Sancho shows the Duchess a letter he wrote to his wife to tell her about his governorship. The Duchess shows the letter to the Duke over lunch. After lunch, to the sound of beating drums, a man appears, announces himself as Trifaldin of the White Beard, and requests that the Duke hear the plight of his maidservant. The Duke says he has heard about her misfortunes before and encourages her to come in.
Given his difficult history with the maidservants, Sancho fears that they will interfere with his governorship. Doña Rodriguez defends her profession and derides squires like Sancho. The Duke tells them to listen to Trifaldin’s maidservant, who is hereafter referred to as the Countess.
Cervantes says that Cide Hamete Benengeli briefly explains that the Countess Trifaldi’s name—which means “the countess with the three skirts”—derives from her dress. Benengeli tells how she arrives accompanied by a dozen maids, all wearing black opaque veils. The Countess throws herself down before Don Quixote and begs his assistance, which he promises her. The Countess says she helped a knight at her king’s court to gain access to the princess, whom she served as a maid. As a result, the princess got pregnant and had to marry the knight.
The Countess says that the princess’s indiscretion so shocked her mother, the queen, that her mother died three days later. To punish the princess and the knight, the giant Malambruno turned the princess into a brass monkey and the knight into a metal crocodile on the queen’s grave. Malambruno also posted a metal post between them with a note indicating that only Don Quixote can save them from their fate. Finally, in return for the Countess’s treachery, Malambruno gave her and all the other maids beards that cannot be removed.
Don Quixote swears to avenge the Countess and the princess. The Countess tells him that the giant will send a flying wooden horse named Clavileño the Swift and that Don Quixote must fly on this horse to journey to her country that night to fight the giant. Sancho dislikes the idea of flying anywhere on a wooden horse, but the Duchess convinces him that he must go with his master.
Now that I’ve to be sitting on a bare board, does your worship want me to flay my bum?See Important Quotations Explained
As the group waits in the garden, savages appear with a large wooden horse, which they deliver to Don Quixote with instructions that he blindfold himself and Sancho for the journey. Don Quixote pulls Sancho aside and asks him to whip himself a few hundred times to get started on the disenchantment of Dulcinea. Sancho, who dislikes the idea of riding on the back of a wooden saddle, refuses to whip himself.
The blindfolded Don Quixote and Sancho mount Clavileño the Swift and prepare to set off. At the last moment, Don Quixote, remembering the story of the Trojan horse, wants to check Clavileño’s belly, but the Countess persuades him not to. Don Quixote turns a peg in Clavileño’s forehead and they set off. The others blow wind in Don Quixote’s and Sancho’s blindfolded faces and bring fire near their heads to convince them that they are flying through the air and approaching the region of fire. The group then sets off firecrackers in Clavileño’s belly, and the horse blows up, dumping Don Quixote and Sancho on the ground.
Upon waking, Don Quixote discovers that he and Sancho are still in the garden. Everyone else has fainted and lies on the ground nearby. They find a note on parchment paper saying that merely by attempting this feat, Don Quixote has accomplished it. The Countess has gone, and the Duchess and Duke tell them that she has embarked for home, happily beardless. Sancho tells the Duchess that he peeked as they flew and saw the earth no bigger than a mustard seed and that he played with the goats in heaven. Don Quixote says that since they could not have passed through the region of fire without being burned up, Sancho must be either lying about the goats or dreaming. But afterward, Don Quixote whispers in Sancho’s ear that he will believe his story about the goats of heaven if Sancho will believe his story about Montesinos’s Cave.
Analysis: Chapters XXXVI–XLI
In these chapters, Sancho’s appealing simplicity contrasts with the distasteful actions of the Duke and Duchess. The incident with the Countess centers on Sancho’s desire to be taken seriously. Overwhelmed by the opinions operating against him, by the desire for a governorship, and by his loyalty to Don Quixote, Sancho decides to brave the heights of heaven on a wooden horse to free others from their enchantments. Despite his unwillingness to whip himself, his courage makes him one of the novel’s most sympathetic characters. We cannot tell whether Sancho is lying or dreaming when he tells the story about the goats of heaven, but, regardless, his story indicates his simple desire to live within the fantasy and receive his governorship. It is his simplicity—not an evil greediness—that motivates Sancho, which later makes his resigned attitude after the failure of his governorship touching.
Cervantes’s sarcastic praise of Benengeli typifies his sarcastic praise of Don Quixote. Exalting over Benengeli’s detail, Cervantes uses melodramatic phrases such as “O most renowned author!” which, in their sarcasm, imply a critical tone. Acting as both critic and author, Cervantes helps shape our experience of his work by interjecting editorial remarks and comments about the translation. He gives us two lenses through which to view his characters’ actions—the lens of his characters’ reactions and the lens of his own reactions. In so doing, he provides us with double vision—not just of the novel’s factual and fictional elements but also of the work’s quality. Cervantes can exalt Benengeli’s descriptive ability at the times that his own descriptive ability is at its best. Cervantes excuses his own flights of fancy—as with the account of Montesinos’s Cave—by allowing Benengeli to say that the manuscript from which he is working is dubious. This self-criticism contributes to the novel’s ironic feel and self-referential tone.
Despite his occasional parodies of writers, in this section Cervantes completes his transition from a self-described historian into a masterful storyteller. We see his change in attitude in his choice of what to emphasize and what to downplay. In the First Part of the novel, Cervantes inserts chapter breaks whenever the characters sleep, and each chapter comprises a single encounter or a series of related encounters. Here, in shorter chapters, Cervantes inserts breaks according to the emotions in the scene. Whereas in the First Part he consistently ends each section with an explicit indication that some speech or incident will be finished in the next chapter, here he makes much less use of such guiding statements. Instead, he allows us to hear more frequently what the characters—both the main characters and the incidental ones—think about the events of the novel. In the Second Part, the main characters—especially Sancho—clearly develop, but even inconsequential characters such as Doña Rodriguez have rich personalities. In essence, the Second Part reads like a traditional novel, rather than a parody of stilted chivalric tales.