to his village, the young man had given his detailed account to the Duke before going home. That enabled the Duke to play one last trick on Don Quixote, as he had achieved with the fake death of Altisidora. In doing so, Cervantes suggests that the Duke and Duchess had gone to such great lengths to make Don Quixote look foolish that they had come close to becoming fools themselves.
As usual, while Sancho slept soundly, Don Quixote awoke and thought again about his cares. Altisidora then walked into their room, throwing the knight into complete confusion, incapable of uttering a word. She sat herself on a chair at the head of the knight’s bed and started to pour out her heart to him. Sancho asked her what she had seen in the other world when she was dead, which made her admit that she couldn’t have died completely.
She then described seeing a dozen devils at the gates of hell, playing pelota with books. As a result, one of the books was torn apart: that turned out to be a copy of the second part of Don Quixote, which the devils duly sent to hell.
Don Quixote then apologised to her for not returning her affection, but she responded by breaking the news to him that everything they had seen the previous evening had been fake. They were then joined by the young musician who had sung Altisidora’s praise by her catafalque, and soon after by the Duke and Duchess.
Following a thoroughly rational conversation between Don Quixote and the noble couple, the knight begged his leave. The Duchess promised to keep Altisidora fully occupied with needlework. When their company had left, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza got dressed, dined with their hosts, and left.
That completes the seventieth 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.