Since I’ve listened to the next seven chapters, and some of you are in a bit of a bump, stuck on chapter 30 or so, I figured that a bit of a synopsis and some thoughts may help you see the whole picture at a time when the book has lost its relatively linear narrative, to become a sort of a comedy of errors. Don’t get discouraged, all circles will close, and the stories will find their conclusion.
Don Quixote is by himself, not knowing if to imitate Amadís or Orlando. Both lost their mind because of slightly different reasons, but related to their loved ones. Dulcinea hasn’t given him any reason for his madness, which makes it even more special in his eyes. He’s eating some herbs and whatever he finds.
The barber and the priest recognize Sancho as he’s approaching the inn. Sancho doesn’t want to tell them where DQ is, but the other two say they’d have to infer he killed him and robbed him of Rocinante. Then Sancho confesses that DQ is making penance, and when he goes to take Cardenio’s common place book where DQ wrote those two letters, he notices he’s missing it. He’s sorrowful, not because he’s lost the letter to Dulcinea, but the letter that instructed DQ’s niece to give two donkeys to Sancho.
The barber and priest tell him they’ll provide him with the needed animals. Sancho also tells them in poor terms the ‘memorized’ letter to Dulcinea. It’s important to see that the barber and priest find Sancho has lost his mind too. Sancho is totally convinced that DQ will make him emperor. Another problem has surfaced. If DQ, instead of deciding on a military position that will give his esquire some property, goes for the clergy and aspires to become an archbishop, Sancho won’t get any kingdom and will have to conform to another position within the clergy. The barber and priest assure him that he won’t take that route.
The barber and priest plot to take DQ, -and Sancho too-, home. Those two are going to dress like a dame in distress and her squire. This is chapter 27, and we are lucky, since Cardenio conveniently approaches them three, and tells them the end of his story. Fernando tricks Cardenio to leave home, and in the meantime, arranges for himself to marry Luscinda. Luscinda sends a letter with a messenger to Cardenio telling him that she plans to kill herself before saying yes at the marriage ceremony. Cardenio manages to be present during the ceremony, but he hears Luscinda say ‘yes, I do’, right before she faints.
Cardenio’s story is interrupted, this time by some cries. What seems to be coming from a young shepherd, was in truth a beautiful young woman with a story to tell. She’s Dorotea, a young woman in charge of her parents and her own property, but of lower rank than Fernando. She’s the one Fernando lusted after. The one that, once he had her, he left. Dorotea found herself in a precarious situation when she discovered that Fernando, far from keeping his promise of marrying her, is about to tie the knot with Luscinda. We also discover that Luscinda passed out, and they found a note saying she had married Cardenio prior to the ceremony with Fernando, and that she only said yes to please her parents. She also planned to kill herself right after. (Hmm, I don’t know you, but I kind of thought this was dramatic, Shakespearean, concentrated for effect. How pleasing to your parents is it to say yes to a man they want you to marry, to kill yourself immediately after?)
Fernando tried to kill Luscinda when she fainted, but the guests stopped him from it. Soon after, Fernando disappears, and Luscinda does the same a few days after.
Fernando and Dorotea’s story, -these are my thoughts-, the eternal love story line, where rich boy meets poorer girl, with different variations. Dorotea is intelligent, hard working, knows not to be deceived by false promises. She understands lust, and Fernando is not someone she sees as having any other interest in life besides ‘living la vida loca’. Despite her time limitations when she’s framed by Fernando in her room, (consent, anyone?), she tried to secure for herself the best possible outcome, without luck.
Dorotea, after Fernando’s marriage, unable to live with her honor in question, decides to leave home and go to the fields. She escapes home with her male servant, -the one people claim she’s dishonored herself with-, and though not initially, once the young man finds himself alone with Dorotea, he tries to satisfy his lust as well. Dorotea is able to escape this situation. She then meets a shepherd, and she has to do her third escape.
Cardenio tells Dorotea who he is, and tells her he’ll see to her reunion with Fernando. Sancho comes to the inn, and tells all of them he’s seen DQ, naked and moribund, claiming he won’t leave that state until he becomes worthy of Dulcinea’s love.
I have to add here that yesterday, reading my Spanish poetry compilation, (it covers none less than ten centuries), I was at San Juan de la Cruz’s part, and one poem described the soul going figuratively to the mountain for penance, and to meet the Lord. The errant knight gone mad, is similar to the ascetic or hermit.
