Don Quixote: Overall summary and contents

Mariano de la Roca y Delgado (1825–1872), Miguel de Cervantes imagining El Quixote (1858), oil on canvas, 171 x 210 cm, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, Spain. Wikimedia Commons.

This article provides an overview of the contents of my series of 57 articles covering the two books of Don Quixote. Rather than attempting to summarise it completely, it lists significant episodes and adventures in the sequence they are described, and refers to the detailed summary and contents of that section of the book.

For brevity, I here abbreviate Don Quixote to DQ, and Sancho Panza to SP.


Background and DQ’s library of tales of chivalry. First sally alone, dubbed a knight by an innkeeper, tries to stop a youth being beaten, the merchants of Toledo, returns home to his library burned.

Two weeks at home, recruits squire SP, second sally. Attacks windmills, the Basque lady in a coach, left ear partially removed, fed by goatherds. Attends funeral of local scholar, beaten by muleteers, brawl at an inn. DQ leaves without paying, so SP is tossed into the air, and they escape leaving SP’s saddle-bags behind. Attacks flocks of sheep, teeth knocked out by slingshot, covered in vomit, attacks mourners by night, DQ and SP help themselves to the mourners’ food. The cloth mill and waterfall, drives a barber away, leaving his brass basin as Mambrino’s helmet and barber’s donkey.

Freeing of the convicts, who then turn on them. Hide in the mountains, where they find gold coins and a dead mule. Cardenio’s story. SP’s donkey stolen. DQ feigns madness for the love of Lady Dulcinea, sends SP for replacement donkeys and a letter to the lady. SP meets priest and barber, the mission to rescue DQ. Cardenio’s story completed. Meet Dorotea, and all six leave mountains for home. Priest reveals barber had been robbed by one of convicts freed by DQ.

Ricardo Balaca (1844-1880), Illustration for ‘El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha’ (1880-1883), vol 1, Montaner y Simon, Barcelona, Spain. Wikimedia Commons.

Book 1 summary and contents 1

Descent from the mountains, SP’s donkey recovered, SP invents story of encounter with Lady Dulcinea, reach the inn where SP had been tossed in the air. Priest reads The Tale of Inappropriate Curiosity, the story of Anselmo and Lotario. DQ attacks the innkeeper’s wineskins, flooding bedroom with red wine.

Fernando arrives with Luscinda, the couples exchange partners. DQ’s speech advocating arms over learning. Story of the former captive from Algiers and his escape with Zoraida. DQ tricked by innkeeper’s daughter and suspended. Arrival of Officers of Holy Brotherhood with warrant for DQ’s arrest. DQ put in a cage on an oxcart. Eugenio the goatherd’s story. Procession of penitents praying for rain mistaken for the abduction of a woman. Return home, and end of the second sally.

Manuel García Hispaleto (1836–1898), Don Quixote’s Speech of Arms and Letters (1884), oil on canvas, 152 x 197 cm, Palacio del Senado de España, Madrid, Spain. Wikimedia Commons.

Book 1 summary and contents 2

Madness of DQ no better. Meets Sansón Carrasco, a young graduate, who has read about the knight’s adventures in a popular book. Leave on the third sally for jousting at Saragossa, egged on by Carrasco. Go to El Toboso in search of Lady Dulcinea. SP realises he can’t, so dupes his master with three peasant girls who are ‘enchanted’.

Meet a cart full of players in costume. Meets the Knight of the Spangles, in reality the young graduate Carrasco. DQ defeats him in combat. The cart with two lions, DQ’s bravery when a lion is uncaged, but refuses to come out. Entertained by Don Diego. The two students and two farmers. The lavish wedding with the first suitor’s deception to steal the bride.

Visit to and descent of the Cave of Montesinos, DQ’s unbelievable account of what he saw. The village of people who bray like a donkey. Don Pedro’s puppets massacred by DQ. SP offends the braying villagers and is knocked down. Reach the River Ebro, take a boat and become entrained in a mill race. Rescued from drowning by the millers.

Carlos Vásquez Úbeda (1869-1944), Don Quixote (date not known), oil on canvas, 160 x 278 cm, Musée Goya, Castres, France. Image by Tylwyth Eldar, via Wikimedia Commons.

Book 2 summary and contents 1

Duke and Duchess. Their chaplain denies DQ, his riposte. Washing of beards. Hunting with the Duke and Duchess, SP frightened by a wild boar. Nighttime trick of Merlin telling SP to lash himself 3,300 times to disenchant Lady Dulcinea. SP’s letter to wife.

The bearded Dolorous Duenna, her story, and the fake flight of DQ and SP on a wooden horse, to remove the duenna’s beards. SP as governor of a fake island. DQ overhears Altisidora’s love for him. SP sits in judgement on disputes. DQ tricked again and his face mauled by a cat. SP starved by his doctor, warned of night attack. DQ invited on a quest to get a duenna’s daughter married. SP does night rounds of his ‘island’. SP’s wife sent a page, and replies by letter. DQ challenges duenna’s daughter’s suitor to duel. SP’s ‘island’ attacked by night, and he relinquishes governorship.

Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro (1857–1929), Don Quijote in the Duke’s House (1878), media not known, 87.4 x 133.1 cm, Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal. Wikimedia Commons.

Book 2 summary and contents 2

SP meets persecuted Moor and refuses to help. Falls with donkey into underground passages, from which they’re rescued. Duel between DQ and proxy to suitor abandoned when proxy wants to marry duenna’s daughter. Altisidora teases DQ and SP on their departure from the Duke and Duchess.

Both trampled by a herd of bulls. The innkeeper with none of his promised food. They learn about contents of second book and turn instead to go to Barcelona. Surrounded by bandits, but saved by their captain. Ride to Barcelona beach. Guests of Don Antonio, deceived by his enchanted talking bust. Visit to the galleys. Chase of a brigantine, its arrest and the story of its woman captain. Challenged by the Knight of the White Moon and defeated on the beach. Compelled to return home for a year of peace. That knight revealed as Sansón Carrasco.

Trampled by a herd of pigs. Abducted back to Duke and Duchess’s castle for a deception in which SP has to be punished to resurrect the ‘dead’ Altisidora. SP discovers how to fake his lashes, and completes his penance. Arrive back in village. DQ has a fever, makes confession and will, dies peacefully at home.

Artist not known, Illustration for ‘El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha’ (date not known), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Book 2 summary and contents 3

Nils Kreuger (1858–1930), Don Quixote’s Horse Rosinante (1911), oil on cardboard, 50 x 63 cm, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden. Image by Bodil Karlsson, via Wikimedia Commons.

Further reading

List of characters
English translation by John Ormsby (1885)

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.