The First Part, Chapters XXI-XXVI
Don Quixote and Sancho come across a man riding a mule, who is wearing a glittering object on his head. This mean is a barber, and the thing on his head is actually a basin. He has put it there to shield him from the rain. Predictably, Don Quixote thinks the man is a great knight adorned with the mythic Mambrino’s helmet. He vows that he will win the helmet from him. Don Quixote charges at the barber, and the man flees on food, leaving his mule and basin behind. Sancho laughs at these events, informing Don Quixote that the “helmet” is merely a basin.
Don Quixote says that the enchanted helmet must have ended up in the hands of a person who was unaware of its value and had it melted down, then making it into a humble basin. He declares that he will wear it now, and in the next village he will have it made back into a helmet. Sancho starts complaining again about the way he was treated at the inn while Don Quixote failed to defend him. Don Quixote replies by claiming that the way Sancho was treated was only a joke. He asserts that if it had been severe, he would have gone back to avenge it. The gentleman then expounds on how he will win a princess’s affection by fighting for the king, her father. He explains that he will marry her, and that Sancho will then be rich.
Cervantes explains that the manuscript continues with the description of the two men’s encounter with a group of galley slaves. Two armed horseman and two armed men on foot guard the prisoners. Sancho tells Don Quixote that he shouldn’t interfere with the chain gang, but his master approaches the prisoners anyway, asking that each tells his story. Each of the slaves invents a story in which his illegal actions seem somehow justified or necessary. Realizing that the men have been detained against their will, he charges at the officers. The prisoners join in, hoping to be freed. Once the men are free, Don Quixote says they must present themselves to Dulcinea. They refuse to do this because of concern for their safety. Don Quixote is angered by this, and insults them. They attack the gentleman, stealing both his and Sancho’s possessions. Sancho is distressed by the freeing of the galley slaves, as he’s worried that the Holy Brotherhood, or police, will pursue them. Sancho tries to persuade Don Quixote to flee, seeking refuge in the mountains.
Don Quixote and Sancho make their way into the forests of the Sierra Morena. Gines de Pasamonte, one of the galley slaves, is also hiding there. Gines takes Sancho’s donkey. We now learn that this animal’s name is Dapple. While on the mountain roads, Don Quixote and Sancho discover a saddle, as well as a bag with a notebook, money, and shirts. Don Quixote hands Sancho the money, and Sancho decides he will take this as payment for all the troubles he has gone through as his master’s companion.
When Don Quixote looks within the notebook, he discovers a lover letter and a poem. These documents imply that their writer was rejected by his lover and that her infidelity drove him to madness. Don Quixote then witnesses an almost naked man hopping in the wilderness. He decides to follow him and learn his story. Sancho opposes him in this idea, as he is eager to protect the money they have discovered and worries that the man might make a claim to it. Don Quixote replies by explaining that as the money might belong to the man, they are obliged to catch up with him.
As they seek the man, Don Quixote and Sancho come across an old goatherd. This new acquaintance tells them the tale of the naked man. He explains that he was a rich, polite gentleman who one day appeared and asked the goatherds to assist him in locating the Sierra Morena’s wildest area. The goatherds directed the man to the place he sought and he left. Later, he came back and attacked one of the goatherds, taking his food. They went after him. Several days later, they discovered him in a terribly ragged state, and they offered him respite and something to eat. The man gave them courteous treatment at some points, but was rude at others. As the old goatherd is finishing up the story, the man, who the author now refers to as the Ragged Knight of the Sorry Countenance, makes an appearance. Don Quixote embraces him.
After asking Don Quixote for food, the Ragged Knight of the Sorry Countenance states that he will tell his tale as long as the listeners promise they will refrain from interrupting him. He explains that his name is Cardenio, and that he is a nobleman from the Andalusia region in the southern part of Spain. Ever since he was a child, he has been in love with the captivating Lucinda. He and she were set to be married, but Cardenio was sent a letter from a duke asking for his service as companion to Ferdinand, the Duke’s son.
In obedience to the Duke, he went to him and met his son. Ferdinand immediately took to Cardenio, and the two men became friends. Ferdinand was in love with the daughter of a farmer, but his wooing of her had been secret and he didn’t wish to tell his father. Fearful of the Duke’s anger, Ferdinand decided he must go away for a while and try to forget about his feelings. He requested permission to visit the home of Cardenio’s parents, claiming he wished to purchase some horses. It was there that Ferdinand met Lucinda. He declared her to be one of the world’s greatest beauties.
Cardenio says that Lucinda read many chivalric books. He and Don Quixote then argue over whether a character in one of the books, a queen, had an affair with a counselor. This conflict brings an end to Cardenio’s story, sending him into a fit of madness. He attacks Sancho, Don Quixote, and the goatherd before fleeing into the wilderness.
Don Quixote and Sancho ride away. Sancho becomes infuriated with his master for forcing him to comply with a code of silence and for his inane dispute with Cardenio. While Don Quixote takes back his demand that Sancho stay silent, he refuses to regret the fact he defended the fictional queen. Don Quixote then informs Sancho that he must spend time alone in the Sierra Morena to do penance. This is necessary, he says, if he is win honor. He explains that his absence from Dulcinea has now been so long that he worries about her fidelity. Rather than going back to check on her, however, he has resolved that it would be preferable to imagine what may have happened.
Sancho scoffs at Don Quixote’s plan as folly, but his master is surprised that Sancho does not yet understand that knights-errant constantly engage in folly. Don Quixote composes a love letter that he wants Sancho to bring to Dulcinea, and he then reveals Dulcinea’s identity to his companion. Sancho knows her to be a vulgar peasant, and is accordingly shocked. However, Don Quixote explains to Sancho that a great many ladyloves were only imaginary princesses who served the sole purpose of inspiring knights-errant. Dulcinea, therefore, is a princess because he believes she is. Sancho engages to come back as promptly as he can. After he has witnessed Don Quixote remove his trousers and perform a headstand to show his madness, he leaves for Rocinante.
In carrying out his penance, Don Quixote decides that he will follow the example set by Amadis, a great knight. He thereby commends himself to God, praying in Dulcinea’s name. He writes verses on trees as he wanders around the valley. Sancho is on his way home, and he sees the priest and the barber at the inn where he was trapped in a blanket. These men stop him and inquire about Don Quixote’s fate. Sancho describe Don Quixote’s penance, telling them about the letter he is required to give to Dulcinea. He explains that his master has made him the promise of a governorship and a lovely wife when Don Quixote is himself emperor. The priest and the barber think that Sancho is mad. They jokingly sweat that Don Quixote will one day be an emperor or an archbishop, at the very least. Sancho is worried about this last point, as he wonders whether an archbishop would be able to give him his due rewards. The priest and the barber resolve to go to Don Quixote. They disguise themselves as a squire and damsel in distress in an effort to trick him into returning home.