Miguel de Cervantes


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Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), Spanish dramatist, poet, and author wrote Don Quixote de la Mancha (Part I, 1605; Part II, 1615);

In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind, there lived not long since one of those gentlemen that keep a lance in the lance-rack, an old buckler, a lean hack, and a greyhound for coursing. An olla of rather more beef than mutton, a salad on most nights, scraps on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, and a pigeon or so extra on Sundays, made away with three-quarters of his income. The rest of it went in a doublet of fine cloth and velvet breeches and shoes to match for holidays, while on week-days he made a brave figure in his best homespun. He had in his house a housekeeper past forty, a niece under twenty, and a lad for the field and market-place, who used to saddle the hack as well as handle the bill-hook. The age of this gentleman of ours was bordering on fifty; he was of a hardy habit, spare, gaunt-featured, a very early riser and a great sportsman. They will have it his surname was Quixada or Quesada (for here there is some difference of opinion among the authors who write on the subject), although from reasonable conjectures it seems plain that he was called Quexana. This, however, is of but little importance to our tale; it will be enough not to stray a hair's breadth from the truth in the telling of it.-Ch.1

Published when Cervantes was fifty-eight years old, his oft-quoted burlesque of 16th century Spanish society explores the universal themes of human nature "Every man is as Heaven made him, and sometimes a great deal worse." (ibid). Don Quixote exerted a profound influence on European literature--it was published to great success and widely lauded for its satire of existing tales of chivalry and 'mischief';

The first that Master Nicholas put into his hand was "The four books of Amadis of Gaul." "This seems a mysterious thing," said the curate, "for, as I have heard say, this was the first book of chivalry printed in Spain, and from this all the others derive their birth and origin; so it seems to me that we ought inexorably to condemn it to the flames as the founder of so vile a sect."--ibid, Ch. 6

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was born in 1547 in the city of Alcalá de Henares, near Madrid, Spain, the fourth of seven children born to noble Castilian surgeon Don Rodrigo de Cervantes and doña Leonor de Cortinas (d.1593). "There were but two families in the world, Have-much and Have-little." (ibid) Rodrigo was imprisoned because of debts in 1551, and it brought much hardship to the rest of the family. After studying philosophy and literature in Italy, Miguel enlisted as a soldier in Naples in 1570. Aboard the ship Marquesa he lost the use of his left hand 'by a musket-shot in the battle of Lepanto' [1571] (ibid). A few years later the galley that Cervantes was sailing home on was captured by Barbary pirates. He was enslaved in Algiers along with many other Christians. While he did attempt to escape, it was not until 1580 that his family, especially by the efforts of his mother, and the Trinitarians, were able to pay ransom for him.

Living in Madrid, Cervantes had an affair with Ana de Villafranca, with whom he had a daughter, Isabel de Saavedra. In 1584 he married Catalina de Palacios and started writing plays and poetry, "The pen is the tongue of the mind." (ibid) including a pastoral romance in verse and prose La Galatea (1585), his first published work. When his writing produced little income he obtained a position with the government, and worked for the Spanish Armada and as a tax collector. Many times he ran into financial and other difficulties for which he was imprisoned.

In 1604, Cervantes and his wife and daughter were living in Valladolid. After the publication of Don Quixote they moved back to Madrid. The Exemplary Novels of Cervantes (Novelas ejemplares) was published in 1613, which includes tales of pirates gypsies, inspired by Cervantes' own life experiences. The same year it was published, he joined the Third Order of Saint Francis. The second part of Don Quixote (1615) was followed by Persiles and Segismunda (1616). Miguel de Cervantes died in 1616 and is buried in the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians (Convento de los Trinitarios) in Madrid, Spain.

"It is so conspicuous and void of difficulty that children may handle him, youths may read him, men may understand him, and old men may celebrate him."--from The First Part of the Delightful History of the Most Ingenious Knight Don Quixote of the Mancha (from Thomas Shelton's 1612 translation)

Biography written by C. D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2007. All Rights Reserved.

The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

Recent Forum Posts on Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote Discussion

So, since DQ got the shaft in the reading poll, I figure there's no reason it still can't be discussed by those who still may read it (and anyone else who wants to jump in). So far, I've read about half. I like it. It is quite bizzarre, but in a good way. I am also reading the Edith Grossman translation, which so far is very good and easy to read, and also not overly-filled with footnotes. What I find most surprising about DQ is that it definitely does not read like something 400 years old, though I think that's more due to the translation than anything. But, diction aside, the story (or, more accurately, stories) move at a very brisk pace. There is rarely an over-use of description, which I am very much glad for. Sometimes older texts take some effort to get through (not saying this is a bad thing); so far, DQ has been quite easy. As I said, DQ is bizzarre. It is funny, no doubt, and I've even chuckled a few times (which, for me, is akin to laughing uncontrollably at a movie; I just don't laugh that much while reading). Some of Quixote's speeches are just hilarious. But, the humor is quite dark, which I didn't expect. Quixote and Sancho do seem to get beaten quite often, usually to the extant that they are near-death. And the scene where Quixote "saves" the servant being whipped, which only results in the cruel master beating him worse, was a bit sad and disturbing. Now, I admit I am reading mostly immersively, so I'm not explicitly doing an analytical reading, but I haven't stumbled onto much deeper meaning within the text. I'm sure there is plenty of political and religious commentary going on, but definitely not as much as some "deeper" texts (unless I'm just totally overlooking it). One question, though. Why is DQ seen as the first great modern novel? It seems an odd book to be declared so (i.e., what reads often like a goofball comedy). Now, this isn't a criticism, just a question made out of ignorance. Throughout the novel, many chivalric novels are referenced. So, beyond being different than anything else that had been written, what made DQ stand out as the first modern novel?


