The plot: The Alchemist

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Read a transcript of Polly Findlay's synopsis of The Alchemist


In the Beginning 

Alonso Quixana’s passion for books about romance and chivalry has begun to get out of hand. One day, whilst with his friends, the village Barber and the Priest, Alonso decides to rename himself Don Quixote de la Mancha and vows to undertake a quest to fight against the degenerate nature of the modern world and restore the age of Chivalry to Spain.

He invents a lady named Dulcinea del Toboso for whom he will fulfil great deeds and fight injustice. Dressed in a jumble of ancient armour and mounted on a shambolic horse, whom he names Rosinante, he sets off on his quest watched with a mixture of horror, envy and amusement by his household and village.

On his first adventure Don Quixote mistakes an inn for a castle and insists that the Innkeeper dubs him a Knight. The Innkeeper suggests he needs a squire to assist him and sets up a sham ceremony to knight him and get him on his way. Delighted with his new title of Knight Errant, Don Quixote challenges a group of Merchants to admit that Dulcinea del Toboso is the most beautiful woman in the world. After they refuse he attacks them only to fall from Rosinante, ending his first adventure abruptly. 

Once home he is tended by his niece while the Priest, Barber and his housekeeper burn all his books and brick up his library in an effort to remove the source of his madness. Don Quixote persuades Sancho Panza to go out on a second adventure with him as his squire. He suggests that Sancho might be rewarded with his own island to govern. Against the wishes and hopes of their family and friends the two set off on Rosinante and Sancho’s donkey, Dapple.

His Adventure 

Don Quixote travels through Spain fighting giants, saving damsels and restoring justice according to the rules of chivalry. However in reality Sancho sees windmills instead of giants, monks instead of ravishers and sheep instead of armies. They stumble across the funeral of a young man, Chrysostom, who has died of a broken heart. Don Quixote defends Marcela, the object of Chrysostom’s unrequited love and ponders on the meaning and cruelty of beauty. Following an incident with the aforementioned flock of sheep, Don Quixote resolves to test his lady Dulcinea’s love by pretending to go mad. He insists Sancho Panza delivers a letter to her to this effect. At this point, having set out resolved to bring their friend safely back home, the Priest and Barber intervene. They capture Don Quixote and return him to his home.

Recovering from his adventures, Don Quixote learns from a young local man, Samson Carrasco, that his adventures have been published and widely read. Reinvigorated by their fame, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza set out on a new adventure to find Dulcinea in Toboso and find out what she thought of the letter. On the way to Toboso they meet a fearsome company led by the Devil. Sancho Panza is able to convince his master of the truth- that they are actors on their way to perform in the next town.

Sancho, having been unable to deliver Don Quixote’s letter to Dulcinea because she does not exist, finds himself in a tricky situation. He stalls Don Quixote at the gates of Toboso and tricks him into believing a peasant girl is Dulcinea. Don Quixote assumes that Dulcinea has been enchanted by a wizard to look like a peasant and vows to release her.

At this point, dressed as a knight errant, Samson Carrasco re-enters the story. Amused by the possibilities of featuring in the sequel to the first book of Don Quixote’s adventures, and intent on defeating Don Quixote and bringing him safely home, Samson provokes Don Quixote into challenging him to a duel. Much to his astonishment, Samson is defeated by Don Quixote and vows to avenge himself.

After an extraordinary encounter with a lion, Don Quixote and Sancho are invited to the palace of a Duke and Duchess who, having read book one of Don Quixote’s adventures, play an increasingly cruel series of tricks on the famous knight and his squire for their own amusement. The pair are asked to ride on a flying horse blindfolded.  Persuaded by the promise that a trip on the horse will release Dulcinea from her enchantment, Don Quixote and Sancho agree. To the whole court’s amusement, the horse never takes flight.  As a reward, Sancho receives an island to govern from the Duke, Dulcinea is released from her enchantment and Don Quixote and Sancho go their separate ways.

Whilst in charge of his Island Sancho realises that he was not born to be a governor and was happier as a squire with Dapple, accompanying Don Quixote on their adventures despite the hardship it entails. Meanwhile Don Quixote is becoming increasingly aware that all is not as it seems at the Duke and Duchess’s palace. His chastity is challenged by a young woman, Altisidora and his room invaded by a terrifying clowder of cats. He decides to leave and he and Sancho are reunited.

The final trick played by the Duke and Duchess is to pretend that Altisidora, heartbroken by Don Quixote’s refusal to love her, has killed herself. They stage a funeral in the forest for Don Quixote and Sancho to witness and then Altisidora, leaping up from her grave, mocks him for believing she could love such a man.


Tired and disillusioned, Don Quixote reflects again on the cruelty of beauty. It is here that Samson Carrasco once again appears dressed as another knight and challenges Don Quixote to a duel. He makes Don Quixote promise that should he lose, he must return home and cease his quest. Don Quixote is defeated and returns home with Sancho where he renounces his quest and takes his final bow.