The Duke and Duchess, pleased with Don Quixote’s and Sancho’s reaction to the encounter with the Countess Trifaldi, send Sancho to his governorship right away. Sancho says he would rather have a piece of the sky than an isle, but the Duke says he can provide him only with an isle. The Duke and Duchess dress Sancho up and pack him off to a town, which he believes is an isle. Don Quixote gives Sancho advice on how to rule and reminds him never to be ashamed of his humble background. He also tells Sancho never to worry about injuring himself when confronting an enemy, to marry only a woman who will not take bribes, and to have pity and leniency on criminals.
Don Quixote warns Sancho to refrain from eating garlic and onions, since only peasants eat such things; to walk slowly and speak deliberately; to eat little; not to drink too much; not to belch; and not to use so many proverbs. Don Quixote laments Sancho’s illiteracy, but Sancho says he will prevent anyone from discovering this deficiency by pretending that his writing hand has been paralyzed. Sancho asks if Don Quixote thinks he will make a good governor, since he would rather just be Sancho than imperil his soul as a bad governor. Don Quixote assures him that he will be an excellent governor precisely because of this attitude.
Cervantes interjects that “the real original history” claims that Cide Hamete Benengeli wrote this chapter in the form of a complaint addressed to himself for having written such a dry story and for not including as many digressions as he did in the First Part.
As he leaves for his governorship, Sancho mentions to Don Quixote that one of the stewards accompanying him looks and sounds exactly like the Countess Trifaldi, but Don Quixote dismisses Sancho’s implication. After a sorrowful good-bye, Sancho sets out. Seeing that Don Quixote misses Sancho, the Duchess remarks that she has many maids who would gladly help cure Don Quixote’s melancholy. Don Quixote refuses her offer and goes straight to bed after dinner, insisting on being alone to keep himself from temptation. Don Quixote hears two women under his window arguing about whether one of them, named Altisidora, should sing a ballad to the man she loves. Altisidora does sing the ballad, and Don Quixote concludes that she loves him. He laments his fate that no woman can see him and not fall in love. Meanwhile, Cervantes tells us that Sancho wishes to begin governing and awaits us.
The townspeople receive Sancho and set him up on the governor’s chair, where they have written a proclamation that Don Sancho Panza took governorship on a certain date. Sancho has the proclamation read to him and then requests that no one call him “Don,” since he is not a Don. He judges a series of cases, each involving some form of trickery, that the townspeople bring before him. Sancho resolves each case with wit and wisdom, impressing the town with his governing abilities.
In the morning, Don Quixote passes Altisidora, who pretends to faint. He asks a servant to put a lute in his room that night so that he may disclose, in ballad form, his love for Dulcinea. Eager to play a trick on Don Quixote, Altisidora tells the Duke and Duchess about Don Quixote’s plan. They all listen to his ballad to Dulcinea that night. As Don Quixote sings, one of the servants lowers a rope with bells on it and a bag of cats with bells on their tails onto the balcony above Don Quixote’s window. The bells and the cats make a terrible noise, frightening Don Qui-xote and all those in the house. In the commotion, a couple of cats get into Don Quixote’s room, and one of them jumps onto his face, bites his nose, and claws him. The Duke, who has rushed up to the room to see what is the matter, removes the cat. Altisidora tries to woo Don Quixote as she bandages his face.
In this section, Don Quixote and Sancho become intelligent and sensitive individuals when they are removed from situations involving chivalry. Don Quixote shows remarkable sense and compassion in his practical advice to Sancho about how to run his government, and Sancho demonstrates similar sense in his handling of the problems the townspeople send him. Despite his illiteracy, Sancho shows his remarkable ability to see through the Duke’s tricks. Now distanced from Don Quixote for the first time since the end of the First Part, he does not attribute anything to enchantment or knight-errantry. Don Quixote does much the same: in contrast to his misinformed behavior toward Altisidora, his advice to Sancho concerning political matters is sensible and would serve a governor well.
Don Quixote’s advice that Sancho not put on airs of good breeding—and Sancho’s acceptance of this advice—stands in stark contrast to Don Quixote’s need to play the role of the knight-errant. In effect, he tells Sancho to be himself—a message that, on its surface, conflicts with everything we know about Don Quixote. The fact that Don Quixote has not read the historical account of his adventures—the First Part of Don Quixote—indicates that he does not wish to observe his actions from anyone else’s perspective. Instead, he chooses to live a life of self-deception. At the same time, however, he never deceives others: unlike the Duke and Duchess and all those who exploit Don Quixote’s madness in a belittling and insulting way, Don Quixote simply presents himself sincerely. His intentions are so exaggeratedly noble that, when he fears (erroneously) that Altisidora has fallen in love with him, he tries to make it clear that he is devoted to another woman in order to prevent future heartbreak for her.
The incident with the cats is the first of several events in which the Duke’s and Duchess’s pursuit of self-amusement physically harms Don Quixote. What may appear at first to be a harmless prank becomes an insensitive and haughty act of cruelty. It is no longer possible to ignore the negative impact of the Duke and Duchess’s lack of concern for others. Just as Don Quixote’s inability to see the effect of his actions in the First Part nearly kills the farm boy, the Duke and Duchess here show no regard for Don Quixote’s welfare. However, unlike Don Quixote, who would probably put an end to any plan he knew to be harmful, the Duke and Duchess compel Altisidora to woo Don Quixote even as she tends to his wounds. In this way, the two, who seem so kindly and courteous when we first meet them, slowly become the villains in this section.