Book II: Chapter XI - Chapter XV Summaries
Don Quixote really believes himself to be "the most unfortunate of men." Though it is dark and late, the two travelers continue on the road. They pass by a troupe of masked and disguised actors who are riding in a wagon labeled as the "cart of the Parliament of Death."
Don Quixote stops the cart and in the ensuing exchange, Dapple disappears. Sancho has been spooked by the ominous image of "Death" painted on the Cart's side. Believing the actors to be evil enchanters, Sancho exclaims that "the devil has run away with Dapple." The actors have merely played a joke, however, and they return Dapple unharmed. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza part ways with the actors and a potentially violent event is pre-empted when Sancho successfully dissuades his master from enacting revenge.
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza settle under a tree to eat their "supper" and Don Quixote insists that it would have been better for him to have attacked the wagon and secured some small treasure for Sancho.
Sancho Panza and Don Quixote discuss philosophy and Don Quixote comments on Sancho's growing wisdom. Sancho claims that he grows wiser the longer he associates with Quixote. The two fall asleep under a pair of trees, but they are soon awakened by the noise of two men approaching on horseback. Don Quixote is excited because he senses a new adventure. The two men are The Knight of the Wood and his squire, The Squire of the Wood. The Knight of the Wood plays the lute and sings a mournful sonnet, expressing his love for his cruel mistress, Casildea de Vandalia. The two knights have a conversation together, while Sancho and the Squire of the Wood have their own conversation.
While the two knights have a very "grave" conversation, the two squires exchange pleasantries. Each squire admits that he follows his respective knight because he has been promised "some island, or some pretty earldom." The two squires discuss some of the anticipated difficulties of island governance. The Squire of the Wood has three children and Sancho has two: both squires anticipate that the politics of island acquisition will benefit their children in the long run.
The conversation between the squires also reveals that the Knight of the Wood, unlike Don Quixote, is hardly an idealist. He is more of a criminal than anything else. Both squires agree that their masters are "crack-brained," though Sancho thinks that Don Quixote, unlike the Knight of the Wood, has a good heart. Sancho Panza admits that he does not know how long he will continue to follow Don Quixote, but at the very least, he will follow his master to Zaragosa.
Cervantes initially introduced The Knight of the Wood as "the brawn Knight of the Looking-Glasses," though it is not immediately clear why this is the case. In Chapter XIV, this mystery is casually revealed with the break of daylight. When Don Quixote sees the Knight of the Wood's shiny glittering armor, he renames the knight on account of the armor's mirror-like appearance.
It is decided that the two knights will duel and that the two squires will also duel. True to character, Sancho Panza is not especially pleased with the arrangement, but he grudgingly assents. In the morning, Sancho Panza refuses to battle the Squire of the Wood because he (Sancho) is frightened by the gigantic size of the Squire's nose. Sancho does not believe the Squire to be human, concluding that to battle this "hobgoblin" would invite disaster.
The Squire of the Wood insists upon fighting and so, Sancho must escape somehow. While the Knight of the Looking-Glasses prepares to charge Don Quixote, Quixote is busy hoisting Sancho Panza into a tree. When the Knight of the Looking-Glasses sees this, he slows his advance towards Don Quixote and heads for the tree to lend assistance. Don Quixote thinks that the Knight of the Looking-Glasses is charging him, however. Accordingly, Don Quixote rushes towards the knight at full speed, catching him the knight off guard and knocking him off his horse.
Don Quixote compels the knight to confess Dulcinea's beauty. Removing the knight's visor, Don Quixote reveals the knight to be Sampson Carrasco.
Carrasco confesses that he has been plotting with the priest and barber to defeat Don Quixote. If the Knight of the Looking-Glasses had defeated Don Quixote, the Knight would have compelled Don Quixote to return home to La Mancha. Don Quixote does not believe his eyes (or ears). Rather, he interprets Sampson as an enchantment, strategically placed to derail Quixote's progress. Sancho Panza reveals the Squire's nose to be made of mulberry-colored pasteboard - obviously fake, not monstrous. In fact, the Squire is one of Sancho's neighbors, Tom Cecial.
Despite the comedy of the scene involving the "cart of the Parliament of Death," there are plenty of grim allusions that contribute to the very negative imagery of the cart. Quixote, himself, confesses that the actors' vehicle resembles "Charon's ferry-boat." Charon is the somber boatman of Greek mythology who ferries the dead along the famous River Styx of Hades (the underworld0. The images of Cupid, Death, an angel and an emperor all suggests that the principle events in man's life are out of his control (death, love, peace and governance).
If nothing else, the cart foreshadows Don Quixote's own death at the end of Book Two. The actors' reference to "Corpus Christi, [which] we have been performing" is a Latin, Roman Catholic phrase referring to the dead and resurrected "body of Christ." Without the prospect of his own resurrection, only death inevitably looms for the novel's hero.
Sancho harangues the actors as a band of "enchanters," and there is an ironic validity in Sancho's words. The actors' use of masks, disguises, and dramatic singing voices do constitute a parallel to the novel's two enchantments: Don Quixote's superimposed and idealized projections and the "false" enchantments that Quixote's friends bring about with the help of dresses, beards, and other props.
Language like "farcical devil" and "phantoms" blurs a moral critique of lying (deception) with the moral critique of malice (unmerited cruelty) and fate. Readers might also look at Sancho's negotiation with Quixote, persuading the knight to forego avenging the brief theft of Dapple, in light of the scene in which Don Quixote absurdly attacks a company of mourners. Their veiled and masked demeanor similarly conveyed a sense of death and foreboding. Indeed, the cart of death also mirrors the ox-cart recollected by the housekeeper in Book Two, Chapter VII. Transportation adds another metaphor to the motif of deceptions, transformations, and "enchantments."
