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Free Barron's Booknotes-Don Quixote by Migel de Cervantes-Free Book Notes
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THE NOVEL

THE PLOT - SHORT SUMMARY (SYNOPSIS)

Don Quixote is a very long novel, but its basic plot is fairly simple. A certain middle-aged gentleman named Alonso Quixano has read so many romantic stories about the knights of the Middle Ages that he goes out of his mind and imagines that he really is a knight. He also imagines that he is in love with a princess named Dulcinea-in reality a local girl who has never paid any attention to him. Changing his name to Don Quixote de la Mancha, he puts on a rusty old suit of armor and sets forth in search of adventure. At a certain inn, which he mistakes for a castle, Don Quixote asks the innkeeper to officially dub him a knight. The innkeeper agrees-just to humor his crazy guest. Later, after mistaking a group of merchants for knights, the Don challenges them to fight and ends up much the worse for wear. A passing neighbor takes him home, where his niece, his housekeeper, and two friends-the local priest and a barber named Nicholas-burn his books in an attempt to shock him back into sanity.

Don Quixote is still determined to seek adventure. He convinces a local workingman, Sancho Panza, to accompany him as his "squire." Don Quixote's mad delusions get him and Sancho into many scrapes. He mistakes a group of windmills for giants. He takes a funeral procession for ghosts. He even "captures" a brass bowl, which he believes is a valuable helmet. Finally, he meets a young man, Cardenio, who has been driven out of his wits by an unhappy love affair. The Don decides that he will become a hermit, like his new friend.

In the meantime, Don Quixote's friends-the priest and the barber-have devised a plan to lure him back home. They get a girl named Dorothea to pretend to be the Princess Micomicona. In this disguise, Dorothea begs Don Quixote to follow her back to her kingdom and kill an ogre who has usurped her late father's throne. The Don, his friends, Cardenio, and Dorothea all travel together until they reach the same inn where the Don was "knighted." Here Cardenio and Dorothea are reunited with their lost loves, Lucinda and Don Ferdinand.


The priest now decides that the only way to get Don Quixote back home is to take him there in a cage. He even manages to convince Don Quixote that the cage is a test of his courage, and that once he passes the test he will be able to marry his imaginary love, the divine Dulcinea. But when Sancho lets Don Quixote out of the cage at a rest stop, the Don gets into more trouble. Finally, he attacks a religious procession because he believes the marchers are kidnappers. After this, the Don at last allows himself to be taken back to his native village.

In Part II of the novel, you discover that six weeks of bed rest have not cured Don Quixote's madness. He and Sancho Panza take to the road again. First, Don Quixote wants to visit his true love, the lady Dulcinea. Sancho knows that Dulcinea is not a lady at all, just a rough farm girl. He also doesn't want Don Quixote to find out that a letter the Don wrote to Dulcinea, mentioned in Part I, was never delivered. So Sancho points out a farm girl who just happens to be riding by and convinces Don Quixote that this is his Dulcinea. Sancho tells his master that a wicked enchanter has cast a magic spell that makes Dulcinea look like a mere peasant girl. The Don believes this.

By now, the adventures that Quixote and Sancho had in Part I have been published. A university student named Sampson Carrasco who has read this book has decided to follow Quixote and Sancho. Sampson supposedly wants only to cure the poor madman, Quixote, of his delusions. In reality he is jealous of the Don's literary fame. Disguising himself as the Knight of the Mirrors, he challenges Don Quixote to single combat. If the Don loses, he will have to give up acting like a knight errant and go home. Through sheer luck, Don Quixote wins the fight.

After several more adventures, the Don and Sancho meet a Duke and Duchess who invite the travelers to be guests at their castle. The Duke and Duchess have also heard of Quixote's adventures in Part I. They think up some elaborate practical jokes to play on this make-believe knight. In one of their jokes, the Duke and Duchess manage to convince Sancho that Dulcinea really is enchanted after all. To release Dulcinea from her spell, Sancho will have to whip himself 3300 times on his bare buttocks! Sancho does his best to postpone this punishment.

Meanwhile, the Don and Sancho travel on to Barcelona. Here Sampson Carrasco catches up with them once again. This time, disguised as the Knight of the Full Moon, he manages to defeat Don Quixote. The Don has to keep his promise and give up knight errantry for an entire year.

During the journey home, Sancho pretends that he has given himself the 3300 blows. The Don cannot understand why Dulcinea does not appear in her true form! Finally, he becomes thoroughly disillusioned and is convinced that he will never see Dulcinea this side of the grave. Arriving home, he announces that he is cured of his madness. He is plain old Alonso Quixano once again. Soon after this, he dies.

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