Cervantes says that Cide Hamete Benengeli blesses Allah before recounting that Don Quixote and Sancho once again go on the road. He begs us to forget the past adventures and pay attention only to what is to come. Don Quixote and Sancho think it a good sign that Rocinante and Dapple bray and stamp as they set out. Sancho thinks it an especially good sign that Dapple whinnies louder than Rocinante does. Cervantes interjects to say that Benengeli’s history does not indicate whether Sancho’s belief is based on astrology.
Don Quixote decides to go to El Toboso to visit Dulcinea. On the road, he and Sancho discuss the importance of fame. Don Quixote says that people value fame even in its negative form. Sancho says he believes they should try to become saints rather than knights because saints go to heaven. Don Quixote argues that the world already has enough saints and that he was born to be a knight-errant.
Don Quixote and Sancho decide to enter El Toboso at night. Sancho panics because he does not know which house is Dulcinea’s, even though he supposedly visited her to give her Don Quixote’s letter in the First Part. The two run into a ploughman who tells them he does not know of any princesses in the area. They go outside the town to sleep.
Cervantes says that the author, presumably Cide Hamete Benengeli, wanted to skip this chapter for fear that he would not be believed but decided to write it anyhow. Don Quixote dispatches Sancho to fetch Dulcinea and bring her to him. Sancho panics because he has never seen Dulcinea and fears he will be attacked if people see him wandering around the town looking for women.
Sancho sits down for a while and has a lengthy dialogue with himself. He concludes that he can fool Don Quixote by abducting the first peasant girl he sees riding on the road and presenting her as Dulcinea. Sancho sees three young peasant girls riding. Cervantes says that the author does not clarify whether these girls are riding on horses or donkeys. Sancho rushes to Don Quixote and informs him that Dulcinea is approaching with two maids on horseback, but Don Quixote objects that he can see merely three peasants on donkeys.
As the girls ride by, Sancho grabs one of them and falls down on his knees before her, praising her as Dulcinea. Though appalled by her appearance—and especially by her smell—Don Quixote believes that she is Dulcinea. He says that a wicked enchanter who wants to deny him the pleasure of seeing Dulcinea’s beauty has changed her into a peasant. Sancho describes Dulcinea to Don Quixote as he claims he saw her, including a mole with seven or eight nine-inch hairs coming out of it.
On the road, Don Quixote and Sancho encounter a wagon filled with actors in costume. Don Quixote stops to speak to them, but one of the costumes frightens Rocinante and the horse throws Don Quixote to the ground. One of the actors imitates Don Quixote’s antics by stealing Dapple and reenacting the scene. Don Quixote rides Rocinante up to the wagon to avenge the injury but stops short when he sees the whole company lined up in the road, armed with rocks. Sancho talks his master out of attacking the group, pointing out that the actors are not knights and that they returned Dapple unharmed.
While sleeping in a grove, Don Quixote and Sancho meet another knight who claims to be pining away for his mistress, Casildea de Vandalia, to whom he recites poetry. The narrator calls him the Knight of the Wood and calls his squire the Squire of the Wood. Sancho and the Squire of the Wood go off into the night to talk while Don Quixote and the Knight of the Wood stay where they are to talk.
Sancho and the Squire of the Wood eat and drink while discussing their shared expectation that their masters will make each of them a governor of an isle. They also tell each other about their children. Sancho laments Don Quixote’s madness but says that he is honest and pure, unlike the Knight of the Wood, who, according to the Squire of the Wood, is quite a rogue. Sancho declares that he is a great taster of wines, and the two of them drink until they pass out, still holding the wine flask.
Meanwhile, Don Quixote and the Knight of the Wood discuss their knightly adventures. The Knight of the Wood tells Don Quixote that his lady has sent him into the world to make all knights proclaim her beauty. He says that his greatest conquest was his defeat of Don Qui-xote de la Mancha. Don Quixote tells the Knight that this cannot be possible and challenges him to a duel. The Knight of the Wood accepts but says that they must wait until morning. They rouse Sancho and the Squire of the Wood, who discuss whether they too should fight.
At dawn, Sancho sees the Squire of the Wood’s nose and becomes so frightened by its size that he scurries up a tree before the duel. The Knight of the Wood dresses in such fine, shiny material that he is renamed the Knight of the Mirrors, but he refuses to show Don Quixote his face. Don Quixote pauses to help Sancho into the tree, throwing off the timing of the duel. As a result, the Knight of the Mirrors cannot get his horse going again fast enough, enabling Don Quixote to knock him off his horse quite easily. Don Quixote removes the Knight of the Mirrors’s visor, revealing Sampson Carrasco. Don Quixote does not believe that Sampson stands before him; he thinks that he is still under an enchantment. The Squire of the Wood removes his pasteboard nose and reveals himself as Thomas Cecial, Sancho’s neighbor. Sampson confesses Dulcinea’s beauty, and Don Quixote spares him.
Sampson reveals that he has been plotting with the priest and the barber to vanquish Don Quixote and to order him to go home for two years. Samson’s squire leaves him, but Samson vows revenge on Don Quixote.
Sancho’s trickery in the incident with the peasant women and Sampson’s deception about his identity emphasize the willingness of Don Quixote’s peers to engage him in his world of deception and fantasy. Sancho is motivated by self-interest, whereas other characters play along due either to a desire to help Don Quixote or a need for a diversion. In all cases, Don Quixote’s imagination shapes the novel’s plot. Don Quixote’s dreams direct the actions of other characters, just as they do when Dorothea pretends to be a princess in the First Part. This playfulness influences the characters’ interactions with Don Quixote throughout the remainder of the novel.
The costumes worn by the actors on the wagon and by the Knight of the Mirrors show that the physical world has begun to imitate Don Quixote’s fantasies. Previously, Don Quixote misperceives everything around him, seeing windmills as giants and prostitutes as princesses. Now, however, the physical world has become difficult for anyone to define clearly. Rocinante, mistaking the costumed actor for an apparition, is terrified. Moreover, the Knight of the Wood becomes known as the Knight of the Mirrors in the middle of the chapter due to his change in appearance. Cervantes now mixes reality with elements of deception, which validates Don Quixote’s misperceptions and makes him seem more sane. Whereas earlier it is easy to perceive Don Quixote as insane, it now seems that the world around him is illogical. As a result, Don Quixote becomes more of a driving force in the novel, almost as though his fantasies have begun to dictate the course of the physical world around him.
Cervantes brings up religion by mentioning Benengeli’s praise of Allah and Sancho’s suggestion that he and Don Quixote try to become saints. The novel repeatedly touches on the importance of being a Christian in Cervantes’s Spain. Cervantes often brings up religion in reference to Sancho, who Cervantes says is an old Christian and whose wise aphorisms often stem from Christian sources. The captive’s earlier tale about the Moor Zoraida’s passionate longing to convert to Christiantity and subsequent baptism makes Zoraida appear to be a good and beautiful woman. This depiction of the essential goodness within Zoraida despite her Moorish heritage contrasts with Cervantes’s and his characters’ dismissal of her Moorish countrymen as liars and cheats. Moreover, in the discussion on the way to Chrysostom’s funeral, in Chapter XIII, Don Quixote compromises his extreme faith in chivalric traditions in order to allow knights-errant to praise God. Christianity, then, unlike most of the social customs of the times, receives a positive and somber treatment in the novel and stands alone as the one major subject Cervantes does not treat with a mordant, ironic tone. Here, at the beginning of the third expedition, Cervantes treats Christianity with more reverence than at any other point in the novel.