Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (in modern Spanish; September 29, 1547 – April 22, 1616) was a Spanish novelist, poet, and playwright. His magnum opus, Don Quixote, considered the first modern novel by some, is considered a classic of Western literature and is regularly regarded among the best novels ever written. His work is considered among the most important in all of literature. His influence on the Spanish language has been so great, that Spanish is often called la lengua de Cervantes (The language of Cervantes). He has been dubbed el Príncipe de los Ingenios - the Prince of Wits.
Cervantes, born at Alcalá de Henares, was the fourth of seven children of Rodrigo de Cervantes, a surgeon born at Alcalá de Henares in a family whose origins may have been of the minor gentry, and wife, married in 1543, Leonor de Cortinas, who died on October 19, 1593. The family moved from town to town, and little is known of Cervantes's early years.In 1569, he joined the household of a wealthy Roman Cardinal. By 1570 he had been enlisted as a soldier in a Spanish infantry regiment and continued his military life until 1575, when he was captured by pirates. He was ransomed by his captors and the Trinitarians and returned to his family in Madrid.
In 1585, Cervantes published a pastoral novel, La Galatea. Because of financial problems, Cervantes worked as a purveyor for the Spanish Armada, and later as a tax collector. In 1597 discrepancies in his accounts of three years previous landed him in the Crown Jail of Seville. In 1605 he was in Valladolid, just when the immediate success of the first part of his Don Quixote, published in Madrid, signaled his return to the literary world. In 1607, he settled in Madrid, where he lived and worked until his death. During the last nine years of his life, Cervantes solidified his reputation as a writer; he published the Exemplary Novels (Novelas ejemplares) in 1613, the Journey to Parnassus in 1614, and in 1615, the Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses and the second part of Don Quixote. Carlos Fuentes noted that, "Cervantes leaves open the pages of a book where the reader knows himself to be written.
Miguel de Cervantes was born in Alcalá de Henares, a Castilian city about 20 miles from Madrid, probably on September 29 (the feast day of St. Michael) 1547. He was baptized on October 9. Miguel's paternal great-grandfather was Ruy Díaz de Cervantes, a prosperous draper who was born most probably in the 1430s. He married Catalina de Cabrera about whom nothing at all is known. Their son, Miguel's grandfather Juan, studied law at the University of Salamanca. For most of his life he served as a minor magistrate, ending his career as a specialist in fiscal law for the Spanish Inquisition and was a well-to-do man. He married Leonor Fernández de Torreblanca, who was apparently his cousin and a daughter of a Cordoban physician. Miguel's father, Ruy (Rodrigo), was a barber-surgeon who set bones, performed bloodlettings, and attended "lesser medical needs". He presented himself as a nobleman and liked to act as a gentleman, which was not easy because of his low income. His mother was the third daughter of a nobleman who lost his fortune and had to sell his daughter in to matrimony. This led to a very awkward marriage and several affairs on the fathers part. Little is known of Cervantes' early years. He was a brash young man and possessed a very idealistic nature. This is later reflected in his literary work, such as El trabaja de San Juan. It seems that he spent much of his childhood moving from town to town with his family. During this time he met a young barmaid, Josefina Catalina De Parez. The couple fell madly in love and plotted to run away together. Sadly her father discovered their plans and forbade Josefina from ever seeing Cervantes again. It seems that, much like Dickens' father, Miguel's father was embargoed for debt. The court records of the proceedings show a very poor household. While some of his biographers argue that he studied at the University of Salamanca, there is no solid evidence for supposing that he did so. There has been speculation also that Cervantes studied with the Jesuits in Córdoba or Sevilla.
The reasons that forced Cervantes to leave Castilla remain uncertain. Whether he was the "student" of the same name, a "sword-wielding fugitive from justice", or fleeing from the royal warrant of arrest for having wounded a certain Antonio de Sigura in a duel is another mystery. In any event, in going to Italy, Cervantes was doing what many young Spaniards of the time did to further their careers in one way or another. Rome would reveal to the young artist its ecclesiastic pomp, ritual and majesty. In a city teeming with ruins, Cervantes could focus his attention on Renaissance art, architecture and poetry (knowledge of Italian literature is so readily discernible in his own productions), and on rediscovering antiquity; he could find in the ancients "a powerful impetus to revive the contemporary world in light of its accomplishments". Thus, Cervantes' continuing desire for Italy, as revealed in his later works, was in part a desire for a return to the Renaissance.