Barber and priest go back to their plan of trying to get DQ back home. But now, with a real -and beautiful- young woman to do the part of the princess, none of them need to dress up as a woman, only the barber as her squire. Dorotea wants to help. She also seems to know and like chivalry books. They get some supplies from the inn keeper’s wife, to make a false beard for the barber, and set to meet DQ. They decide that Dorotea will be the Princess Micomicona, and that she’ll ask a deed from DQ. He’ll have to promise not to take up on any other enterprise until he helps her to recover her kingdom.
Dorotea and her company finds DQ. She falls on the floor and tells DQ she won’t stand up until he promises to take her request on an oath. DQ accepts the challenge. At this point, the barber and priest tell DQ how they’ve been assaulted by some convicts they were freed by a madman. DQ is speechless, -he is the one who liberated these men-.
Sancho spills the beans and tells everyone how it was DQ, -against Sancho’s judgment-, who did this. DQ is trying hard to justify why he did this. Dorotea, in a smart move, starts telling her story, but she’s even forgotten her fictional name, and the priest assists her. Until my third time reading or listening, I never realized her story with the giant is the fabled version of her true story with Fernando. She makes funny geographical slips. I must say they’ve been traveling south, and moving from the Castile la Mancha region to the Andalusia region, both regions where Sierra Morena expands over.
Sancho doesn’t care about Dulcinea being DQ’s love, (as he didn’t care about not having the letter for her, or not having delivered any message to her on behalf of DQ). He’s determined that his master must avenge this princess from the giant who’s wronged her, and marry her at all cause, so that he can obtain what’s his main or only purpose in life. However, he believes he’ll be put in charge of black subordinates, to what he speculates he’ll bring those men to Spain, and sell them.
We get to see more biases from the time. It’s Sancho’s turn, who believes Dorotea to be the princess Micomicona, -as barber and priest say-, from an Ethiopian kingdom. If DQ avenges her from the giant who stole her kingdom, and marries her, he’ll inherit the kingdom and make Sancho emperor.
I’m not sure about the basis for Sancho to think such. He’s progressively losing his mind as well. I’ve found this of interest:
Unlike the Portuguese Crown‘s support for the slave trade, los Reyes Católicos (English: Catholic Monarchs) opposed the introduction of slavery in the newly conquered lands on religious grounds. When Columbus returned with indigenous slaves, they ordered the survivors to be returned to their homelands. In 1512, after pressure from Dominican friars, the Laws of Burgos were introduced to protect the rights of the natives in the New World and secure their freedom. The papal bull Sublimus Dei of 1537, to which Spain was committed, also officially banned enslavement of indigenous people, but it was rescinded a year after its promulgation. The other major form of coerced labor in their colonies, the encomienda system, was also abolished, despite the considerable anger this caused in local criollo elites. It was replaced by the repartimiento system.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_the_Spanish_New_World_colonies
Isabella and Fernando were the Inquisition monarchs. The contrast between Isabella’s advanced and backwards thoughts, ideas, and rules, is hard to comprehend. As we’ll see later, DQ’s and Cervantes’s world was full of injustice, violence, prejudices, and yet the story stays relevant and even advanced for its age in many aspects.
DQ gets mad when he hears Sancho say that Dulcinea doesn’t deserve DQ, -all because DQ refuses to marry Micomicona, thus thwarting Sancho’s plans-. They see a man riding on Sancho’s donkey, and Sancho starts yelling at the man, who leaves the donkey. Sancho is reunited with his animal, and he starts kissing him profusely. Now Sancho is going to tell DQ about his encounter with Dulcinea, -which of course, never happened-.
Chapter 31 is the conversation between our pair about Sancho’s visit to Dulcinea. It’s funny to me how DQ does two things at once, questioning Sancho on details, -trying to extract the truth-, and giving explanations where the details don’t add up. DQ is using a strange ‘Socratic method’ here, questioning Sancho in an effort to obtain some of the ‘truths’ he himself wants to hear.
This recollection leaves DQ with a burning desire to visit his Dulcinea, but he’ll also have to kill Micomicona’s giant. He asks Sancho in which order, and it’s no surprise to hear Sancho say killing the giant has to be done first.
Chapter 32 is a favorite of mine in this second half of book one. It’s sort of a rerun of the chapter when barber and priest burn DQ’s books. At the inn, everybody gets to talk about books on the occasion of finding some volumes and papers in it. Everybody has something to say about what they know about books, their veracity, their function, if they are real or not, codes of conduct we find in them, etc. The papers are the story of The Man Who Was Recklessly Curious, which we’ll hear in the next two chapters.