Equipped with their costumes, the priest and the barber set out with Sancho to find Don Quixote and lure him home again. Sancho relates to them the saga of his adventures as they journey. When they arrive, Sancho goes on ahead, planning to tell Don Quixote that he has seen Dulcinea, that he has given her his letter, and that she begs for Don Quixote to come home to her. If Don Quixote still refuses to come home, the priest and the barber will go ahead with their plan to pretend to be a damsel in distress who seeks his assistance.
While waiting for Sancho to return, the priest and the barber encounter Cardenio, who tells them his story, this time including the conclusion that he failed to recount to Don Quixote. Cardenio explains that Ferdinand, while visiting Cardenio’s house, found a letter from Lucinda and was so taken with her that he devised a plan to win her for himself. Ferdinand sent Cardenio back to the Duke’s house and proposed to Lucinda. While at the Duke’s house, Cardenio received a letter from Lucinda begging him to come home because Ferdinand had proposed, her greedy parents had accepted, and she felt that she would soon kill herself. Cardenio rushed home just in time to see the wedding take place. Despite her words, Lucinda did not kill herself but instead accepted Ferdinand as her husband. Cardenio rushed away from the wedding and went out into the wilderness, driven mad with grief and hatred. Cervantes interrupts to say that the end of Cardenio’s story marks the end of the third part of the history by Cide Hamete Benengeli.
Before returning to the narration, Cervantes says that Don Quixote’s era is lucky that Don Quixote has brought back knight-errantry. Back in the story, the priest, the barber, and Cardenio meet a young woman named Dorothea, whom they initially take for a man because she is wearing a man’s clothes. Dorothea tells her tragic story. The incredibly beautiful daughter of a wealthy farmer, she happened to attract the attention of the son of her father’s master. The son wooed her persistently, but she resisted until one day when he appeared in her bedroom by trickery and swore to marry her. She succumbed to him because she was afraid he would rape her if she did not. He left town and abandoned her. Dorothea chased him in hopes of enforcing his pledge to marry her but discovered that he had already married someone else in a nearby town. She then relates the circumstances of that marriage, revealing that the son who falsely proposed to her was Ferdinand, the Duke’s son, and that his new bride in the nearby town was Lucinda. Dorothea tells them she then ran off into the wilderness out of shame.
Cardenio is thrilled to learn from Dorothea that when Lucinda fainted, Ferdinand found a letter on her that revealed her love for Cardenio. Cardenio vows to help Dorothea avenge the wrong Ferdinand has done to her. Dorothea offers to play the distressed damsel in the plot to lure Don Quixote home. Sancho returns with news that Don Quixote refuses to return to Dulcinea until he has won honor through penance.
The priest tells Sancho that Dorothea is Princess Micomicona, who is seeking Don Quixote’s help to redress a wrong a giant has done her. Sancho, the costumed Dorothea, and the barber, wearing a fake beard, find Don Quixote. In high poetic style, Dorothea beseeches Don Quixote to slay a giant who has taken over her kingdom. Don Quixote promises to follow her and not engage in any other adventures along the way. Sancho is pleased, believing he will now get his governorship. The priest and Cardenio overtake the party on the road. The priest greets Don Quixote, who recognizes neither the priest nor Cardenio. The priest tells Don Quixote that freed galley slaves have mugged him and the barber.
Dorothea weaves a story about the giant who has attacked her kingdom. She slips up several times during the story, even forgetting the name the priest has given her, and the priest has to interject to prevent her from revealing their ploy. Dorothea says she will marry Don Quixote after he vanquishes the giant, but Don Quixote refuses because he loves Dulcinea. His refusal upsets Sancho, who insults Dulcinea. Don Quixote beats Sancho. Just then, Gines de Pasamonte reappears with Sancho’s donkey and flees on foot. Cardenio and Dorothea discuss Don Quixote’s madness, and Cardenio remarks that Don Quixote is so crazy that he is sure no author could have invented him.
Don Quixote pulls Sancho aside and begs him to tell about his visit to Dulcinea. Sancho makes up a story, saying that Dulcinea was at work and did not have the time or ability to read Don Quixote’s letter. As they ride along, the young boy whom Don Quixote tried to save from his master in Chapter IV appears, reviling Don Quixote for stupidly accepting his master’s word and leaving him to a worse beating. Don Quixote swears that he will reap vengeance on the young shepherd’s master, but the young shepherd tells Don Quixote not to interfere in the future, fearing that he would only make matters worse.
Don Quixote’s madness begins to impose itself on other characters with the scheme the priest concocts to lure Don Quixote home. Though Don Quixote’s madness is his own invention, his refusal to break out of it forces the others to participate in it if they wish to engage him. This madness and play-acting intensifies in these chapters, especially when everyone in the company is forced to adhere to Dorothea’s story to prevent the trickery from being revealed. The group’s constant playacting makes the fictional details of their stories into imitations of reality and makes reality an imitation of their stories. Dorothea’s story about the giant, for instance, closely resembles her own plight: the real-life Ferdinand has run off with her virginity just as the fictional giant has supposedly run off with her kingdom. Dorothea is, in fact, quite similar to the princess-in-exile she pretends to be in the trick: like the character she plays, she cannot return home out of shame.
Amid this blurring between fiction and reality, Sancho’s character stands out as the mediator between madness and sanity. Unlike the others, each of whom is either entirely mad or entirely sane, Sancho straddles the line between the real world and the fictional world. He sometimes sees the truth, but sometimes falls for trickery. Seemingly half-conscious of what is going on around him, Sancho can be deceived into believing that Dorothea is really a princess but can just as easily deceive Don Quixote into believing that he has gone to see Dulcinea. Sancho’s perspective proves important in the novel because through him we can judge Don Quixote’s madness more fairly. We recognize the complexity of Don Quixote’s madness when we see Sancho get carried away by it even when he seems to recognize it for what it is.
Ironically, Dorothea makes mistakes in her fictional story in the same chapter in which Dapple reappears even though he is supposedly already present. Cohen and others conclude that this inconsistency concerning Dapple indicates nothing more than an oversight on the part of Cervantes, a failure to edit the text fully before sending it to publication. Cohen suggests that if the error were unintentional, it might indicate that Cervantes intended the story be told orally, and so such small details would be more likely to pass unnoticed. But one can argue that if the error was unintentional, Cervantes tried to make it seem intentional when he published the second half of the novel a decade later. At the beginning of the Second Part, the characters actually discuss the First Part and conclude that its inconsistencies concerning Dapple can be corrected in a second printing of novels. This discussion highlights the fictitious nature of the novel, fitting in with the idea that literature is unable to tell the whole truth.