By 1570, Cervantes had enlisted as a soldier in a Castilian infantry regiment stationed in Naples, then a possession of the Spanish crown. He was there for about a year before he saw active service. In September 1571, Cervantes sailed on board the Marquesa, part of the galley fleet of the Holy League (a coalition of the Pope, Spain, Venice, Republic of Genoa, Duchy of Savoy, the Knights of Malta and others under the command of John of Austria) that defeated the Ottoman fleet on October 7 in the Gulf of Lepanto near Corinth. Though taken down with fever, Cervantes refused to stay below, and begged to be allowed to take part in the battle, saying that he would rather die for his God and his king than keep under cover. He fought bravely on board a vessel, and received three gunshot wounds – two in the chest and one which rendered his left arm useless, resulting in amputation. In Journey to Parnassus, he was to say that he "had lost the movement of the left hand for the glory of the right" (he was thinking of the success of the first part of Don Quixote). Cervantes always looked back on his conduct in the battle with pride: he believed that he had taken part in an event that would shape the course of European history.
After the battle of Lepanto Cervantes remained in hospital for around six months, before his wounds were sufficiently healed to allow his joining the colors again. From 1572 to 1575, based mainly in Naples, he continued his soldier's life; he participated in expeditions to Corfu and Navarino, and saw the fall of Tunis and La Goletta to the Turks in 1574.
On September 6 or 7 1575 Cervantes set sail on the galley Sol from Naples to Barcelona, Spain, with letters of commendation to the king from the duke de Sessa and Don Juan himself. On the morning of September 26, as the Sol approached the Catalan coast, it was attacked by Algerian corsairs. After significant resistance, in which the captain and many crew members were killed, the surviving passengers were taken to Algiers as captives. After five years spent as a slave in Algiers, and four unsuccessful escape attempts, he was ransomed by his parents and the Trinitarians and returned to his family in Madrid. Not surprisingly, this period of Cervantes' life supplied subject matter for several of his literary works, notably the Captive's tale in Don Quixote and the two plays set in Algiers, El trato de Argel (The Treaty of Algiers) and Los baños de Argel (The Baths of Algiers), as well as episodes in a number of other writings, although never in straight autobiographical form.
In Toledo, Esquivias, on December 12, 1584, he married the much younger Catalina de Salazar y Palacios (Toledo, Esquivias – Madrid, October 31, 1626), daughter of Fernando de Salazar y Vozmediano and wife Catalina de Palacios and whose uncle Alonso de Quesada y Salazar is said to have inspired the character of Don Quixote. During the next 20 years he led a nomadic existence, working as a purchasing agent for the Spanish Armada, and as a tax collector. He suffered a bankruptcy, and was imprisoned at least twice (1597 and 1602) for irregularities in his accounts. Between the years 1596 and 1600, he lived primarily in Seville. In 1606, Cervantes settled permanently in Madrid, Spain; where he remained for the rest of his life. In 1585, Cervantes published his first major work, La Galatea, a pastoral romance, at the same time that some of his plays, now lost except for El trato de Argel (where he dealt with the life of Christian slaves in Algiers) and El cerco de Numancia, were playing on the stages of Madrid. La Galatea received little contemporary notice, and Cervantes never wrote the continuation for it, (which he repeatedly promised). Cervantes next turned his attention to the drama, hoping to derive an income from that source, but the plays which he composed failed to achieve their purpose. Aside from his plays, his most ambitious work in verse was Viaje del Parnaso (1614), an allegory which consisted largely of a rather tedious though good-natured review of contemporary poets. Cervantes himself realized that he was deficient in poetic gifts.