Don Quijote - Mad or Misunderstood?

It seems to be the ongoing debate within the world of Spanish liturature: is Miguel Cervantes' Don Quijote crazy or sane? He is certainly an ambivalent character, and manages to keep the reader guessing with every action that makes one go, "huh?!" Yet, for every action that suggests Don Quijote's lunacy, he also has his moments of philosophical genius. For example, I just read Chapter 11, where Don Quijote is spending time with a group of simple goatherds. During the course of their dinner, Don Quijote makes a long speech deliberating the good will of men. He referred to times far gone, when people and things did good for the sake of doing good and asked for no payment or reward in return. He was also extremely grateful and, I think, impressed at how the goatherds had only met him briefly and yet did not hesitate to invite him to share their meal. That chapter is only one of what I am sure is many instances where Don Quijote shows a philosophical side that leagues of people lack today. I am not sure that I can prove his complete sanity and mental health, however, I do not believe he is one-hundred percent crazy.


Poetry and Pastoral in Don Quixote

I have to write an essay for Spanish Literature course discussing the Pastoral novel and Poetry used within the book. The pastoral is OK, but I'm a bit confused as to how to describe the relavence of Poetry in Don Quixote. Can anyone help?! Thanks in advance :)


First Impression of Don Quixote

I finished it yesterday, and before I spoil my take by reading everyone else's opinion, I'd like to give mine: Periods can never be fully understood in their own time. You have to look back at the whole picture to get the full meaning. Don Quixote is the embodiment of the chivalric period of lit, and his quest is to make sense of the ideas it taught in a world where the period has come and gone. His madness comes from accepting the details of his histories as dogma. His genius and insight come from the art's philosphies. Sancho in his simplenesss is unable to believe earnestly the wild claims of his master, but indoctrinates the simple black and white morality they contain. By absorbing these ideas he eraches his full potential. Thus Don Quixote plays the role of priest or even the Church. Sancho is the ignorant, yet benign masses. There's obviously more to it than that with the role of love and heroism and madness and self assesment, but I'll go read ya'll's take on that.


Don Quixote Reading Group

I've started this thread because a few people, including myself, are reading it for the summer. I must say it reads very fast. I've read the first six chapters in no time, and I'm a fairly slow reader. I'm using the Edith Grossman translation which came out in 2003 to good reviews. Here's what it looks like: http://images.amazon.com/images/P/0060188707.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpg You can find it on amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Don-Quixote-Miguel-Cervantes/dp/0060188707. The famous literary critic Harold Bloom in the introdction says of this translation: "Though there have been many valubale English translations of Don Quixote, I would commend Edith Grossman's version for the extraordinary high quality of her prose. The Knight and Sancho are so elequantly rendered by Grossman that the vitality of their characterization is more clearly conveyed than ever before." Of course I will not be able to copy and past from the Grossman translation, since it is not on electronic format. So extended quotes I will have to copy off the Lit Net electronic book here: http://www.online-literature.com/cervantes/don_quixote/. If you don't mind reading off a computer, you can join us in reading it off of this site as well. I hope people will join us. This will not be a rushed read and should last at least the summer, if not longer.


Dreams to Legacy

Early in the novel I thought there was an actual girl that Don Quixote imagined to be Dulcinea. I was hoping that he would meet up with her before the end. I was curious as to what would transpire should that have happended. I would have liked an epilogue to find out what happened to Sanchez in the years following Don Quixoti’s death. I had to read commentary before I noticed that he hung on to life as long as he had the energy to rationalize failures and thus hang on to his delusion. His agreement to sit out for a year seemed to be the catalyst that brought on his sanity. With sanity came destroyed dream, and destroyed dream, death. If the world wouldn’t humor him, he would leave it. The Duke and Duchess, in pursuing their own entertainment, had a significant role in keeping him alive; the student, disguised as a knight, taking on the same role Don Quixote did, caused him to leave his dream, ultimately encounter reality and begin his decline into death. Is this making a statement on academics v.s. fantasy based-entertainment? Does fantasy-entertainment have a role in our keeping our dreams alive and motivate us to continue pursuing them even if our reality is far from our dreams? Even if we don’t fully realize our dreams in our lifetime, perhaps we have a role in furthering along a collective dream that others take up where we left off and carry even further; perhaps we are link in a chain of a larger dream and our legacy is to complete our own link.


Corrections on biography and works

Two important corrections on the next to last paragraph: 1. "short novels": aside from the collection of "Twelve exemplary novels", which should be read as a whole, it is important to note his last, full-fledged novel, "Persiles and Sigismunda", a tale of adventure greatly inspired by Heliodorus. 2. "many plays, only two of which have survived": this is quite wrong, and strangely so, because a list of Cervantes's works can be found in any handbook. He wrote, but never published, some early plays, only two of which have indeed survived: "El trato de Argel" and "Numancia". But later on, after the first part of "Don Quixote," the "Exemplary novels," and the "Viaje del Parnaso" were published, Cervantes published a large volume: "Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses nunca representados", i.e., eight full plays and eight interludes that have never been played on stage. This is important because it sets him apart from other playwrights of his time: plays were usually represented but not printed, not the way around. It is symptomatic of Cervantes's originality that his plays, which did not conform to the norm of Lope de Vega, were not well received by men of the theatre, but are quite readable as different takes on dramatic truth (the only other example of a non-Lopian play that I can recall is Gongora's "Las firmezas de Isabela"). So, the note must be corrected to state that he wrote "short and long novels" and "many plays, seventeen of which have survived". - luzhin23


Modern Story?

Who else who has read Don Quixote thinks it to be a very modern book? The humor in it is very current, although it was written 500 years ago. Who else thinks the way I do?


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