Don Quixote implores Sancho to whip himself for Dulcinea’s sake, but Sancho says he does not believe that his whipping will help Dulcinea. Don Quixote then decides to be a shepherd during his retirement, and he and Sancho begin to fantasize about their simple, pastoral lives.
Don Quixote wakes Sancho in the middle of the night to ask him again to whip himself, but Sancho again refuses. Sancho discourses on the nature of sleep, and Don Quixote marvels at Sancho’s eloquence. Don Quixote quotes one of Sancho’s own proverbs back to him, much to Sancho’s astonishment. Some hogs that are being driven to a fair trample Don Quixote, Sancho, and Rocinante, but Don Quixote refuses to do battle with the hogs, believing instead that this trampling is punishment for his defeat at the hands of the Knight of the White Moon. Near dawn, ten horsemen ride up, capture the pair, and drive them to the Duke’s castle.
When the horsemen drag Don Quixote and Sancho into the Duke’s courtyard, Don Quixote recognizes Altisidora on a funeral bier, apparently dead. The courtyard has been set up as a court, with the Duke, the Duchess, and two old judges, Minos and Rhadamanthus, sitting above the rest. A musician sings a poem—which Don Quixote recognizes as an adaptation of another poet’s work—telling that Altisidora died out of her unrequited love for Don Quixote. Rhadamanthus demands that Sancho suffer a beating to bring Altisidora back to life. Sancho protests that he is tired of being beaten for Don Quixote’s lovers. He nevertheless receives the beating, and Altisidora revives.
Cervantes says that Cide Hamete Benengeli tells how the Duke and Duchess were able to locate Don Quixote: on his way to defeat Don Quixote in the guise of the Knight of the White Moon, Sampson stopped at the Duke’s house. Sampson knew that Don Quixote and Sancho had been staying there because he had been told so by the Duke’s page, who had visited Teresa Panza to deliver Sancho’s letter. Hearing that Sampson intended to end Don Quixote’s career, the Duke and Duchess determined to have one last bit of fun and put the funeral sequence into action. Cervantes says that at this point, Benengeli declares that he considers the Duke and Duchess almost more mad than Don Quixote and Sancho for poking so much fun at such fools.
Altisidora comes into Don Quixote’s bedroom and tells him about her bizarre trip to the gates of hell. She says she saw devils playing tennis and using books—including the false sequel to Don Quixote—for balls. The devils said that this false sequel should be thrown into hell. The musician from the night before appears, and Don Quixote asks him why he used another poet’s work to describe Altisidora’s situation. The musician answers that people commonly steal one another’s literature in this age, calling the practice “poetic license.” As Don Quixote and Sancho take their leave of the Duke and Duchess, Don Quixote recommends that Altisidora perform more chores so that she will not spend her days pining away for knights who do not love her.
Don Quixote yet again suggests that Sancho whip himself, and Sancho again refuses. Don Quixote offers to pay Sancho, so Sancho goes into the woods and whips the trees so that his master will think he is whipping himself. The two then stop at an inn for the night, where Don Quixote muses about the paintings on the walls, hoping one day to be the subject of such paintings.
While at the inn, Don Quixote and Sancho encounter Don Alvaro Tarfe, whom Don Quixote recalls from the false sequel. Don Alvaro admits that the false Don Quixote was his best friend but that the Don Quixote he sees now is the real Don Quixote. Don Alvaro swears to this account before the mayor, who records it. They stay overnight in the woods, where Sancho completes his whipping, still only whipping the trees.
As Don Quixote and Sancho enter their village, they hear two boys quarreling and a hare running from greyhounds. Don Quixote takes these sounds for bad omens, but Sancho disagrees. Sancho goes home to his family, while Don Quixote finds the priest, the barber, and Sampson. He tells them about his retirement and his plan to become a shepherd. They support his plan wholeheartedly. They also plan the jokes they will play on Don Quixote, despite the protests of the niece and the housekeeper, who want only to feed Don Quixote and put him to bed.
For me alone Don Quixote was born and I for him. His was the power of action, mine of writing.
Don Quixote falls ill with a tremendous fever and lies in bed for six days, during which Sancho never leaves his side. When he wakes on the seventh day, Don Quixote has returned to sanity and recognizes that his real name is Alonso Quixano. He disavows all books of chivalry and repents his past actions. The priest, the barber, and Sampson come by and try to persuade him to pursue further adventures, especially the disenchantment of Dulcinea, but Don Quixote wants only to make his will. He leaves everything to his niece, his housekeeper, and Sancho. In his will, Don Quixote also tells his friends to ask the author of the false sequel to forgive him for providing the author with the occasion to write such nonsense. Don Quixote then dies.
Cide Hamete Benengeli mourns Don Quixote’s passing, saying that he and Don Quixote were born for each other—Don Quixote to act, Benengeli to write. He adds that his sole purpose in writing was to rouse contempt for the “fabulous and absurd stories of knight-errantry.”
Once Don Quixote renounces chivalry, he ceases to exist. After much digression on his way home, he unexpectedly has a bout of sanity and dies, as though the chivalric knight within him cannot live and breathe once he returns to a world whose values are different from his own. Don Quixote dreams for one night of being a shepherd and wakes a week later recanting everything that has come before—an act that may devalue many of the novel’s adventures. Benengeli implies this devaluation when he writes about the dubious nature of the incident at Montesinos’s Cave. Not even the apparently earnest attempts of Don Quixote’s friends to make him rise and roam the countryside as a shepherd inspire him to live.
The meeting with Don Alvaro provides Don Quixote with one last chance to assert his identity. Already in a downward spiral, Don Quixote temporarily breaks out of his funk during this meeting. He asserts his dignity and former glory by repudiating the fake Don Quixote and by forcing the best friend of the fake Don Quixote to swear allegiance to him. Though this last-ditch effort to assert his honor may seem pathetic in light of his recent defeat by the Knight of the White Moon and his plans to retire, it displays Don Quixote’s sincere nature.
The end of the novel is deeply concerned with authorship. The novel’s conclusion abounds with insults against the counterfeit sequel to the history of Don Quixote. These insults include the remarks about the musician who justifies plagiarism, the tale of the devils who throw the book into hell, and Don Alvaro’s disavowal of the counterfeit Don Quixote. Cervantes allows Benengeli to have the last word, which supports the idea that Cervantes has merely been translating Benengeli’s text all along. At the end of the novel, Cervantes clings to his legacy as the bearer of Don Quixote’s tale just as Don Quixote tries to preserve his name through Don Alvaro.
Even as Benengeli attempts to tear apart traditional chivalric texts, he elevates Don Quixote to an heroic status. Benengeli says that Don Quixote needed him to survive throughout history but adds that he needed Don Quixote in order to write. Cervantes’s purpose in writing Don Quixote is much greater than simple self-glorification, a fact Cervantes highlights by distancing himself from the final words of the text. Benengeli admits that his purpose in writing was to show that chivalric tales are ridiculous, because they deny reality and gloss over the tragedy of trying to live an ideal, romantic life in an imperfect world. Benengeli wants his historical account of Don Quixote to put to rest any remaining chivalric tales that fail to highlight the tragic elements of knight-errantry—tragic elements so evident in the character of Don Quixote. Though Don Quixote’s chivalric spirit and physical body may die, the final paragraph of the novel heightens our sympathy for Don Quixote, ensuring that he will live on with us.