The priest pacifies the members of the Holy Brotherhood by convincing them that Don Quixote is insane and should not be held accountable for his actions. Still under the impression that Dorothea is the Princess Micomicona, Don Quixote tells her that the time has come to continue their journey to her kingdom so that he may slay the giant. Sancho objects, telling everyone that he has seen Dorothea kissing Ferdinand and that she cannot, therefore, be a princess.
Don Quixote is infuriated by Sancho’s insolence, but Dorothea pacifies him by telling him that Sancho must have been subject to an enchantment that made him believe he saw her kissing Ferdinand. Don Quixote forgives Sancho, who says he believes that the inn must be enchanted because of all the bizarre things that have happened. Sancho adds, however, that he is still certain that the blanket-tossing he received there was an act committed by real people. Don Quixote assures Sancho that the blanket-tossing was an enchantment as well, which is why Don Quixote has not avenged it. Sancho does not believe him.
The barber and priest contrive a plan to get Don Quixote back to their village without the help of Dorothea and Ferdinand. They build a cage, capture Don Quixote, bind him, and place him in the cage on the back of an ox cart. The barber then pretends to be a sage and predicts Don Quixote’s valorous return to his village and his reunion and marriage to Dulcinea.
Don Quixote accepts the enchantment that he believes is afflicting him but wonders why he travels so slowly. He concludes that enchantments must have changed since the old days, when knights were whisked away on clouds and traveled at very high speeds. Sancho warns Don Quixote that he is not enchanted, but Don Quixote does not believe him. As the group leaves, the innkeeper gives the priest some papers from the trunk the unknown man left at the inn. The priest is anxious to read them.
On the road, the group meets another priest, a canon of Toledo, who rides with the group for a while to talk to the priest from Don Quixote’s hometown. Sancho challenges the barber, saying that he knows that the barber and the priest have taken Don Quixote captive. The barber threatens to lock Sancho in the cage too, and Sancho becomes indignant. The canon tells the priest that he considers books of chivalry to be ridiculous lies and harmful to the populace. He also berates the style of chivalric books, saying that they should all be banished. The priest says he agrees for the most part but that he is able to appreciate them.
The canon says he began writing a book of chivalry but stopped because he discovered that an author must write either good books that the crowds dislike or low-quality books that displease the critics. He then rails against the state of theater in Spain and suggests that there should be a government official to oversee decisions about which plays get produced and which do not. Sancho tells Don Quixote that the barber and the priest have been faking his enchantment out of jealousy of his great deeds. Sancho asks Don Quixote whether he needs to use the bathroom; Don Quixote replies that he does.
Sancho tells Don Quixote that since enchanted people have no bodily needs, Don Quixote’s need to use the bathroom proves that he is not enchanted. Don Quixote responds that there are new kinds of enchantment but promises nonetheless to try to free himself. When the party stops for lunch, the priest lets Don Quixote out of the cage, and he and the canon argue about chivalry. The canon marvels that Don Quixote mingles fact and fiction with no concern for the difference.
Don Quixote tells the story of the Knight of the Lake, a fantasy story of enchantment that, he claims, proves the delightful and fascinating nature of stories of knight-errantry. Don Quixote also tells the canon that since becoming a knight-errant he himself has been brave, courteous, and well-bred, enduring many adventures and enchantments.
A goatherd appears, chasing a goat that has wandered into the group’s picnic. The group is amused that the goatherd speaks to the animal. The goatherd then tells the group that he is a peasant but that he knows how to converse with both men and beasts. The priest says that he is not surprised.
The goatherd, whose name is Eugenio, tells the group that he and his friend Anselmo have been driven to the simple life of shepherds by Leandra, a beautiful, wealthy young woman from their town. Leandra ran away with an arrogant soldier who then robbed her and abandoned her in a cave in the woods. Eugenio tells the group that the woods in the area ring with sounds of the sobbing shepherds who are in love with Leandra. Leandra’s father put her in a convent in hopes that over time she would recover her honor.
The goatherd insults Don Quixote and the two of them brawl as the others cheer them on. Don Quixote then sees a group of penitents carrying an icon of the blessed Virgin Mary, on their way to pray for rain. Thinking that the penitents are rogues who have captured a lady, he attacks them and gets a beating from one of them. Sancho thinks Don Quixote has died and mourns his friend in a particularly eloquent elegy. Sancho’s words stir Don Quixote, who agrees to go home until his luck changes.
When Don Quixote and Sancho arrive home, Sancho’s wife (now called Juana), asks him what he has brought her. He puts her off, promising that he will soon be made a governor and that he has tales that will surely amuse her for now. Don Quixote’s niece and housekeeper welcome him home but worry about his madness. They fear he will disappear again, which, Cervantes tells us, he will.
Cervantes ends the narration by saying that he searched far and wide for more manuscripts about Don Quixote but that he was unable to find them until he met an aged doctor who found a leaden box in the remains of an ancient hermitage. The box contained several parchments with sonnets and epitaphs to Don Quixote, Sancho, and Dulcinea, which Cervantes reproduced. Finally, he tells us that, at great cost to himself, he has found an account of the third expedition of Don Quixote and hopes to publish it.
The priest proves to be a muddled character in this section, as we see his mixed opinion about stories of chivalry and his mixed reaction to Don Quixote’s madness. When the priest takes the manuscripts from the innkeeper to read—just as when he reads aloud Anselmo’s story and when he preserves several of the novels in Don Quixote’s library—he shows his unwillingness to purge all tales of chivalry from the world. As much as he rails against the tales as harmful to the general public, it is plain that he enjoys them. In his conversation with the canon, the priest reveals an attachment to the author’s craft that exceeds his apparent disdain for the tales’ inaccuracy. The priest’s attitude toward his friend Don Quixote is likewise inconsistent. On the one hand, he berates Don Quixote for Don Quixote’s insanity and leads the attempt to bring him home and cure him. On the other hand, however, he apparently enjoys his prank, playing along by caging Don Quixote and telling him that he is under an enchantment. The priest’s alternating attitudes reveal a human affection for books and imagination, even as he outwardly claims to reject both on intellectual grounds.
Cervantes has often been criticized for the insensitivity shown by the group that watches the fight between Don Quixote and the goatherd in Chapter LII. The cheering by the priest and the others—as though they are at a dogfight—suggests that, on a certain level, they consider Don Quixote to be no more than an animal. They first laugh at his madness and then condescend to him by playing along with the idea of the enchantment. Here, they view him as nothing more than a creature for their enjoyment, manipulating him to suit their purposes, sometimes at great physical cost to him. In this regard, the priest’s and the barber’s interest in bringing Don Quixote home safely and curing him is bizarre and inexplicable. One possibility is that the two men are acting out of concern for Don Quixote’s niece and housekeeper, who genuinely seem to care for Don Quixote.
The unfriendly motivations of those who lead Don Quixote back to his home affect Don Quixote, causing him to lose sight of his goals and ideals. At the end of the First Part, Don Quixote nearly relinquishes his chivalric ideals without replacing them with anything of equal value or passion. He appears to be deceived about his enchantment to the end, eventually conceding to go home. He explains that he will rest at home until his foul luck has passed, but he makes no mention of his vow to Dorothea or his love for Dulcinea. This listless quality is not in keeping with his characteristic stubborn insistence on formalities and vows. The end of the First Part is therefore abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying to those who appreciate Don Quixote’s spirit and passion. Nonetheless, his decline appears reasonable in light of the ill intentions and petty desires of those around him on his journey home. Sancho stands out from the others, however, as someone who continues to care about Don Quixote. Despite Sancho’s self-serving intentions, he displays an honest interest in his friend.