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Free Barron's Booknotes-Don Quixote by Migel de Cervantes-Free Book Notes
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This section of the novel concerns Don Quixote's adventures in the Sierra Morena, or Black Mountain.

The Don and Sancho meet up with a strange hermit who acts like a wild man and lives on handouts from the local shepherds. The hermit explains that his real name is Cardenio. He has been driven to his present state by the disloyalty of his former best friend, Don Ferdinand. Originally, Don Ferdinand was in love with the daughter of a rich farmer. He promised to marry the girl. But as soon as she gave in and slept with him, he lost interest in her. Cardenio helped Don Ferdinand escape the trouble he'd caused by inviting him to visit his own hometown. There, Don Ferdinand immediately started a campaign to steal Cardenio's own fiancee, Lucinda.

Don Quixote is impressed with Cardenio's decision to live as a hermit. He decides that he, too, will spend some time in retreat from the world. In the meantime, he sends Sancho Panza to deliver a love letter to Dulcinea, vowing that he has not forgotten her and begging her to wait for him.

Suddenly it dawns on Sancho that "Dulcinea" is none other than the daughter of one of his close neighbors. He knows the girl! "She can pitch the iron bar better than the strongest lad in the village," he says approvingly. "God, what a woman she is! What a pair of lungs..." Don Quixote cuts Sancho off angrily. Like many lovers, he is not interested in the true strengths and weaknesses of his sweetheart. He is in love with his own fantasy.

Sancho leaves on his errand, but he gets no farther than the same inn where he had been tossed in the blanket. There he runs into Quixote's friends, the priest and the barber. Sancho now discovers that he has forgotten the letter that his master took so much time writing. The priest and the barber promise to write a replacement letter. In the meantime, they convince Sancho to help them with their plan to trick Don Quixote into returning home with them.

The priest predicts that if Don Quixote doesn't stop acting like a crazy hermit, he will end up being made an Archbishop. This scares Sancho since he is counting on Don Quixote to win fame and fortune for both of them. He doesn't see much profit in a church career.

Sancho returns with the Don's friends to where his master is keeping vigil. On the way they meet Cardenio who now tells the rest of his tale of woe. Don Ferdinand tricked him into leaving town and then got his father to arrange for his (Don Ferdinand's) marriage to Lucinda. Cardenio returned home just in time to find the wedding under way. This is what drove him mad.

No sooner is this story finished than a young girl in boy's clothing comes on the scene. She turns out to be Dorothea, the farmer's daughter whom Don Ferdinand had seduced. But she has good news for Cardenio. Lucinda did not marry Don Ferdinand after all. In the middle of the wedding ceremony, Lucinda fainted. A letter found stuffed into her dress explained that she was secretly pledged to marry Cardenio and was planning to commit suicide if forced to wed Don Ferdinand. Cardenio is overjoyed to hear that Lucinda is not married. In gratitude he promises to help Dorothea get justice from Don Ferdinand. Cardenio will force him to keep his promise and marry the girl he seduced, whether he wants to or not.


Cardenio's tale is long, complicated, and full of impossible coincidences. In this sense it may remind you of the plot of a television soap opera. Remember that readers in the seventeenth century were not surrounded by instant entertainment, as you are today. They wanted an author to give them their money's worth, and they were likely to be more tolerant of complicated detours from the main plot. Of course, no one expected such tales to be entirely believable. Improbable coincidences and unlikely cases of mistaken identity were all part of the fun. It is interesting to see that Cervantes uses many of the same devices-coincidence, disguise, and multiple cases of mistaken identification-throughout the novel. Why do these same devices seem more artificial in this section of the story than they do elsewhere? One possible reason is that Don Quixote and Sancho are more fully drawn characters than Dorothea, Cardenio, and Ferdinand.

Before leaving with Cardenio, Dorothea agrees to help the priest and the barber with their plan to trick Don Quixote into coming home. Back at the inn, the priest had disguised himself as a young maiden while the barber put on a false beard so that he could pretend to be the maiden's servant. The men decide, however, that Dorothea will be better cast in the role of the damsel in distress. The barber keeps his disguise but the priest will now pretend that he has just run into Don Quixote by accident.

Dorothea will act the part of the Princess Micomicona. The men are a little worried that a farmer's daughter will not be able to pass herself off as a princess. She tells them not to worry, for she's read plenty of chivalric romances!

"Princess Micomicona" tells Don Quixote that her father, the king, is dead. A giant named Pandafilando has usurped the throne and forced her to flee the country. The Don promises to go back to the princess' kingdom and slay the giant. Of course, the whole story is just a ruse to get Don Quixote on the road to his home village. But you may wonder who really understands Dorothea best. The priest and the barber see only a farmer's daughter, a girl of the lower classes. They're amazed that she can play a princess so convincingly. Don Quixote at least knows a damsel in distress when he sees one. Dorothea is the victim of a selfish young man, not an evil giant. But in real life she is as deserving of help as any princess.

The whole group sets out together. Cardenio and the barber are still in disguise, posing as the princess' servants. The priest will do his best to flatter Don Quixote to make him more cooperative.

At the very end of this section, Sancho sees Gines de Pasamonte, disguised as a gypsy and riding on Dapple. Sancho grabs his donkey and Gines flees. The squire is so happy to have Dapple back again that he weeps tears of joy.

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