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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'  (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.
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