In Chapter XII, Don Quixote makes an aesthetic argument that "actors and authors are all instruments of much benefit setting at every step a looking-glass before our eyes, in which we see very lively representations of the actions of human life." Cervantes believes Don Quixote to be superior to the tales of chivalry precisely because Don Quixote's characters are genuinely human, whereas the chivalric tales fail to resemble reality.
There is an interesting contrast between Don Quixote's metaphor of literature as a looking-glass (mirror) and the Knight of the Looking-Glasses, whom Don Quixote meets soon after. The Knight is truly an actor with a complicated set of motives and emotions. In that the Knight is ultimately imitating Don Quixote, it does stand to reason that the Knight of the Looking-Glasses is a reflection of Don Quixote himself. Additionally, the motif of the looking-glass is one of the devices that complicates the ego and self-consciousness of the characters in Book Two. Unlike the aesthetic discourses of Book One, in this discourse, Sancho Panza and Don Quixote refer to their own experiences as interchangeable with the themes and experiences that Quixote recounts from literature that he has read. These characters have become able to view and critique themselves, as if they could read their story, as if they could see themselves in the mirror.
The irony of the name "Knight of the Looking-Glasses" is that the armor of mirrors conceals Sampson Carrasco's true identity. Sampson uses mirrors not to reveal and expose himself, but to hide himself. The mirrors are turned so that Don Quixote can see himself, not Sampson. Even when Sampson's face is revealed, Don Quixote cannot stop "seeing himself" as a knight-errant, and he believes Sampson to be an enchantment.
Don Quixote cannot bear the logical repercussions of this trick. Sampson's ability to deceive Don Quixote into believing him to be a knight-errant only underscores the fragility of the whole idea of knights-errant. Something so easily attempted and faked does not ring true. Despite Don Quixote's fiercest and most orthodox adherence, he essentially adheres to a nothingness.
Sampson Carrasco's deception continues the trajectory of the priest's schemes, although there are notable contrasts in this, the first plot of Don Quixote's friends in Book Two. As in Book One, the plot engages Don Quixote's fantasy. Level-headed people dress up, play roles, and pretend to be part of Quixote's fantasy world. In Book One, Don Quixote was tricked into believing that he had done something honorable. Here, Sampson Carrasco's goal was to defeat Don Quixote and essentially retire him in ignominy and shame.
In that Carrasco swears revenge, one wonders about his motives. The reader should note that neither the priest nor the barber has read the new novel about Don Quixote. Sampson has, and he may be seeking fame as a fake knight who scores a real win in the fake world of a book published in the real world. We can see Cervantes' humorous parody of the rhetoric of censorship and book burning. In Book One, Don Quixote proved to us the dangers of literature, or at least, the danger of unsupervised reading. Now we see the moral hazards of reading The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha. Both Carrasco and Quixote are fame-seekers, and distinguishing the knave from the knight is not as easy as we might think. Both men desire to be written into history. We may argue that Don Quixote truly believes in knight-errantry, whereas Sampson Carrasco does not. But Don Quixote is using knight-errantry as his vehicle; Sampson Carrasco does not use ideology to advance his own selfish pursuits. We should not readily believe Sampson Carrasco's claim that he has conspired with the priest and barber. Certainly, this is probable and likely. Still, Carrasco's vow to have revenge upon Don Quixote should remind us that Sampson Carrasco is the one who originally encouraged Don Quixote to embark upon the journey.
Sampson Carrasco's previous actions run counter to the goals he currently claims to hold. And when Sampson Carrasco persuaded Don Quixote to leave La Mancha, he expressly violated the housekeeper's trust. At best, Sampson is confused and ambivalent. At worst, he is a manipulative liar with dark opaque intentions. Either way, Sampson Carrasco makes a parody of his Biblical name. Sampson was an Old Testament "Hercules," renown for his prowess as a warrior and generally known as the strongest man alive. Sampson Carrasco, a scrawny bachelor-student, uses tactics much closer to the ultimately failed efforts of the Biblical Sampson's enemies.
In Chapter XIII, the arrangement of the pairs of knights and squires provides the opportunity for some insightful social commentary. Don Quixote comments on the impertinence of the Squire of the Wood, who dares to speak in the presence of a knight. The reader should recall Quixote's repeated censures forbidding Sancho to speak in Book One.
The squires' conversation clearly expresses a fantasy on the part of the lower classes. Earlier in the novel, Don Quixote, a gentleman, stresses the fact that he can achieve honor either through "letters" or through "arms." To put it bluntly - Sancho is illiterate, middle-aged, rotund and alcoholic. It is highly unlikely that a man in Sancho Panza's station would have been literate and equally unlikely that he would ever be awarded a position in which he might receive military honor.
Sancho's New World fantasy is one of very ways that a man of low means could vault himself into respectable society. Still, Sancho's specific project is a pure fantasy, derived from Don Quixote's delusions. Don Quixote seeks an honor to bring back to Dulcinea, but Sancho is waiting for an honor to take home to his wife. Sancho seeks an honor to pass on to his children. Don Quixote's motives are chivalric because Quixote can afford this "leisure." Sancho Panza's motives are economic: this "sally" is neither a vacation nor an adventure. It is an investment.