Don Quixote continues his lecture on the superiority of knights over scholars. Everyone is impressed with his intelligence, but still no one believes that chivalry is more important than scholarship. The captive begins to tell the story of his imprisonment and rescue in Moorish lands.
The captive tells the group that he left home many years earlier after his father divided the family estate and ordered his three sons to leave home to become a soldier, a priest, and a sailor, respectively. He gives a lengthy account of the wars in which he has fought. The captive mentions that he fought alongside Don Pedro de Aguilar, Ferdinand’s brother.
The captive recounts his capture and imprisonment in Algiers. One day he was on the roof of the prison when Zoraida, who had fallen in love with him from afar, dropped some money to him from a window. Along with the money, she included a letter that said she had converted to Christianity and that offered him financial assistance to escape, free her, and bring her to Spain to be his wife. The captive used Zoraida’s money to ransom himself and some of his fellow prisoners, buy a boat, and make arrangements to free Zoraida from her father’s home.
The captive says that he snuck into Zoraida’s father’s garden to see her, told her of his plan to escape from Algiers, and finally kidnapped her. Zoraida’s father awoke while the captive was kidnapping her, so they brought the father with them on the ship and dropped him off some miles away from the city. The captive and his companions rowed for several days until French pirates robbed them of all Zoraida’s riches. Once they arrived in Spain, they determined to go to the captive’s father, baptize Zoraida, and get married.
After the captive finishes his story, a judge named Licentiate Juan Perez de Viedma arrives at the inn with his beautiful daughter, Clara. The captive realizes that the judge is his brother. The priest, after successfully testing the judge to see whether he still loves his missing brother, reunites the two. While everyone sleeps that night, a youth sings love ballads outside the inn. Cardenio creeps into the women’s room to tell them to listen.
Dorothea wakes Clara so she can hear the singing, saying it is the most beautiful singing she has ever heard. Clara reveals that the singing youth is actually a young lord who used to live with his father next door to her and the judge. Clara adds that he has followed her in disguise because he is in love with her. She and the young lord have never spoken, but she loves him and wishes to marry him. Dorothea promises to try to arrange for Clara to speak with him.
Meanwhile, Don Quixote stands guard outside the inn. The innkeeper’s daughter and her maid, Maritornes, fool him into giving them his hand through a window. They tie his hand to a door and leave him standing in his stirrups on Rocinante’s back for the night. Four horsemen arrive and mock Don Quixote as they try to enter the inn.
Don Quixote makes such a racket that the innkeeper comes out to see what is going on. The horsemen are servants to the father of Don Louis, the young lord in love with Clara. The four horsemen find Don Louis and order him to come home with them, but he refuses. The judge takes Don Louis aside and asks him why he refuses to return home. Meanwhile, two guests attempt to leave the inn without paying, and the innkeeper fights them. Don Quixote refuses to assist the innkeeper because he has sworn not to engage in any new adventures until he has slain the giant who captured Dorothea’s kingdom.
Cervantes returns to the conversation between Don Louis and the judge. Don Louis tells the judge of his love for Clara and begs for her hand in marriage. The judge says he will consider the proposal. Meanwhile, Don Quixote, through words alone, has successfully persuaded the two guests to quit beating the innkeeper. A barber—the same one from whom Don Quixote earlier steals the basin that he believes is Mambrino’s helmet—arrives at the inn. The barber accuses Don Qui-xote and Sancho of theft, but Sancho defends them by claiming that Don Quixote vanquished the barber and took the items as spoils of war.
The people at the inn play along with Don Quixote’s insistence that the basin is actually Mambrino’s helmet. A huge fight breaks out, but Don Quixote finally ends the brawl by asking the priest and the judge to calm everyone. The judge decides to bring Don Louis to Andalusia along with him and Clara, and he tells the servants about his plan. A member of the Holy Brotherhood, attracted to the scene by the outbreak of violence, realizes that he has a warrant for Don Quixote’s arrest for freeing the galley slaves. Don Quixote laughs at the man and rails about the stupidity of trying to arrest a knight-errant.
The captive’s tale and the story of Clara and Don Louis demonstrate that at least several of Don Quixote’s contemporaries share one of his most insane features—unfailing romantic idealization of women they do not even know. With the exception of Dorothea, the women in the First Part of Don Quixote are weak-willed, subservient creatures who rely on their husbands as masters. In the novel, men revere women for their beauty and their chastity, but women remain mere objects over whom men fight or drive themselves insane. Even Dorothea ingratiates and humiliates herself in order to win back Ferdinand’s affection, which seems to be little more than lust. In order to rebel, the women must dress as men and run away from home, but even then they remain frightened young maidens stranded in situations largely beyond their control. Zoraida stands out as the one seeming exception to this model, since she has the will to steal from her father in order to run away from home with the captive. As a Moor, she can step outside the bounds of the conventional roles governing the lives of Cervantes’s women, just as the character Anna Felix is able to do late in the Second Part. Nonetheless, we never hear Zoraida speak, and this muteness symbolizes her lack of power. Therefore, even though her ethnicity and religious passion make her unusual and suggest that she might serve as the model for a new kind of woman in the narrative, she remains an object and a marginalized figure.
With the story of the captive and Zoraida, Cervantes provides a largely autobiographical account of his life in captivity. Cervantes tried to escape captivity in Algiers three times before he was finally ransomed. The fanciful escape of the captive may, then, represent one of Cervantes’s fantasies. The detailed account of the war in which the captive fought is merely a soldier’s account of important historical events, nothing more. It bears no relation to the actual characters or events of the novel and therefore stands out as material related more to Cervantes’s life than to the story in progress.
Class distinctions come into sharp focus at the inn. The captive and Zoraida, who are nobles motivated only by the loftiest intentions, succeed in their crazy scheme to get back to Spain. The lower-class characters, on the other hand, become embroiled in various skirmishes. The innkeeper is forced to squabble with two guests over payment for the night’s lodgings, while Sancho and the traveling barber brawl over a harness. The wickedness of the innkeeper’s daughter contrasts sharply with the goodness of Clara, the noble judge’s daughter, highlighting the difference in their social station. Even Don Quixote preserves the standards of his day, upholding the virtues of the aristocrats and condemning the insolence of the poor. He finds Sancho’s impertinence unbearable when it seems to impinge upon his sense of nobility.