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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
Ready at last, Don Quixote takes to the road on his old nag, Rozinante. His head is full of day-dreams. He is going to have such great adventures! He is going to set right the wrongs of the world! Don Quixote has read so many romantic stories that he is already mentally composing a book that will be based on his own magnificent saga.
The first order of business, however, is to find someone who can perform the ceremony that will make Don Quixote a true knight.
Just before nightfall Don Quixote reaches a roadside inn. His feverish brain imagines that the inn is a magnificent castle. He mistakes two prostitutes he meets there for beautiful maidens and the innkeeper for the lord of the castle. Everyone is amused by Don Quixote's flowery speeches and by his odd helmet, which is tied on with ribbons and so cumbersome to remove that he has to keep it on even when he is eating and sleeping. When Don Quixote asks to be knighted, the innkeeper decides to humor him.
Don Quixote prepares for the all night vigil which the future knight must keep before the ceremony. He sets out his armor on an "altar" in the inn's courtyard. Unfortunately, the altar is really a water trough and when two mule drivers move his things so their mules can have some water, Don Quixote attacks them both. In a hurry to get rid of his crazy guest, the innkeeper stages a mock ceremony and declares Don Quixote a true knight.
It does not take the new knight long to find adventure. He comes upon a rich farmer who is whipping a poor shepherd boy, Andrew, for losing some sheep. Don Quixote makes the farmer promise to stop beating the boy and to pay him the back wages he owes. Then he rides away, very satisfied with his good deed. But the farmer has no intention of keeping his word. As soon as Don Quixote is out of sight he starts beating the boy again, twice as hard as before.
Next Don Quixote meets six merchants from Toledo. Planting his horse in the middle of the road, he challenges the merchants to agree with him that his Dulcinea is the most beautiful woman in the world. The merchants know they're dealing with a madman and they start to tease him. Show me her picture, one demands, and then I'll decide for myself. Angered by this lack of respect, Don Quixote spurs his horse to a charge, but Rozinante stumbles and Don Quixote falls to the ground. One of the merchants gives the Don a good drubbing with his broken lance.
Much of the action in Don Quixote is pure slapstick. The Don is always getting involved in pointless, silly battles. If you think that some of these fights would not be out of place in a Three Stooges or Laurel and Hardy comedy, you are absolutely right. This is exactly the spirit in which generations of readers have enjoyed them. Notice, however, that even when Don Quixote is making a fool of himself, there is something strangely moving about his character. He always means to do good. Often, when he tries hardest, he fails completely. But he can also succeed by accident. When Don Quixote mistakes the prostitutes for ladies, they treat him with kindness, almost as if they really were ladies. The innkeeper even behaves like a lord, letting Don Quixote leave the inn without paying for his food and lodging, as if he were an invited guest and not a paying customer.