If a remark which Cervantes himself makes in the prologue of Don Quixote is to be taken literally, the idea of the work, though hardly the writing of its "First Part", as some have maintained, occurred to him in prison at Argamasilla de Alba, in La Mancha. Cervantes' idea was to give a picture of real life and manners, and to express himself in clear language. 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 appeared. Although it did not make Cervantes rich, it brought him international appreciation as a man of letters. Cervantes also wrote many plays, only two of which have survived; short novels, and the vogue obtained by Cervantes's story led to the publication of a continuation of it by an unknown who masqueraded under the name of Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda. In self-defence, Cervantes produced his own continuation, or "Second Part", of Don Quixote, which made its appearance in 1615 (Nota Bene: Cervantes had already promised the publication of a second part of Don Quixote in 1613 in the foreword to the Novelas Ejemplares, the year before the publication of Avellanda's book; it is therefore anachronistic to say that he produced his continuation "in self-defence").
For the world at large, interest in Cervantes centers particularly in Don Quixote, and this work has been regarded chiefly as a novel of purpose. It is stated again and again that he wrote it in order to satirize the romances of chivalry, and to challenge the popularity of a form of literature which for much more than a century had been a fad with the general public.
Don Quixote certainly reveals much narrative power, considerable humor, a mastery of dialogue, and a forcible style. Of the two parts written by Cervantes, the first is the more popular with the general public - containing the famous episodes of the tilting at windmills, the attack on the flock of sheep, the vigil in the courtyard of the inn, and the episode with the barber and the shaving basin. The second part is inferior to it in humorous effect; but, nevertheless, the second part shows more constructive insight, better delineation of character, an improved style, and more realism and probability in its action. In 1613, he published a collection of tales, the Exemplary Novels, some of which had been written earlier. On the whole, the Exemplary Novels are worthy of the fame of Cervantes; they bear the same stamp of genius as Don Quixote. The picaroon strain, already made familiar in Spain by the Lazarillo de Tormes and his successors, appears in one or another of them, especially in the Rinconete y Cortadillo, which is the best of all. He also published the Viaje del Parnaso in 1614, and in 1615, the Eight Comedies and Eight New Interludes. At the same time, Cervantes continued working on Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda, a novel of adventurous travel completed just before his death, and which appeared posthumously in January, 1617.
Cervantes died in Madrid on April 22, 1616. In honour of the day Cervantes and William Shakespeare died, UNESCO established April 23 as the International Day of the Book. The Encyclopedia Hispanica claims that the date widely quoted as Cervantes' date of death, namely April 23, is actually the date on his tombstone which, in accordance with the traditions of the time, would be the date of his burial rather than the date of his death. If this is true, then, according to Hispanica, it means that Cervantes probably died on April 22 and was buried on April 23. Of his burial-place nothing is known except that he was buried, in accordance with his will, in the neighboring convent of Trinitarian nuns. Isabel de Saavedra, Cervantes' daughter, was supposedly a member of this convent. A few years afterwards the nuns moved to another convent and carried their dead with them. But whether the remains of Cervantes were included in the removal or not no one knows, and the clue to their final resting place is now lost beyond all hope.
Cervantes's novels, listed chronologically, are as follows:
La Galatea, the pastoral romance, which Cervantes wrote in his youth, is an imitation of the Diana of Jorge de Montemayor, and bears an even closer resemblance to Gil Polo's continuation of that romance. Next to Don Quixote and the Novelas ejemplares, it is particularly worthy of attention, as it manifests in a striking way the poetic direction in which the genius of Cervantes moved even at an early period of life.
Don Quixote (spelled "Quijote" in modern Spanish) is two separate books that cover the adventures of Don Quixote, also known as the knight or man of La Mancha, a hero who carries his enthusiasm and self-deception to unintentional and comic ends. On one level, Don Quixote works as a satire of the romances of chivalry which ruled the literary environment of Cervantes' time. However, the novel also allows Cervantes to illuminate various aspects of human nature by using the ridiculous example of the delusional Quixote. Because the novel – particularly the first part – was written in individually published sections, the composition includes several incongruities. In the preface to the second part, Cervantes himself pointed out some of these errors, but he disdained to correct them, because he conceived that they had been too severely condemned by his critics.
