When they arrive, the innkeeper’s wife asks her pretty daughter and a servant, a strange-looking girl called Maritornes, to make up beds for the two travellers. The attic beds are paltry and uncomfortable. The girls dress the guests’ wounds as best they can. Sancho explains to them that Don Quixote is a knight errant, “someone who’s being beaten up one moment and being crowned emperor the next.” In the meantime, Maritornes makes a secret date with a muleteer guest also staying in the attic for later that night.
In Sancho’s clever and apt description, knight-errantry makes it possible for a beggar to become a king, and a king a beggar: it dashes though all social boundaries. As Quixote described earlier, knight-errantry looks backward to an imaginary paradise where all people are kind to one another, all people enjoy safety, food, and plenty, and therefore in a sense all people are equal.
Here, the author praises Benengeli for describing the sordid events that follow in such careful detail. That night, the two adventurers are kept up by their aches. Don Quixote begins to fantasize about the castle, and thinks that the innkeeper’s daughter is a lovely princess that has fallen in love with him and promised to spend the night with him. Just then, Maritornes comes in looking for the muleteer. Don Quixote takes her for the lovelorn princess and takes her in his arms; all her plainness and coarseness seems to him like the most delicate beauty. He speaks to her gently and formally of her loveliness and of his fidelity to Dulcinea.
We know that, for Quixote, the boundary between imagination and reality is quite blurry. For others, this is the essence of his madness. In this episode, we see how quickly his fantasies transform into reality. As soon as he imagines that the innkeeper’s daughter is a princess who loves him, his reality changes, and a lovesick princess appears.
The girl tries to break away, but Don Quixote hangs on to her. The muleteer angrily begins to pummel the knight and walk all over him, assuming that he’s trying to steal his date. Soon everyone is pummeling everyone in the dark, after the innkeeper’s lamp goes out. Finally everyone just returns to bed.
Once again, Quixote is punished harshly for his romantic misconceptions, for his seemingly harmless dream life. People do not take kindly to his imaginings, perhaps because they resent any challenge to their version of reality.