The Knight of the Forest tells Quixote that he is in love with a woman named Casildea de Vandalia, who has asked him to perform a seemingly endless chain of dangerous quests. Most recently, she has asked him to travel through Spain and force all the knights of the country to admit that Casildea is the most beautiful woman in the world. He’s especially proud to have defeated the famous Don Quixote. Don Quixote is outraged at this falsehood, and suggests that it was perhaps not Quixote himself but a lookalike, since he himself is the famous knight from La Mancha. To settle the question, they decide to battle when morning comes; the winner of the battle will be able to do what he likes with the loser.
In this scene, Quixote must face two doubles. There is the mysterious Knight of the Forest, who travels the country defending his beloved’s beauty just as Quixote travels defending Dulcinea’s beauty. There is also the imagined Quixote that the knight claims to have defeated. These doubles, which play-act at being Quixote, suggest that Quixote’s own life might be an act.
Just before dawn, they wake up their squires and tell them to get ready for the battle. When it becomes light, Sancho notices that the Squire of the Forest has an enormous, hideous purple nose and climbs a tree in fear. The Knight of the Forest is wearing a visor and a gold cape covered with shiny moons, so he is renamed Knight of the Spangles. They back up and charge at one another; Don Quixote’s horse is faster, so Quixote throws the Knight of the Spangles to the ground. He takes off the knight’s helmet to make sure he survived the fall and discovers that the mysterious knight is Sansón Carrasco. The Squire of the Forest runs up to them, without the horrible nose, and asks them not to hurt the young graduate. Sancho recognizes the squire – it’s a neighbor of his from the village named Tomé Cecial. The Knight of the Spangles admits Dulcinea’s beauty and he and his squire limp away. Quixote and Sancho, though, remain convinced that the two men are enemies disguised by enchanters.
At night the two strangers seemed interesting and mysterious, but in daylight they look like actors with all their props on display. The shiny moons are like the false-gold trinkets of the actors. After the battle, it turns out that they really are actors, playing at being a knight and a squire. Yet Sancho and Quixote are unwilling to believe that the strangers are really friends of theirs from the village. They have placed their faith in knight-errantry, and they need to believe that the first exciting adventure of their third sally is real, not make-believe. Once again, enchanters fill the gap between how life should be and how life really is.