Book I: Chapter 23-Chapter 26 Summaries
Don Quixote agrees with Sancho Panza's warning to leave the area, and they travel into a nearby forest called Sierra Morena. This decision turns out to be ill fated, however, when one of the freed prisoners steals Sancho's donkey. At this point, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza must walk on foot. Along this route, Don Quixote discovers the belongings of a traveler who has deserted the area. Sancho Panza is happy to take the traveler's money and Don Quixote reads the traveler's notebook. Don Quixote opens the man's notebook and discovers a love letter. The traveler has suffered from unrequited loveand because he has been rejected, he has gone mad.
Soon after reading the letter, Don Quixote sees a half-naked man running in the distant hills. Of course, the knight intends to seek the man out, though Sancho Panza disagrees with this plan. Sancho Panza's obvious concern is that he suspects that the half-naked man is the traveler who has left his saddlebag on the side of the road; Sancho is worried that the man will ask for his money back.
A goatherd then explains to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza that the half-naked man is a stranger to the region. He appeared one day, asking directions, because he intended to go to the most craggy and thorny part of the wilderness. The Sierra Morena goatherds became concerned because this wild man began hijacking villagers on the road and stealing their food. After this occurred, they offered to leave food for the man.
A man called "The Ragged Knight of the Sorry Countenance" advances towards Don Quixote, and the two men embrace "as if they were old friends." They are not old friends, however, and Don Quixote has the man tell his story.
The Ragged Knight of the Sorry Countenance agrees to tell his story but he warns that he will immediately end the story if anyone interrupts him.
The Ragged Knight is an aristocrat, named Cardenio, and he intended to marry a woman named Lucinda. Unfortunately, Cardenio is called away from home to work for the Duke and he is separated from Lucinda. Cardenio begins a very complicated explanation of how the Duke's son, Don Fernando, becomes infatuated with Lucinda. Don Quixote interrupts (and ends) the story, when he comments on Lucinda's interest in the same books that he enjoys. Cardenio and Don Quixote begin arguing about chivalry. Cardenio then attacks the group and runs back into the mountains.
Don Quixote decides that he will emulate Cardenio's example by going mad because Dulcinea has been unfaithful to him. When Sancho Panza points out that Don Quixote does not know this to be true, Don Quixote argues that what he imagines is more important than what has actually happened. Don Quixote gives Sancho a letter to deliver to Dulcinea and Sancho is repulsed: Sancho has just realized that "Dulcinea" is a common woman, not a princess. Don Quixote argues that Dulcinea is a princess because he has decided that she is a princess.
Don Quixote wants Sancho to go home and tell Dulcinea that he has gone mad because of his love for her. "Mad I am and mad I must be," Don Quixote says and Don Quixote proves his madness by taking off most of his clothes, rolling around on the ground, jumping up and down, and attempted a rather feeble headstand. Quixote thinks about the stories that he has read, so that he can be sure to go mad in the proper way. The knight wanders through the trees, saying prayers and carving love songs into the tree trunks.
Sancho encounters the priest and the barber and they ask about Don Quixote. Sancho Panza explains Quixote's condition but Sancho still believes that Don Quixote will keep his promise to make him governor of an island. The priest and barber see that Sancho has been following Don Quixote but they do not realize that Sancho is gullible. Instead, the priest and the barber decide that Sancho Panza has gone insane!
The priest and the barber are worried about Don Quixote but they do not take Sancho very seriously, telling him jokes to make him think that his island is in jeopardy. At the end of Chapter 26, the priest and barber begin planning a disguise that will help them trick Don Quixote into coming back home. Sancho Panza, however, is not included in these plans.
When they meet each other for the first time, Don Quixote and the Ragged Knight are "old friends" because they are part of the same delusion. Both "knights" are locked into the world of chivalry and so it is easy for them to recognize each other, misfits in an increasingly hostile world. This foreshadows some of the encounters that Quixote has in Book II with various "knights" who range in friendliness, integrity, and adherence to the chivalric ideals.
In these chapters, the idea is expressed that the common poor tend to be sensible people. On the other hand, the upper classes, nobility and gentlemen are prone to various forms of insanity. The crazy mountain man, for example, was once a noblemaking his fall from grace all the more dramatic and severe.
Dulcinea is a peasant and Sancho Panza now knows her history, but this history conflicts with Don Quixote's story. In one sense, lineage is necessary for establishing the distinctions between the characters of the novel (principally, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza). Nonetheless, Don Quixote gives Dulcinea nobility without lineage.
There is social commentary in the scene when Don Quixote silences Sancho. He gives the squire two options: serve as lackey or go home and rule his own house. It never occurs to Quixote (or Sancho, for that matter) that the two men are equals. When Don Quixote takes his clothes off, there is an allusion to the drunkenness of Noah, in the Biblical book of Genesis. Sancho Panza forbids himself from viewing his lord and is motivated to assist the older man on account of compassion, sympathy and genuine concern. As we see in Chapter 26, Sancho Panza is compassionate but also gullible. The barber and priest suspect that Sancho is also mad.
The narrative structure of the novel is developed with more nuances and variations in these chapters. Because the Ragged Knight is interrupted in the middle of his story, he tells no more. This recalls Sancho Panza's complaint, in Chapter 20, when Don Quixote chastises him for repeating several details. Sancho Panza replies that he is simply telling his story in the same way in which stories are told in his town. Don Quixote is a novel full of interruptions, but the story always continues where it left off. Here, we read a story within a story. The story is cut off when Don Quixote interrupts to discuss chivalry. (We will get the continuation of the Ragged Knight's story later on in the novel).
Dapple the mule was stolen by the thief in Chapter 23, but Sancho Panza has Dapple in Chapter 25. This has led some modern readers to erroneously conclude that the novel was originally serialized. Most literary scholars conclude that Cervantes simply made a mistake herebut this only reaffirms this nuanced idea of the faulty, inaccurate text.
Don Quixote parallels Hamlet as we explore the question of whether or not his madness is feigned. On one hand, we might argue that part of Quixote's madness is the very fact that he now articulates a plan to appear insane. On the other hand, there is the argument that Quixote is simply playing a role, with a heavy focus on having witnesses attest to his performance. Quixote says: "Mad I am and mad I must be." It sounds as if madness where Quixote's vocation, but at the same time, these words don't make sense. These are words that only a mad man would say. Already suffering from delusions, Quixote has decided to coax himself into a sham lunacy. The barber and the priest decide to trick Don Quixote for his own good. This takes up the second half of Book I.