The novel’s tragicomic hero. Don Quixote’s main quest in life is to revive knight-errantry in a world devoid of chivalric virtues and values. He believes only what he chooses to believe and sees the world very differently from most people. Honest, dignified, proud, and idealistic, he wants to save the world. As intelligent as he is mad, Don Quixote starts out as an absurd and isolated figure and ends up as a pitiable and lovable old man whose strength and wisdom have failed him.
The peasant laborer—greedy but kind, faithful but cowardly—whom Don Quixote takes as his squire. A representation of the common man, Sancho is a foil to Don Quixote and virtually every other character in the novel. His proverb-ridden peasant’s wisdom and self-sacrificing Christian behavior prove to be the novel’s most insightful and honorable worldview. He has an awestruck love for Don Quixote but grows self-confident and saucy, ending the novel by advising his master in matters of deep personal philosophy.
Don Quixote’s barn horse. Rocinante is slow but faithful, and he is as worn out as Don Quixote is.
Sancho’s donkey. Dapple’s disappearance and reappearance is the subject of much controversy both within the story and within the literary criticism concerning Don Quixote.
The fictional writer of Moorish decent from whose manuscripts Cervantes supposedly translates the novel. Cervantes uses the figure of Benengeli to comment on the ideas of authorship and literature explored in the novel and to critique historians. Benengeli’s opinions, bound in his so-called historical text, show his contempt for those who write about chivalry falsely and with embellishment.
The unseen force driving all of Don Quixote’s adventures. Dulcinea, a peasant woman whom Don Quixote envisions as his ladylove, has no knowledge of his chivalric dedication to her. Though constantly mentioned and centrally important to the novel, she never appears as a physical character.
The supposed translator of Benengeli’s historical novel, who interjects his opinions into the novel at key times. Cervantes intentionally creates the impression that he did not invent the character of Don Quixote. Like Benengeli, Cervantes is not physically present but is a character nonetheless. In his prologues, dedications, and invention of Benengeli, Cervantes enhances the self-referential nature of the novel and forces us to think about literature’s purpose and limitations.
The cruel and haughty contrivers of the adventures that occupy Don Quixote for the majority of the novel’s Second Part. Bored and snobby, the Duke and Duchess feign interest in Don Quixote and Sancho but continually play pranks on them for their personal entertainment. The Duke and Duchess spend so much money and effort on their ploys that they seem as mad as Don Quixote.
The Duchess’s bratty maid. Altisidora pretends to love Don Quixote, mocking his concept of romantic love.
A sarcastic student from Don Quixote’s village. Sampson mocks Don Quixote at first but loses to him in combat and then dedicates himself to revenge. Self-important and stuffy, Sampson fails to grasp the often playful nature of Don Quixote’s madness.
A friend of Don Quixote’s. The priest disapproves of fictional books that, in his opinion, negatively influence society. Nonetheless, he enjoys tales of chivalry so much that he cannot throw them away. Moreover, despite his social conscience, he enjoys Don Quixote’s madness at times.
Don Quixote’s friend who recognizes Quixote’s madness but intervenes only to help the priest carry out his plans. The barber strenuously disapproves of Don Quixote’s chivalry.
Sancho’s good-hearted wife. Teresa speaks in proverbs, exhibiting more wisdom than most other characters. Unambitious but a bit greedy, she endures Sancho’s exploits and supports him with her prayers.
An honorable man who is driven mad by the infidelities of his wife, Lucinda, and the treachery of a duke, Ferdinand. Cardenio is the quintessential romantic lover.
Cardenio’s wife. Silent and beautiful, Lucinda is a model of the courtly woman. Docile and innocent, she obliges her parents and her lover.
An arrogant young duke who steals Lucinda from Cardenio with no remorse.
Ferdinand’s faithful and persistent love. Dorothea flouts tradition to hunt down Ferdinand when he takes her chastity but refuses to marry her. Deceptive and cunning, smart and aggressive, Dorothea is not the typical female character of her time.
A fictitious maidservant in distress who is impersonated by the Duke’s steward. The countess’s sob story sends Don Quixote and Sancho off on their expedition on the wooden horse. She is more ridiculous and fantastic than anyone except Don Quixote.
An ungrateful galley slave whom Don Quixote frees. Gines appears mostly for comic relief, but his justifications for his crimes force us to be more critical of Don Quixote’s justifications for his crimes.
A chivalrous bandit. Inherently conflicted, Roque believes in justice and generosity but kills an underling who challenges him for being so generous to others.