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.
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.
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.