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Free Barron's Booknotes-Don Quixote by Migel de Cervantes-Free Book Notes
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Before you can catch your breath, the next series of adventures begins. Don Quixote and Sancho meet a Duke and Duchess out hunting and accept their invitation to be guests at the Duke's castle. The Duke and Duchess have read Part I of Don Quixote, and they arrange to play some very elaborate tricks on Quixote and Sancho, all for their own and their court's amusement. The Duchess decides that Sancho is even funnier than his master, so she convinces the Duke to promise to make Sancho a governor after all.

One trick that the Duke and Duchess play involves getting a servant to dress up as the evil wizard Merlin. This "Merlin" tells Quixote and Sancho that there is only one way that Dulcinea can be transformed back from a peasant girl into a princess: Sancho must promise to give himself 3300 lashes on his own bare buttocks. Of course Sancho is horrified. For one thing, he made up the story of Dulcinea's enchantment himself. For another, he can't see why he should be the one to suffer. Dulcinea is Don Quixote's beloved, not his. The Duchess cleverly persuades Sancho that Dulcinea really is enchanted. She also hints that Sancho will never get an island to rule if he doesn't agree to "save" Dulcinea. After much moaning and groaning, Sancho promises to do what Merlin wants. By the next day, however, he has given himself only five perfunctory spanks. He's still 3295 blows short of his quota.


With this incident Sancho becomes thoroughly "quixotized." Through a combination of greed and affection for his master, Sancho has taken on Don Quixote's mad quest as his own. If you've ever been talked into accepting a dare against your own better judgment, perhaps you know how Sancho feels at this point. One compromise has led to another until finally he feels he has no choice but to carry the logic of the enchantment story to its conclusion.

Some readers, however, see a positive moral in Sancho's dilemma. Sancho, they say, represents the miracle of religious faith that inspires people to believe in the existence of God. Sancho's agreeing to whip himself might even be compared with the sufferings of Christ, who died for the sins of mankind. What weaknesses, if any, do you detect in those theories?

A second practical joke played by the Duke and Duchess involves a group of court ladies who dress up as "Countess Trifaldi" and her ladies-in-waiting. They tell Quixote that they have been cursed by an evil giant who has caused them to grow beards. The Don is fooled by the women's false whiskers into believing this, and he gallantly promises to do battle with the giant. But to reach the giant's faraway kingdom, he and Sancho will have to ride on a magical wooden horse that flies through the air. Trembling with fear, the Don and Sancho mount the horse. They are blindfolded, supposedly because the giant does not want them to see where they are going. Of course, the horse, Clavileno, is really a wooden toy stuffed with firecrackers. A servant blows air over the Don and Sancho with a bellows to make them think they are really flying. Then someone sets fire to the horse's tail. The firecrackers explode and Quixote and Sancho are thrown high into the air. After a good laugh at both men's expense, the courtiers convince them that their courage has made the giant relent. The "Countess" and her ladies remove their false beards and pretend to be very grateful.

During the course of these chapters, Sancho loudly expresses his dislike and fear of ladies-in-waiting-an opinion that is easy to understand if you realize that such ladies traditionally served as chaperones. The staunchly forbidding lady-in-waiting was a universally recognized figure of fun, much like the stereotypical interfering mother-in-law today.

But what of the Duke and Duchess' behavior? Some readers have pointed out that elaborate practical jokes such as they play were more acceptable in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries than today. Some noblemen even had trick fountains which spewed water at unsuspecting guests. On the other hand, it is one thing to play jokes on one's equals, another to enjoy teasing a crazy man and his peasant servant. The Duke and Duchess are so far removed from the problems of everyday life that they treat the whole world as their playground. In a way, they are living a fantasy just as the Don is. One difference is that their fantasy is the product of boredom and aimlessness. Perhaps you can think of other differences.

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