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||Miguel de Cervantes 1547-1616 - surname in full CERVANTES SAAVEDRA - nickname: Cripple of Lepanto|
Spanish novelist, playwright, and poet, the creator of Don Quixote, the most famous figure in Spanish literature. Although Cervantes' reputation rests almost entirely on his portrait of the knight of La Mancha, El ingenioso hidalgo, his literary production was considerable. William Shakespeare, Cervantes' great contemporary, had evidently read Don Quixote, but it is most unlike that Cervantes had ever heard of Shakespeare. In spite of his fame, Cervantes remained a poor man.
For if he like a madman lived,
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra lived an unsettled life of hardship and adventure. He was born in Alcalá de Henares, a small town near Madrid, into a family of the minor nobility. His mother was Leonor de Cortinas; she gave birth to seven children, Cervantes was the fourth. Rodrigo de Cervantes, his father, was an apothecary-surgeon. It has been argued that the family members were of converso origin, Jews who had converted to Christianity. Jews also appear as characters in several of Cervantes' plays and novelas.
Much of his childhood Cervantes spent moving from town to town while his father sought work. After studying in Madrid (1568-69), where his teacher was the humanist Juan López de Hoyos, he went to Rome in the service of Guilio Acquavita, who became a cardinal in 1570. In the same year Cervantes joined a Spanish regiment in Naples. He took part in the sea battle at Lepanto (1571), during which he received a wound that permanently maimed his left hand. Cervantes was extremely proud of his role in the famous victory and of the nickname he earned, el manco de Lepanto (the cripple of Lepanto). After recuperation in Messina, Sicily, he continued his military career.
In 1575 he set out with his brother Rodrigo on the galley El
Sol for Spain. The ship was captured by pirates under Arnaute Mami
and the brothers were taken to Algiers as slaves. Rodrigo was ransomed
in 1577. The Moors though that Cervantes was more valuable captive
because he had carried letters written by important persons. Cervantes
spent five years as a slave until his family could raise enough money
to pay his ransom. During this period he tried to escape several times
without success. Cervantes was released in 1580, with the payment of
500 escudos raised by his family and the Trinitarian order. He
returned to Madrid where he held several temporary, ill-paid
Cervantes' first play, Los tratos de Argel (1580), was based on his experiences as a Moorish captive. In 1584 he married 18 years younger Catalina de Salazar y Palacios, the daughter of a well-to-do peasant. The marriage was childless. He had also a daughter, Isabel de Saavedra, from an affair he had with an actress, Ana Franca de Rojas (or Ana de Villafranca). Isabel worked as a servant in the family but her way of life caused him much worries. The other members of the household included his mother and two unmarried sisters.
In the late 1580s Cervantes left his wife. During the next 20 years he led a nomadic existence, also working as a purchasing agent for the Spanish Armada and a tax collector. He suffered a bankruptcy and was imprisoned at least twice (1597 and 1602) because of fiscal irregularities. It is generally believed that Cervantes was honest, but a victim of a thankless task. For a period he was excummunicated for expropriating grain from Church stores.
Between the years 1596 and 1600 he lived primarily in Seville, and by 1604 he had moved to Valladolid, where Philip III had established his court. In 1606 Cervantes settled permanently in Madrid, where he spent the rest of his life. His economic situation remained difficult. When a nobleman, Gaspar de Ezpeleta, was mortally wounded on the street in front of Cervantes' house, and died there, Cervantes and the women in his household were jailed on suspicion of having had something to do with his death. After one Alonso Fernandez de Avellaneda published a poor sequel to Don Quixote, Cervantes answered to the challenge and produced the second part, which appeared in 1615. He died on April 23, 1616. Three days before he had finished his novel The Exploits of Persiles and Sigismunda, dedicated to the Count of Lemos.
"The truth lies in a man's dreams... perhaps in this unhappy world of ours whose madness is better than a foolish sanity."
Cervantes started his literary career in Andalusia in 1580.
Accroding to Cervantes, he wrote 20-30 plays, but only two copies have
survived. His first major work was Galatea (1585), a
pastoral romance. It received little contemporary notice and Cervantes
never wrote the continuation for it, which he repeatedly promised. He
also mentions the book in Don Quixote, where the priest says to
the barber: "His book exhibits some faculty of invention, but it
proposes things and arrives at no conclusion. In the meanwhile let us
wait for the continuation which he promises us; with better luck he may
give us something that his wretched circumstances have hitherto denied
In his play El trato de Argel, printed in 1784, Cervantes dealt with the life of Christian slaves in Algiers. He announced in the preface to Persiles that he was preparing a new play (Fooled with Open Eyes), a romance (The Famous Bernardo), a collection of novellas (Weeks in the Garden), but none of these works ever appeared. The Persiles was published posthumously. Aside from his plays, his most ambitious work in verse was Viaje del Parnaso (1614), an allegory which consists largely of a rather tedious though good-natured reviews of contemporary poets. Cervantes himself realized that he was deficient in poetic gifts. Later generations have considered him one of the world's worst poets. Novelas Ejemplares (1613, Exemplary Novels), a collection of tales, contained some of his best prose work about love, idealism, gypsy life, madmen, and talking dogs. At the time he wrote the work, the Spanish Moriscos (Muslims) were expelled from Spain.
