For not all those poets who praise ladies under names which they choose so freely, really have such mistresses.

See Important Quotations Explained

Chapter XXI

Don Quixote and Sancho see a man on a mule with something glittering on his head. The man is a barber wearing a basin on his head to protect him from the rain. But Don Quixote mistakes the man for a great knight wearing the mythic Mambrino’s helmet and vows to win the helmet from him. When the barber sees Don Quixote charging at him, the barber runs away, leaving behind his mule and basin. Sancho laughs at Don Quixote and tells him that the “helmet” is just a basin.

Don Quixote explains that the enchanted helmet must have fallen into the hands of someone who did not know its value and then melted it down, making it into a basin. He resolves to wear it in the meantime and have it made back into a helmet at the next village. When Sancho again begins to complain about the treatment he received at the inn while Don Quixote stood by idly, Don Quixote explains that Sancho’s treatment was just a joke. He adds that had it been serious, he would have returned to avenge it. Don Quixote then explains how he will win the affections of a princess by fighting for her father, the king. He says he will then marry her and make Sancho rich.

Chapter XXII

The manuscript continues, Cervantes says, with the account of Don Quixote and Sancho’s encounter with a chain gang of galley slaves. The prisoners are guarded by two armed men on foot and two armed horsemen. Sancho warns Don Quixote not to interfere with the chain gang, but Don Quixote approaches the group anyway and asks each prisoner to tell his story. Each slave makes up a story in which his criminal actions appear to be justified or even necessary. Upon seeing the men detained against their will, Don Quixote charges the officers. Anxious to be free, the prisoners join the charge. After the men gain freedom, Don Quixote commands them to present themselves to Dulcinea, which they refuse to do out of fear for their safety. Don Quixote insults them, and they attack him, running away with his and Sancho’s possessions. Freeing the galley slaves distresses Sancho, who is concerned that the Holy Brotherhood, or police, will come after them. Sancho urges Don Quixote to flee into the mountains.

Chapter XXIII

Don Quixote and Sancho ride into the woods of the Sierra Morena. Unfortunately for them, one of the galley slaves, Gines de Pasamonte, is also hiding in these woods. Gines steals Sancho’s donkey, whose name we now learn is Dapple. On the road through the mountains, Don Quixote and Sancho find a saddle and a bag containing a notebook, shirts, and money. Don Quixote gives Sancho the money, and Sancho decides that this payment makes up for all his previous troubles.

In the notebook, Don Quixote finds a poem and a love letter, which indicate that their author was spurned by his lover and driven to madness by her infidelity. Don Quixote then sees a nearly naked man hopping through the wilderness and resolves to follow him and learn his tale. Sancho opposes the idea because he wants to protect the money they have found and fears that the man might claim the money if they catch up with him. Don Quixote explains to Sancho, however, that they have no choice but to look for the naked man once they consider that the money might belong to him.

While searching for the man, Don Quixote and Sancho encounter an old goatherd who tells them the story of the naked man. A polite, rich gentleman, he appeared one day to ask the goatherds to help him locate the wildest part of the Sierra Morena. The goatherds pointed the man in a direction and he ran off. Later, he returned and assaulted one of the goatherds on the road, stealing his food. They pursued him and several days later found him in a ragged state, so they offered him food and care. The man treated them courteously at some times but rudely at others. Just as the old goatherd concludes the story, the man, whom Cervantes now calls the Ragged Knight of the Sorry Countenance, appears. Don Quixote gives him a long hug.

Chapter XXIV

The Ragged Knight of the Sorry Countenance asks Don Quixote for food and then says that he will tell his story as long as Don Quixote and the others promise not to interrupt him. His name is Cardenio, and he is a wealthy nobleman from the region of Andalusia in southern Spain. From childhood he has been madly in love with the beautiful Lucinda. The two were to be married, but Cardenio received a letter from a duke requesting Cardenio’s service as a companion to the Duke’s son Ferdinand.

Cardenio went to the Duke and met Ferdinand. Ferdinand immediately liked Cardenio and the two became friends. Ferdinand was in love with a young farmer’s daughter, but he had wooed her secretly and did not want to tell his father. To avoid his father’s wrath, Ferdinand decided that he needed to go away for a little while and forget about the farmer’s daughter. He asked to go to Cardenio’s parents’ home, under the pretext of buying some horses. There, Ferdinand met Lucinda, whom he praised as one of the great beauties of the world.

Cardenio mentions that Lucinda was a fan of chivalric books. Cardenio and Don Quixote then spar over whether a queen in one of the books mentioned had an affair with her counselor. The altercation ends Cardenio’s story and sends him into a fit of madness. He beats Sancho, the goatherd, and Don Quixote before running off into the wilderness.

