Don Quixote and Sancho leave for Montesinos’s Cave with Basilio’s cousin, an author who writes parodies of great classical works, as a guide. When the three arrive at Montesinos’s Cave, Sancho and the guide lower Don Quixote into the cave by a rope. They wait for a half hour and then pull him up, only to find him asleep.
Don Quixote tells Sancho and Basilio’s cousin that when he went into the cave he found a small nook and fell asleep there. When he woke up he was in a beautiful field. An old man approached him, saying that he was Montesinos under a terrible enchantment. Montesinos confirmed that he cut out the heart of Durandarte, his cousin, when Durandarte died. He took the heart to Belerma, Durandarte’s wife, at Durandarte’s request. But, he says, Merlin has now put all of them under a spell so that they cannot leave the cave. Durandarte lies on the ground but occasionally sighs and speaks as if he were alive. According to Montesinos, Merlin prophesied Don Quixote’s coming and foresaw that Don Quixote would lift their enchantments.
Don Quixote says he was in the cave for three days and three nights and saw Dulcinea in her enchanted form there. Sancho, who knows the truth about Dulcinea’s enchantment, thinks Don Quixote is crazy. Don Quixote says he understands that Sancho only speaks out against him because he loves him. Don Quixote says that Sancho will soon realize that the story is true though it may appear fantastical to him now.
Cervantes says that the translator found a note from Cide Hamete Benengeli in the margin of the manuscript, warning that he believed that Don Quixote’s story was not true and that, in fact, Don Quixote himself renounced it as false on his deathbed.
Basilio’s cousin is thrilled by all the adventures in the cave and promises to use them in his books. Back on the road he, Don Quixote, and Sancho meet a man with a load of weapons who promises to tell them his story if they meet him at the inn where he is staying. They then meet a youth on his way to war, and Don Quixote commends the boy’s bravery.
At the inn, Don Quixote meets the man with the weapons. The man tells him a story of two magistrates who lost a donkey on a mountain near his village. To recover the ass, the magistrates went around the mountain braying like asses themselves, and though they did not catch the donkey, they were very impressed with their own ability to imitate asses. Neighboring villages heard about their frivolous antics, and now each time a member of the man’s village passes a member of another village, the other villager brays at him. As a result, the two villages are going to war.
Master Peter, a great and well-renowned puppeteer, arrives at the inn with an ape that whispers people’s fortunes into Master Peter’s ear. Sancho tries to pay Master Peter to tell what his wife is doing now, but Master Peter falls to his knees, and the ape praises Don Quixote profusely. Don Quixote is flattered but believes Master Peter has made a pact with the devil. He asks the ape whether the incident in the cave was true or false, and the ape replies that some parts were true and some false.
Master Peter puts on a puppet show for Don Quixote. The puppet show depicts the travails of a knight who goes to rescue his wife from foreign lands. Don Quixote becomes so convinced that the show is real that he attacks and destroys the entire set. He explains that his enchanters bear responsibility for his actions because they made him believe that the puppets were real. Don Quixote pays Master Peter for his troubles nonetheless. He also treats the guests to a meal and pays the innkeeper.
Cervantes says that Cide Hamete Benengeli swears that Master Peter is actually Gines de Pasamonte, the galley slave whom Don Quixote frees earlier near the Sierra Morena. Benengeli then returns to the narration.
Don Quixote and Sancho meet up with the army from the village whose magistrates brayed like asses. Don Quixote tries to talk the men out of attacking the other village, saying that one man cannot possibly insult an entire village. He nearly persuades the villagers and then Sancho takes over. Sancho explains that braying is nothing to be ashamed of and begins to bray himself. Thinking that Sancho is mocking them, the villagers attack him and knock him unconscious. Don Quixote runs away. The other villagers never show up to battle, so the braying village goes home victorious and happy.
Don Quixote berates Sancho for stupidly braying to a group of villagers already sensitive to the subject of braying. He explains that he retreated because a knight should not act out of temerity. Sancho brings up the question of his wages again, and Don Quixote gets so angry that he tries to send Sancho away. Sancho, however, apologizes.
The account of Montesinos’s Cave marks the high point in Don Quixote’s imaginative madness. Don Quixote recounts his dream to Sancho and to Basilio’s cousin with such detail and texture that, were it not for Sancho’s objections, we might wonder whether the story is real. Don Quixote no longer speaks about things that other people can see and use to judge him a madman. In this instance, Don Quixote has the authority to transform a half hour in a dark cave into three days in a crystal palace. The story, in all its fantastic detail, reveals Cervantes’s talent for storytelling and stands out from the rest of the novel as a unique display of imagination and descriptive force. The description is closely modeled on Trojan hero Aeneas’s encounter with Dido in the underworld in Virgil’s Aeneid. Only Sancho, assured by the knowledge that he previously deceived Don Quixote about Dulcinea’s enchantment, keeps us from believing the description completely. Nonetheless, Don Quixote’s gentle, caring statement—that he understands Sancho’s bewilderment but that Sancho will soon realize the truth—suddenly seems more plausible than Sancho’s rational argument.
The note in the margin that Cervantes mentions in Chapter XXIV deepens the puzzle of the novel’s narration by raising the question of how many translators bear responsibility for the text. In the beginning of the Second Part, Sampson tells Don Quixote that the author intends to publish a second part as soon as he finds the manuscript, which the Moor has written in his own language and an unspecified “Christian” has written in his. If the Christian is Cervantes, it is hard to explain why Cervantes refers to him throughout as “the translator.” If the Christian is not Cervantes, it is hard to imagine the role Cervantes plays in bringing the novel to us. This tension and further layering of authors, narrators, and voices draws attention to the circular form of the novel, and makes Don Quixote’s sanity ambiguous. We are forced to question at all times what we are reading and wonder whose perspective is most accurate.
The reappearance of Gines de Pasamonte, disguised as Master Peter, exemplifies the way the second half of the novel mirrors the first. The reappearance of characters from the first half helps join the two parts into a single novel, despite the obvious differences between them. Cervantes clearly wants to establish his work as the authentic sequel to the first half, and tying the two parts together through his characters is one way he manages to do so.