Tradition maintains, that he wrote Don Quixote in
prison at Argamasilla in La Mancha. Cervantes' idea was to give a
picture of real life and manners and to express himself in clear
language, "in simple, honest, and well-measured words," as he stated in
the prologue to Part I of Don Quixote. The intrusion of
everyday speech into a literary context was acclaimed by the reading
public. The author stayed poor until 1605, when the first part of Don
Quixote came out. Although it did not make Cervantes rich, it
brought him international
appreciation as a man of letters.
According to a story King Philip III of Spain once saw a man
reading beside the road and laughing so much that the tears were
rolling down his cheeks. The King said: "That man is either crazy or he
is reading Don Quixote." However, Lope de Vega, the most
influential playwright at that time, slaughtered Cervantes as a poet
and novelist in a letter. A sonnet, either written by Vega or his
acolyte, contrasted the Apollo (Vega), with the Quixote, which would circle the
world, "arse to arse", as toilet paper.
Don Quixote (part I; 1605; part II 1615) - Often
called the first modern novel, originally conceived as a comic satire
against the chivalric romances. The work has been interpreted in many
ways since its appearance. It has been seen as a veiled attack on the
Catholic Church or on the contemporary Spanish politics, or symbolizing
the duality of the Spanish character. Cervantes himself had believed in
uplifting rhetoric, fought for Spain, and when he returned to Madrid
after slavery, he found out that the government ignored his services.
The English writer Ford Madox Ford stated in The March of Literature
(1938) that Cervantes did with his book to the world a disservice: "The
gentle ideal of chivalry is the one mediaeval trait which, had it
survived as an influence, might have saved our unfortunate
civilization." Another major theme is the notion of quest, in this case
not the Holy Grail, but reality. By traveling, Don Quixote is able to
overcome his madness.
Neither wholly tragedy nor wholly comedy Don Quixote
gives a panoramic view of the 17th-century Spanish society. Central
characters are the elderly, idealistic knight, who sets out on his old
horse Rosinante to seek adventure, and the materialistic squire Sancho
Panza, who accompanies his master from failure to another. Their
relationship, although they argue most fiercely, is ultimately founded
upon mutual respect. In the debates they gradually take on some of each
Before the good Knight of La Mancha dubs himself Don Quixote,
his name is Quijida or Quesada. His is a country gentleman, around
fifty. During his travels, dressed in a old, black suit of armor, Don
Quixote's overexcited imagination blinds him to reality: he thinks
windmills to be giants, flocks of sheep to be armies, and galley-slaves
to be oppressed gentlemen. Sancho is named governor of the isle of
Barataria, a mock title, and Don Quixote is bested in a duel with the
Knight of the White Moon, in reality a student of his acquaintance in
disguise. Don Quixote is passionately devoted to his own imaginative
creation, the beautiful Dulcinea. "Oh Dulcinea de Tobosa, day of my
night, glory of my suffering, true North and compass of every path I
take, guiding star of my fate..."
The hero returns to La Mancha at then end of part I. After a
spurious sequel to Quixote by
'Avellaneda' came out in 1614, Cervantes was forced to write his own
continuation. The real author behind the pseudonym has never been
unravelled. Only at his deathbed Don Quixote confesses the folly of his
past adventures. He forgives even Avellaneda. Most likely Vega had
conspired with the another author.
Cervantes's influence is seen among others in the works of Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, Gustave Flaubert, Herman Melville, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, also in the works of James Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges, who wrote a short story about an author ('Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote', in El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan, 1941), who undertook to compose Don Quixote – not another Quixote, but the Quixote. After studies of Spanish, history, and the Catholic faith, he writes the novel, word for word. "Cervantes's text and Menard's are verbally identical, but the second is almost infinitely richer. (More ambiguous, his detractors will say, but ambiguity is richness.)" Dale Wasserman took for his 1965 Broadway musical Man of La Mancha (music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion) a quotation from Miguel de Unamuno ("Only he who attempts the absurd is capable of achieving the impossible") the guiding principle behind the show. One song from the production, 'The Impossible Dream,' gained a huge popularity. See also: Torquato Tasso, Anton Tammsaare