Cervantes felt a passion for the vivid painting of character. Don Quixote is noble-minded, and so enthusiastic an admirer of everything good and great, yet having all those fine qualities, accidentally blended with a relative kind of madness, who is paired with the opposite character of Sancho Panza, a compound of grossness and simplicity, who experiences low self-esteem.
It is cited as the first classic model of the modern romance or novel, and it served as the prototype of the comic novel. The humorous situations are mostly burlesque, and it includes satire. Don Quixote is one of the Encyclopedia Britannica's "Great Books of the Western World" and the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky called it "the ultimate and most sublime work of human thinking".
It would be scarcely possible to arrange the other works of Cervantes according to a critical judgment of their importance; for the merits of some consist in the admirable finish of the whole, while others exhibit the impress of genius in the invention, or some other individual feature.
A distinguished place must, however, be assigned to the Novelas ejemplares ("Moral or Instructive Tales"). They are unequal in merit as well as in character. Cervantes doubtless intended that they should be to the Spaniards nearly what the novellas of Boccaccio were to the Italians, some are mere anecdotes, some are romances in miniature, some are serious, some comic, and all are written in a light, smooth, conversational style.
Four of them are perhaps of less interest than the rest: El amante liberal, La señora Cornelia, Las dos doncellas and La española inglesa. The theme common to these is basically the traditional one of the Byzantine novel: pairs of lovers separated by lamentable and complicated happenings are finally reunited and find the happiness they have longed for. The heroines are all of most perfect beauty and of sublime morality; they and their lovers are capable of the highest sacrifices, and they exert their souls in the effort to elevate themselves to the ideal of moral and aristocratic distinction which illuminates their lives.
In El amante liberal, to cite an example, the beautiful Leonisa and her lover Ricardo are carried off by Turkish pirates; both fight against serious material and moral dangers; Ricardo conquers all obstacles, returns to his homeland with Leonisa, and is ready to renounce his passion and to hand Leonisa over to her former lover in an outburst of generosity; but Leonisa's preference naturally settles on Ricardo in the end.
Another group of "exemplary" novels is formed by La fuerza de la sangre, La ilustre fregona, La gitanilla, and El celoso extremeño. The first three offer examples of love and adventure happily resolved, while the last unravels itself tragically. Its plot deals with the old Felipe Carrizales, who, after traveling widely and becoming rich in America, decides to marry, taking all the precautions necessary to forestall being deceived. He weds a very young girl and isolates her from the world by having her live in a house with no windows facing the street; but in spite of his defensive measures, a bold youth succeeds in penetrating the fortress of conjugal honor, and one day Carrizales surprises his wife in the arms of her seducer. Surprisingly enough he pardons the adulterers, recognizing that he is more to blame than they, and dies of sorrow over the grievous error he has committed. Cervantes here deviated from literary tradition, which demanded the death of the adulterers, but he transformed the punishment inspired by the social ideal of honour into a criticism of the responsibility of the individual.
Rinconete y Cortadillo, El casamiento engañoso, El licenciado Vidriera and El coloquio de los perros, four works of art which are concerned more with the personalities of the characters who figure in them than with the subject matter, form the final group of these stories. The protagonists are two young vagabonds, Rincón and Cortado; Lieutenant Campuzano; a student, Tomás Rodaja, who goes mad and believes himself to have been changed into a witty man of glass, offering Cervantes the opportunity to chain witty jokes; and finally two dogs, Cipión and Berganza, whose wandering existence serves as a mirror for the most varied aspects of Spanish life.
Rinconete y Cortadillo is one of the most delightful of Cervantes' works. Its two young vagabonds come to Seville attracted by the riches and disorder that the sixteenth-century commerce with the Americas had brought to that metropolis. There they come into contact with a brotherhood of thieves of Thieves' Guild led by the unforgettable Monipodio, whose house is the headquarters of the Sevillian underworld. Under the bright Andalusian sky, people and objects take form with the brilliance and subtle drama of a Velázquez, and a distant and discreet irony endows the figures, insignificant in themselves, as they move within a ritual pomp that is in sharp contrast with their morally deflated lives. When Monipodio appears, serious and solemn among his silent subordinates, "all who were looking at him performed a deep, protracted bow." Rincón and Cortado had initiated their mutual friendship beforehand "with saintly and praiseworthy ceremonies." The solemn ritual of this band of ruffians is all the more comic for being concealed in Cervantes' drily humorous style.
