Quixote replies with barely restrained rage that churchmen that have seen nothing of the world have no right to cruelly reproach people or to dictate to others how to live their lives. It is neither sinful nor senseless to wander the world helping people, which is always his intention. The angry priest asks Sancho whether he is the squire that was promised an island, and Sancho answers defensively in the affirmative. On impulse, the Duke promises to give him an island in Don Quixote’s name, and the priest storms out.
We have every reason to believe that, for fifty years, Quixote himself lived a bookish, provincial life like the priest. He then set out to travel the world as a knight so that he might learn about the world as it really is. Perhaps, to some extent, he expected the world to change him.
The Duke compliments Quixote on his speech, and the knight explains that he doesn’t need to seek revenge, because the priest offended but did not affront him: children, women, and church people can offend but not affront. After the meal is finished, four servant girls come in carrying fine silver pots and towels and wash Quixote’s beard, as a prank. They also take Sancho away to be washed, at his request.
Quixote is learning to follow his own advice about fighting and vengefulness. Earlier in the book, anyone who even hinted something insulting about Quixote, knights, or Dulcinea was in for a beating. Though Quixote’s confidence seems to be on the decline, he is acquiring a more stable sense of himself.
The Duchess asks Quixote to describe Dulcinea’s beauty, but Quixote explains that he can only remember her in her distorted, enchanted state. The Duchess says that the history led her to believe that he had never seen Dulcinea, and that she does not really exist. Quixote answers evasively that only god knows whether Dulcinea exists, but that he himself certainly did not invent her, and that he imagines her as possessing all the feminine perfections that a lady should have. The Duke suggests that if she does exist, she is not of noble origin, and Quixote replies that Dulcinea has the qualities of a queen, which is more important than her lineage.
Quixote betrays some tragic doubts about Dulcinea. For one thing, he admits that she has dimmed somewhat in his mind. He also says something truly mysterious. Dulcinea might not be real, but he did not invent her: Dulcinea might not exist in the world, but she does not exist solely in his imagination. Where does she exist, then, if not in the world nor in his imagination? She is transitioning, fading.
The Duchess assures Quixote that she believes that Dulcinea is real, but she wonders why Sancho found her sieving buckwheat – not a very noble occupation. Quixote answers that he believes that he has become immune to enchantment, and that the enchanters harm him by enchanting others close to him, like the beautiful Dulcinea. Suddenly a pack of maids and servants run in carrying a trough of filthy water. They are chasing Sancho, who refused to be washed in dirt. The Duchess sends them away. Quixote leaves to take a nap and Sancho spends the afternoon talking to the Duchess.
Earlier, Quixote always said that enchanters had transformed things and people in his mind’s eye. But here, he wonders whether Dulcinea is enchanted not in his eyes but in reality. Perhaps he feels the enchantment wearing off – the bright, confident insanity that made him see things so differently. He can’t quite trust himself anymore to be the bearer of enchantment.