The poor gentleman lost his senses, in poring over, and attempting to discover the meaning of these and other such rhapsodies, which Aristotle himself would not be able to unravel, were he to rise from the dead for that purpose only.
The narrator describes how Don Quixote’s obsession with stories of chivalry has driven him mad, to an extent that even a great philosopher would not be able to understand or explain. Even before Don Quixote’s adventures begin, readers get a sense of just how removed from reality he has become. The narrator gives a sampling of the florid, circular rhetoric of Don Quixote’s favorite writer. Don Quixote eventually gives up on the meaning and believes the stories to be true to life.
As our hero’s imagination converted whatsoever he saw, heard or considered, into something of which he had read in books of chivalry; he no sooner perceived the inn, than his fancy represented it, as a stately castle with its four towers and pinnacles of shining silver, accommodated with a draw-bridge, deep moat, and all other conveniences, that are described as belonging to buildings of that kind.
As Don Quixote approaches an inn, the narrator describes what Don Quixote sees in comparison to the physical reality. Although the inn appears fairly ordinary, Don Quixote’s madness causes him to see a castle instead and to believe two prostitutes to be royal women. Don Quixote makes many such transpositions throughout the novel, which shows how the stories of chivalry have taken over his mind.
In this manner did he invent names for a great many knights in either army, to all of whom also he gave arms, colours, mottos and devices, without the least hesitation, being incredibly inspired by the fumes of an unbalanced imagination[.]
When Don Quixote and Sancho see clouds of dust caused by herds of sheep in the road, Don Quixote thinks he sees two armies in a battle and begins listing the names of the soldiers and knights in each army, and he even includes a description of the soldiers’ armor and physical characteristics. While Don Quixote appears out of his mind in many ways, throughout the novel his intelligence shows through.
The hearers were moved with fresh concern, at seeing a man who, in every other subject, seemed to have a large share of sense and discernment, lose it so irrevocably, whenever the discourse turned upon the cursed mischievous theme of chivalry.
The narrator recounts the impression Don Quixote makes when explaining the superiority of knights over scholars. His listeners oscillate between appreciation for Don Quixote’s command of logic and history and shock at his ravings as he becomes more passionate about chivalry. Although Don Quixote engages in many ridiculous acts throughout the story, he has studied the subject of knighthood so closely that he can make completely rational arguments due to his vast knowledge on the topic. In this way, his intellect informs his madness.
Who that had heard this discourse of Don Quixote, would not have taken him for a person of sound judgment, and excellent temperament? but, as we have oftentimes observed, in the progress of this sublime history, his madness never appeared except when the string of chivalry was touched; and, on all other subjects of conversation, he displayed a clear and ready understanding[.]
The narrator presents this rhetorical question after Don Quixote gives Sancho several pieces of advice on how to govern an island. His advice spans the subjects of what sort of women to marry, how to treat criminals, and how to confront enemies. By posing this question, the narrator contrasts Don Quixote’s rational discourse with his actions in the rest of the novel. The narrator points out that when Don Quixote discusses anything but chivalry, he appears completely intelligible and sensible. His madness doesn’t impact his view on anything but chivalry.