The romance of Persiles and Sigismunda, which Cervantes finished shortly before his death, must be regarded as an interesting appendix to his other works. The language and the whole composition of the story exhibit the purest simplicity, combined with singular precision and polish. The idea of this romance was not new, and scarcely deserved to be reproduced in a new manner. But it appears that Cervantes, at the close of his glorious career, took a fancy to imitate Heliodorus. He has maintained the interest of the situations, but the whole work is merely a romantic description of travels, rich enough in fearful adventures, both by sea and land. Real and fabulous geography and history are mixed together in an absurd and monstrous manner; and the second half of the romance, in which the scene is transferred to Spain and Italy, does not exactly harmonize with the spirit of the first half.
Some of his poems are found in La Galatea. He also wrote Dos canciones a la armada invencible. His best work, however, is found in the sonnets, particularly Al túmulo del rey Felipe en Sevilla. Among his most important poems, Canto de Calíope, Epístola a Mateo Vázquez, and the Viaje del Parnaso (Journey to Parnassus), (1614) stand out. The latter is his most ambitious work in verse, an allegory which consists largely of reviews of contemporary poets.
Compared to his ability as a novelist, Cervantes is often considered an mediocre poet, although he himself always harbored a hope that he would be recognized for having poetic gifts.
The prose of the Galatea, which is in other respects so beautiful, is occasionally overloaded with epithet. Cervantes displays a totally different kind of poetic talent in the Viaje del Parnaso, a work which cannot properly be ranked in any particular class of literary composition, but which, next to Don Quixote, is considered by a few the most exquisite production of its author. Many critics, however, would argue with that, citing the Novelas ejemplares and the Entemeses as the finest examples of his work next to Don Quixote.
The first of these is written in five acts; based on his experiences as a Moorish captive, Cervantes dealt with the life of Christian slaves in Algiers. The other play, Numancia is a description of the siege of Numantia by the Romans stuffed with horrors and described as utterly devoid of the requisites of dramatic art.
Cervantes's later production consists of 16 dramatic works, among which are eight full-length plays:
El gallardo español, Los baños de Argel, La gran sultana, Doña Catalina de Oviedo, La casa de los celos, El laberinto de amor, the cloak and dagger play La Entretenida, El rufián dichoso, and finally, Pedro de Urdemalas, a sensitive play about a picaro who joins a group of Gypsies for love of a girl.
He also wrote eight short farces (entremeses) : El juez de los divorcios, El rufián viudo llamado Trampagos, La elección de los alcaldes de Daganzo, La guarda cuidadosa (The Vigilant Sentinel), El vizcaíno fingido, El retablo de las maravillas, La cueva de Salamanca, and El viejo celoso (The Jealous Old Man).
These plays and entremeses made up Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses nuevos, nunca representados (Eight Comedies and Eight New Interludes, Never Before Acted), which appeared in 1615. Cervantes's entremeses, whose dates and order of composition are not known, must not have been performed in their time. Faithful to the spirit of Lope de Rueda, Cervantes endowed them with novelistic elements such as simplified plot, the type of description normally associated with the novel, and character development. The dialogue is sensitive and agile.
Cervantes includes some of his dramas among those productions with which he was himself most satisfied; and he seems to have regarded them with self-complacency in proportion to their neglect by the public. This conduct has sometimes been attributed to a spirit of contradiction, and sometimes to vanity. That the penetrating and profound Cervantes should have so mistaken the limits of his dramatic talent, would not be sufficiently accounted for, had he not unquestionably proved by his tragedy of Numantia how pardonable was the self-deception of which he could not divest himself.
Cervantes was entitled to consider himself endowed with a genius for dramatic poetry; but he could not preserve his independence in the conflict he had to maintain with the conditions required by the Spanish public in dramatic composition; and when he sacrificed his independence, and submitted to rules imposed by others, his invention and language were reduced to the level of a poet of inferior talent. The intrigues, adventures and surprises, which in that age characterized the Spanish drama, were ill suited to the genius of Cervantes. His natural style was too profound and precise to be reconciled to fantastical ideas, expressed in irregular verse. But he was Spaniard enough to be gratified with dramas, which, as a poet, he could not imitate; and he imagined himself capable of imitating them, because he would have shone in another species of dramatic composition, had the public taste accommodated itself to his genius.
