Book II: Chapter XXV - Chapter XXVIII Summaries
At the inn, Don Quixote learns the story of the man who is working as "a conductor of the arms," transporting weapons across the territory. In a nearby town, the man says, one of the town aldermen has lost his donkey and he asked another alderman for assistance. These two respectable pillars of society canvas the neighboring area, braying like donkeys - in the hopes that this will help them attract the lost donkey. The y are unsuccessful. A neighboring town hears about the incident and the villagers are no feuding because there has been an exchange of mocking insults. The towns now intended to do battle.
A man called Master Peter enters the inn, claiming to have a menagerie of puppets as well as a large ape without a tail. Don Quixote thinks that Master Peter is in league with Satan when Master Peter claims that the ape can predict the future. Like Anselmo in "The Novel of the Curious Impertinent," Sancho Panza wonders about his wife's fidelity, but he is unable to procure an answer from the ape. The ape lauds Don Quixote's chivalric honor but Quixote remains standoffish.
Master Peter performs a puppet show in which a knight returns home from battle only to find that his wife has been kidnapped and is not held in a foreign land. Don Quixote charges onto the stage and tries to rescue the wife, wrecking the scene in the process. Master Peter is not pleased. Don Quixote pays for the damages.
Cervantes interrupts the story to discuss Cid Hamet Ben Engeli's commentary that Master Peter was a character that Don Quixote had met in Book I, namely Gines de Pasamonte, one of the freed galley salves. Cervantes refuses to substantiate Cid Hamet's claim, though he does recall that Gines stole Dapple from Sancho while Sancho was asleep upon Dapple's back. Cervantes warns us to be mindful about ascribing "the fault of the press to want of memory in the author." Don Quixote approaches the army from the village where an alderman had lost his donkey. Quixote argues that their war is not just, but is actually unjustified. Using reason and religious teachings, Don Quixote speaks in a moving and convincing manner. Sancho contributes to the argument by saying that the village should not be offended because there is no shame in learning to bray. As Sancho taught himself how to bray (as a boy) he most wholeheartedly agrees with the aldermen who felt proud at having brayed well. Sancho Panza is sincere but his contribution is so facile that the villagers perceive Sancho to be sarcastic and mocking. The villagers beat Sancho and Don Quixote gallops off, escaping harm. The villagers wait for their opponents to show up but this never happens - and so, they crown themselves as victorious and head home.
Judging the situation to be safe, Don Quixote returns to the scene and retrieves Sancho. Don Quixote chastises Sancho for his foolhardy comments. After Sancho Panza asks for wages, Quixote dismisses him from his service. Sancho apologizes at once and rejoins Don Quixote as his loyal squire.
The arms-conductor's story about the aldermen parallels the antics of the barber and the priest. In order to attract their lost friend and bring him home, the friends imitate Quixote's inventive madness. Certainly, Don Quixote's critique of the war is evidence of his maturing sense of reason. At the same time, the hunt imagery foreshadows some of the calamities that Don Quixote suffers later in Book II. Just as Don Quixote is beginning to sober up from his delusions - a process that will only near completion at Quixote's deathbed, Don Quixote will soon begin to suffer the consequences of his delusions, even though Quixote no longer clings to the more violent habits that marked his behavior in Book I. This is the first time that Don Quixote arrives at an inn, forgets to call it a castle, sits down and behaves himself without breaking down the furniture, losing his teeth, stealing private property or cutting off somebody's ear. Though it may come too late and is mitigated by Quixote's rowdiness at Master Peter's show, this improvement is no less noteworthy.
Ultimately, Don Quixote is child-like in his mixed successes in distinguishing fact from fiction. Usually, Don Quixote's pride prevents him from accurately assessing the "prophecy" of fakes and panderers. Here, Don Quixote disbelieves the idea of the prophetic ape and determines that powers strange as these could only derive from the devil. On the other hand, Master Peter's puppet show becomes so lively that Don Quixote cannot understand that the puppets are not part of real life. Don Quixote argues that he is not to blame for his error - not because an enchanter suddenly changed the humans into "puppets" - but because Master Peter, the storyteller, should have made it clear that the story was only a story. Don Quixote exposes a hazard of reading in that he has set out to enact the tales of chivalry that he has read. It seems consistent, then, that Don Quixote might very well interpret the staging of a mere puppet drama as the unfolding of an epic human crisis.
Sancho Panza's provocative outburst, coming on the heels of Don Quixote's philosophical lecture, really marks a brief reversal of roles. Usually Don Quixote incites violence and Sancho hides from the repercussions, later tending to Don Quixote's wounds. In this rare occasion, Don Quixote's rare and pacific brilliance is matched by an even rarer foolhardy interjection on the part of Sancho Panza. This reversal is by no means permanent. Don Quixote is softening, but he is still generally martial in his practices and deluded in his thinking. Sancho Panza errs like any other human being, but as the novel transpires and concludes, Sancho will seem all the more wiser and intelligent. And this is a good thing, because well before the novel ends, Don Quixote will come to almost entirely rely upon Sancho Panza's guidance and protection.