Chapter XXV

As Sancho and Don Quixote ride away, Sancho becomes angry with his master for imposing a code of silence on him and for arguing inanely with Cardenio. Don Quixote retracts his order that Sancho remain silent but stands by his defense of the fictional queen. Don Quixote then tells Sancho that he will be staying alone in the Sierra Morena to do penance in order to win honor for himself. He says that he has been absent from Dulcinea for so long that he has concerns about her fidelity. Instead of returning to check up on her, he has decided that it would be more valorous to go mad imagining the slights his ladylove has committed against him.

Sancho derides his master’s plan as folly, and Don Quixote is amazed that Sancho has not yet realized that everything knights-errant do is folly. Don Quixote writes a love letter for Sancho to convey to Dulcinea and then reveals Dulcinea’s identity to him. Sancho is shocked, since he knows her to be a coarse peasant. But Don Quixote tells Sancho that many ladyloves were invented princesses whose only purpose was to inspire their knights-errant, and therefore Dulcinea is a princess if he says she is. Sancho promises to return as quickly as he can, and after watching Don Quixote take off his trousers and do a headstand to indicate his madness, he sets off on Rocinante.

Chapter XXVI

In his penance, Don Quixote decides to follow the example of the great knight Amadis, commending himself to God and praying in the name of Dulcinea. He wanders around the valley, writing verses on trees. Sancho, on his way home, encounters the priest and the barber at the inn where he was tossed in the blanket. The priest and the barber stop him and ask him what has become of Don Quixote. Sancho tells them about his master’s penance and about the letter he must deliver to Dulcinea. He explains that Don Quixote has promised to give him a governorship and a beautiful wife when Don Quixote himself becomes an emperor. The priest and the barber conclude that Sancho has gone mad and promise him in jest that Don Quixote will certainly become an emperor or at least an archbishop. This last point troubles Sancho because he fears that an archbishop would not provide him with adequate rewards. The priest and the barber then decide to go to Don Qui-xote, disguising themselves as a damsel in distress and her squire in order to trick Don Quixote into coming home again.

Analysis: Chapters XXI–XXVI

Cervantes examines the question of crime and punishment by contrasting Don Quixote’s actions with the actions of the galley slaves. Like the slaves, Don Quixote believes that his criminal actions are justified. He steals the basin from the barber, but his theft seems excusable because he is a chivalrous, well-meaning madman. Though Cervantes portrays Don Quixote’s crime as more excusable than the crimes of the galley slaves, we must nonetheless keep in mind that Don Quixote’s actions are still crimes, regardless of the fact that he commits them in the name of chivalry. This issue arises again when a priest argues that Don Quixote is insane and not, therefore, liable for his behavior. Here, when Gines de Pasamonte reappears and steals Dapple to Sancho’s great distress, Cervantes looks at crime from the victim’s perspective. Throughout the novel, the victim’s perspective—in this case Sancho’s—often gets lost amid the humorous narration of Don Quixote’s exploits.

Storytelling is central to Don Quixote. Everyone in the novel has a story, and telling these stories is a major part of the characters’ lives. The abundance of stories makes the novel’s narration less fluid. It is difficult to focus on Don Quixote’s adventures when other characters’ stories and the third-person narrator constantly interrupt us. However, these interruptions give us additional perspectives on Don Quixote’s story. Cardenio’s story, like the tale of Marcela and Chrysostom, does not relate directly to Don Quixote’s life, but it does inspire him to action. In particular, it inspires Don Quixote’s acts of penance, and this subsequent, obvious madness makes us question the heroic nature of Cardenio’s story. Though Cardenio had a valid reason for grieving, he may have, in becoming a wild man, overreacted to Lucinda’s rejection, in effect choosing his madness as much as Don Quixote chooses his.

At several points in these chapters, the translator of this particular edition, J.M. Cohen, analyzes several inconsistencies in the text. In Chapter XXII, for instance, Cohen points out that the text is inconsistent on the number of guns the guards possess. In the first description, Cervantes says there are two guns, but in the battle that follows, he accounts for only one gun. In Chapter XXIII, Cohen points out that the text is inconsistent concerning Gines’s theft of Dapple. Here, Gines steals Dapple, but later, Sancho is riding him through the mountains. Later, he again laments the loss of Dapple. Because Cervantes places so much emphasis throughout Don Quixote on the narrative layers in the story, it may be tempting to read these inconsistencies as deliberate attempts by Cervantes to remove himself even further from the narrative. It seems more likely, however, that these inconsistencies are merely unintentional errors on Cervantes’s part.