Alonso Quixano declares himself to be Don Quixote and, dressed in an old suit of armor and riding a feeble nag called Rocinante, secretly leaves the home that he shares with his niece and housekeeper. After riding all day, he stops at an inn, which he imagines to be a castle, and there has the innkeeper perform a ridiculous ceremony that, in Don Quixote’s mind, makes him a knight. Now he will be able to begin the work of knight errantry, serving his state by redressing wrongs and by participating in fabulous adventures that will bring him honor and fame. All his exploits he will dedicate to the lady of his fancies, Dulcinea del Toboso, a person loosely identified with Aldonza Lorenzo, a farm girl whom Don Quixote had admired at one time.
In Don Quixote’s first opportunity to perform a good deed, he interrupts the beating of a young boy, Andrew, by his master, Juan Haldudo. Proud of his accomplishment, Don Quixote departs without realizing that his intervention later causes Andrew to suffer even more severely at the hands of his master. Following another adventure, Don Quixote is discovered badly beaten by a neighbor, who brings him home. While Don Quixote is recuperating, his niece and housekeeper, along with his friends, the village priest and the barber, burn the books of chivalry that have produced Don Quixote’s madness, hoping thus to effect a cure.
Don Quixote recovers and entices his friend Sancho Panza to join him on a second journey in search of adventure by promising to make Sancho governor of some island that Don Quixote expects to win in the practice of knight errantry. In their first adventure together, the two men hold boldly contrasting points of view. Don Quixote sees what he believes are a number of giants whom he must attack, while Sancho sees the objects for the windmills that they really are. Thus begins a series of encounters until finally Don Quixote is brought home again through the efforts of the priest and barber at the end of part 1.
In part 2, Don Quixote and Sancho depart once more after hearing that a book has been written about them. Now, because of their long association, there is a lesser contrast in the manner in which they view the numerous adventures that they experience on their second journey together. Meanwhile, Sampson Carrasco, a student from Don Quixote’s village, believes that the only way to cure Don Quixote’s madness and to keep him at home is to do so according to the laws of chivalry. Disguising himself as a knight errant, Sampson follows Don Quixote and challenges him to fight. Following an initial failure, Sampson finally defeats Don Quixote in Barcelona and makes him promise to return home and abandon knight errantry for a year. After returning home, Don Quixote falls asleep ill, awakens, calls himself cured of his madness, renounces his career as a knight errant, and calmly dies.