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Don Quixote: A Synopsis

Book 1

A fifty year old "lean bodied" and "thin faced" rural gentleman called Alonso Quixano lives in a modest household with his niece and a housemaid in a country village in La Mancha in Spain. He becomes obsessed with books of chivalry, selling many acres of cornfield to purchase the volumes. "From little sleep and too much reading his brain dried up and he lost his wits. He had a fancy ... to turn knight errant and travel through the world with horse and armor in search of adventures' with the purpose of `redressing all manner of wrongs." He found some old rusty armor and mounted his old hack horse to seek adventures; calling himself "Don Quixote de La Mancha" and his horse - "Rosinante". In the chivalric tradition of knight's being enamored of some lady or other, Don Quixote chose Dulcinea del Tobosa (who was called after a farm girl - Aldonza Lorenzo - who he had been taken with at one time). And so "for the benefit of the distressed, according to the obligations of knighthood", Don Quixote went on his first expedition and "took whatever road his horse chose, in the belief that in this lay the essence of adventure." The landlord of an inn, believing him to be a Lord of a castle, knights him. He keeps vigil over his armor, which he places on a water trough in the courtyard of the inn.

After only three days of adventure Don Quixote is beaten up by a servant belonging to traveling silk merchants whom the knight had unsuccessfully attacked when they had refused to acknowledge Dulcinea as the most beautiful maiden in the world. He is rescued by a neighbor and carried home on the back of a donkey. At home his housekeeper, a priest and barber burn all Don Quixote's library of books on chivalry and try to dissuade him from going on more quests. Don Quixote persuades his neighbor Sancho Panza, a plump laborer, to join him as his squire on his second expedition, promising him the governorship of an island if he joined him.

After about fifteen days at home, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza depart secretly at night for the next expedition; Sancho mounted upon his donkey - Dapple. The second adventure lasts just three weeks and makes up the remainder of Part 1 of the book. They meet many adventures in their travels. Don Quixote battles mistaking them for giants; Maritornes, the maid, goes mistakenly to Don Quixote's bed; Don Quixote and Sancho Panza refusing to pay their bill at an inn which causes Sancho to be promptly tossed in a blanket; Sancho christens Don Quixote as "the Knight of the Sad Countenance"; a canon of Toledo; a religious procession carrying an image of the Virgin and many other mishaps.

While Knight and squire are continually challenged during the course of these adventures, there are a series of other moral tales belonging to the pastoral story-telling tradition in Spain interpolated within the main plot. One of these stories about the lovers Cardenio and Dorotea (Bk. 1,Ch. 23) weaves itself in and out of the main narrative for much of Part 1. There are also two monologues delivered by the knight: one (Bk. 1,Ch. 11) is a learned description of the Golden Age of mythology, told during a supper shared with some goatherds who understood not a word he said; the other, later on in the book (Bk. 1,Ch. 37-8) when he addresses a company during dinner at an inn in a debate about whether the career of arms is superior to that of letters, or vice versa. The knight's fellow diners eat throughout his speech and none of them follow up what he has to say. We also have a discussion, towards the end of the book (Bk. 1,Ch. 47-8), between a canon and a priest about fiction and chivalric romances that hint at Cervantes' theory of fiction.

The first book ends with the knight's humiliating return home, imprisoned in a cage on an ox-cart by his village priest and barber for Don Quixote's own good.

Book 2

In the second book we are soon introduced to a young man from Don Quixote's village - Sanson Carrasco, a recent graduate of Salamanca University. He takes on the earlier roles of the priest and the barber in attempting to rescue and keep Don Quixote away from danger. Knight and Squire take to the road again in Chapter 7 of the second book. Don Quixote is determined to go to Tobosa to pay his respects to Dulcinea. They encounter three peasant girls and by some deception, Sancho hopes that his master will accept one of these as being Dulcinea. Don Quixote believes that the enchanters have made her look like an ugly peasant girl.

Don Quixote unexpectedly wins a battle with another knight (The Knight of the Mirrors), who turns out to be none other than Sanson Carrasco in disguise. Sanson had hoped to get the Don back home to safety by disguising himself as a rival knight errant but the plan was unsuccessful. Shortly afterwards, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza meet the "Knight in the Green Topcoat" (Don Diego de Miranda) which includes the episode of the lion with whom the Don wants to do battle, to no avail. Chapters 19-22 are devoted to the pastoral tale, "Camacho's Wedding" in which knight and squire play parts. The adventure of Don Quixote's descent into the Cave of Montesinos follows, after which, in a trance, the Don tells of the marvelous things he experienced while down there. At a wayside inn Sancho and Don Quixote attend Master Peter's puppet show. Don Quixote gets carried away by the spectacle of the puppet Moorish knights doing battle with Christians and attacks them with his sword, causing much disruption.

Don Quixote accepts an invitation to the unnamed Duke and Duchess's palace and park (Chapters 30-58). They poke fun at Don Quixote, by organizing a series of burlesque pageants as well as causing injury to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. They arrange for Sancho to govern the Island of Barataria and are surprised by the squire's talent for leadership.

At the beginning of Book Two, Don Quixote intended to go to a jousting tournament in Saragossa but at Chapter 59 Cervantes must have heard of the appearance of a pirate second part of his novel by one called Avellaneda. Cervantes made artistic use of this occurrence by incorporating it in his own genuine novel. In Chapter 59 when Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are eating supper at an inn they hear comments about this alleged second volume of their life. The Don is annoyed at Avellaneda for suggesting he has abandoned Dulcinea and the fact that his long-awaited arrival in Saragossa has already been described. He is therefore resolved to go to Barcelona instead. In Chapter 72 Cervantes even kidnaps a prominent character (Don Alvaro Tarfe) from Avellaneda's book.

Don Quixote then gets involved with a bandit by the name of Roque Guinart. After this meeting, Don Quixote and Sancho arrive at Barcelona where they are the guests of Don Antonio Moreno, who also proposed to poke fun at the Don's expense. He is a guest to the squadron of the royal galleys in the port and is received with full naval honors.

In Chapter 64, the Knight of the White Moon enters the scene while Don Quixote is exercising his horse on the beach at Barcelona. The Knight of the White Moon challenges Don Quixote to battle in the presence of the viceroy and a distinguished company. Don Quixote is soon defeated by the Knight of the White Moon, who turns out to be none other than Samson Carrasco. A condition of his defeat is to abandon knight errantry for the rest of his life. Samson's good intentions to save Don Quixote are not appreciated by the Barcelonans or Don Antonio Moreno who is disturbed because Samson spoiled the amusement.

The remaining chapters recount the journey of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza back to their village, which includes an additional stay with the Duke and Duchess and sundry other humiliating experiences suffered by the knight.

When they reach home the ill Don Quixote is put to bed and after a long sleep declares his name to be Alonso Quixano once more and denounces chivalry and knighthood. He dies among the lamentation of friends.


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