An avid and passionate reader of chivalric romances, Don Quixote decides that for the sake of his own glory and the common good, he must set out in search of adventures as a knight-errant. He sets for himself an objective no lower than to "redress grievances, right wrongs and repair injustices." "The ballet primarily focuses on a humorous love story taken from the novel by Cervantes: the tale of Kitri and Basil, who – despite all adversity – live happily ever after through the intervention of Don Quixote."
Don Quixote was the first of a number of jointly crafted ballets that resulted from the collaboration between Marius Petipa and Ludwig Minkus.
Don Quixote, a habitual reader of chivalric romances, sets off into the world in order to perform feats that will bring glory to his name. To serve as his squire, he chooses Sancho Panza, a man of sober outlook who is not prone to flights of fancy.
Barcelona is alive with festivity. Kitri, daughter of the innkeeper Lorenzo, is flirting with Basil, the barber. Although Basil is in love with Kitri, Lorenzo considers the barber an unsuitable match for his daughter and chases him away, hoping instead to have Kitri marry Gamache, a rich nobleman. Kitri refuses outright to submit to her father’s will.
At the height of the merriment, Don Quixote appears in the square, accompanied by his squire, Sancho Panza. Catching sight of the innkeeper, Don Quixote mistakes him for the lord of a castle and greets him with great respect. Lorenzo responds in a similar manner and invites Don Quixote into the inn. Sancho Panza remains in the square. When some young people start to mock Sancho, Don Quixote immediately hurries to his squire’s defence
Seeing Kitri, Don Quixote mistakes her for the beautiful Dulcinea, whom he has seen in his dreams and chosen as “the lady of his heart”. But Kitri disappears. She has run off with Basil. Lorenzo, Gamache, and Don Quixote set out to look for her.
Kitri and Basil are hiding in a tavern, where they are discovered by Lorenzo, Gamache, and Don Quixote. Lorenzo wishes to make an immediate announcement of the betrothal of Kitri to Gamache, but Basil, by agreement with Kitri, pretends to commit suicide. Kitri sobs over the body of her sweetheart. Don Quixote, overcоme by noble indignation, accuses Lorenzo of heartlessness and, threatening him with his sword, forces him to agree to his daughter’s marriage to the "deceased" barber. Basil jumps to his feet — having achieved his aim, there is no longer any point in pretending to be dead.
By the windmills, there is a Gypsy encampment and a travelling puppet theatre. Don Quixote and Sancho soon appear on the scene. The owner of the puppet theatre invites Don Quixote to watch a show. Don Quixote follows the performance with rapt attention and, forgetting it is only theatre, rushes on to the stage, sword in hand, to defend those who need his protection. He smashes the stage, evicts the puppets and, catching sight of the windmill, mistakes it for the evil magician, whom he must defeat. Grabbing one of the mill's sails, he is first lifted into the air before falling to the ground.
The injured Don Quixote and Sancho Panza find themselves in a forest. To Don Quixote, the forest seems to be full of monsters and giants. Sancho Panza puts Don Quixote to bed, while he himself runs off to get some water. In his dreams, Don Quixote sees Dulcinea, “the lady of his heart”, surrounded by Amor and dryads. Sancho Panza comes back with the duke and duchess, who have been hunting in the forest. He begs them to help Don Quixote. The duke and duchess invite the wandering knight to visit them in their castle.
The duke’s castle. Everything has been made ready to receive Don Quixote. Having heard from Sancho Panza the happy story of Kitri and Basil’s love, the duke and duchess have kindly agreed to allow the young couple to hold their wedding celebration in the castle. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are invited to occupy the seats of honour. A solemn procession files past. Don Quixote blesses Kitri, whom he helped to unite with her beloved Basil. The festivities continue. All thank the valiant knight and his faithful squire.