The priest borrows a dress and a few other things from the innkeeper’s wife for his maiden costume, and the barber disguises himself as a squire with a fake red beard; then the priest decides such a costume is indecent and decides to switch outfits with the barber when the time comes. The next day they start to find their way back to Quixote’s hiding place, with Sancho’s help. They all decide that Sancho would go on ahead to find his master and tell him he had visited Dulcinea and brought back her kindly reply.
The priest and the barber consider themselves to be virtuous figures of authority, in perfect agreement with morality and good sense. But their behavior is manipulative and deceitful. The priest feels no moral guilt about lying to Quixote and Sancho, but he is too correct to wear a girl’s costume. With this absurdity, the author emphasizes the weakness of the priest’s moral foundation.
At some point on their way, they hear a beautiful voice singing a sad song. They walk toward it and see a man whom they recognize as Cardenio from Sancho’s story. The priest approaches him and implores him to come back to civilization. Cardenio explains that the thought of his unhappy life sometimes takes away his reason, and tells the men his life story in full – the same story he had left unfinished in his conversation with Don Quixote.
The priest wants to bring the stray sheep back to the flock, to take the two insane men, Quixote and Cardenio, and reinsert them back into the civilized world. Insanity, here, is a step back from the rule-bound world of human society, and a rejection of that society as the one true society, the best possible world.
Cardenio’s story continues where it left off. An affectionate letter from Luscinda convinced Fernando that it was time to ask for her hand in marriage, but he was afraid that his father wouldn’t give his permission before finding out Duke Ricardo’s plans. Fernando offered to speak to Cardenio’s father, meaning all the while to steal Luscinda for himself. To ensure success, he sent Cardenio back to Andalusia to borrow some money from Fernando’s brother. Before leaving, Cardenio and Luscinda spoke with certainty of their upcoming marriage, though she seemed strangely sorrowful.
Cardenio’s convoluted story makes it easy to see why he has chosen to live in the wilderness. His simple love story is convoluted at every turn by social subtleties – courtship rules, class considerations, and middle men. Love and marriage are part of a complicated game of social-climbing and money-grabbing.
Four days after Cardenio left for Andalusia, he received a letter from Luscinda, which sadly stated that Fernando has spoken to her father and has asked for and received her hand in marriage. Cardenio rode home right away and met Luscinda at her window. She was already in her wedding dress. She told him that if she couldn’t prevent the marriage she would kill herself just after the ceremony with a dagger hidden in her bodice. When it was time for the wedding, Cardenio hid himself and watched. He saw her hesitantly accept Don Fernando as her husband and then faint straightway. While was unconscious, Fernando found a note in her bodice and sat down to read it. Cardenio fled the house in despair and soon left the city, cursing Luscinda’s unfaithful nature. Three days later he reached a distant sierra and began living a life of privation and madness.
As we’ve said before, Cardenio’s story in many details resembles tragic tales of courtly love, and Cardenio’s manner of speaking is as roundabout and florid as the prose in chivalry books. The resemblance between Cardenio’s tale and Quixote’s books is important in two ways. It sends up the priest’s claim that the books are unrealistic. It also gives some credence to Quixote’s vision of the world, which does sometimes cohere with his reality.