Cervantes invented along with the subject of his piece a peculiar style of tragic composition, and in doing so, he did not pay much regard to the theory of Aristotle. His object was to produce a piece full of tragic situations, combined with the charm of the marvellous. In order to accomplish this goal, Cervantes relied heavily on allegory and on mythological elements.
The tragedy is written in conformity with no rules save those which the author prescribed to himself; for he felt no inclination to imitate the Greek forms. The play is divided into four acts, (jornadas) and no chorus is introduced. The dialogue is sometimes in tercets and sometimes in redondillas, and for the most part in octaves without any regard to rule.
Cervantes' novel Don Quixote has had a tremendous influence on the development of prose fiction; it has been translated into all major languages and has appeared in 700 editions. The first translation was in English, made by Thomas Shelton in 1608, but not published until 1612. Shakespeare had evidently read Don Quixote, but it is most unlikely that Cervantes had ever heard of Shakespeare. Carlos Fuentes raised the possibility that Cervantes and Shakespeare were the same person (see Shakespearean authorship question). Francis Carr has suggested that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays and Don Quixote.
Don Quixote has been the subject of a variety of works in other fields of art, including operas by the Italian composer Giovanni Paisiello, the French Jules Massenet, and the Spanish Manuel de Falla; a Russian ballet by the Russian-German composer Ludwig Minkus; a tone poem by the German composer Richard Strauss; a German film (1933) directed by G. W. Pabst; a Soviet film (1957) directed by Grigori Kozintsev; a ballet (1965) with choreography by George Balanchine - no relation to the one by Minkus; and an American musical, Man of La Mancha (1965), by Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh, and Joe Darion. Man of La Mancha was made into a film in 1972, directed by Arthur Hiller.
Don Quixote 's influence can be seen in the work of Smollett, Defoe, Fielding, and Sterne, as well as in the classic 19th-century novelists Scott, Dickens, Flaubert, Melville, and Dostoevsky, and in the works of James Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges.The theme also inspired the 19th-century French artists Honoré Daumier and Gustave Doré.
The Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, a digital library hosted by the University of Alicante and the largest digital archive of Spanish-language historical and literary works in the world, is named after Cervantes.
New Christians were called so for their - or their elder's- recent conversion to Christian faith, and were suspected of secretly practising Judaism. Jews had been expelled from Spain and all Spanish domains by the Catholic Kings in 1492, and those who stayed had to forcibly become baptised. Nevertheless, those Jews who remained as New Christians were always suspected of continuing their Jewish religious practices, and therefore, were constantly under the eye of the Inquisition. Jews were not allowed the property of any land, and suffered significant legal discrimination. Thus, they could only earn a living by trade or skill. Any gentleman who wanted to prosper in the social scale, or gain privileges - nobility was tax free - had to prove his purity of blood, and that gave the status of Old Christian important economic, legal and social consequences.
Purporters of the New Christian theory, established by Americo Castro, often suggest it to be on Cervantes' mother's side. The theory is almost exclusively supported by circumstantial evidence but would "explain" some mysteries of Cervantes' life. It has been supported by authors such as Anthony Cascardi and Caravaggio. Others, such as Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz or Francisco Olmos Garcia, who considers it a "tired issue" only supported by Americo Castro, reject the theory strongly.
The second origin theory suggests Cervantes is of Old Christian stock. Most of the evidence for this is supported by documentary evidence but does not help fill the gaps of some of the personality and life aspects and virtues of Cervantes, as well as the New Christian theory does. However, it must be noted that the only surviving document addressing Cervantes pedigree is the 1569 "Informacion de la limpieza de Miguel de Cervantes, estante en Roma" which addresses Cervantes directly as an Old Christian.
c. The only evidence is a statement by Professor Tomas González, that he once saw an old entry of the matriculation of a Miguel de Cervantes. No subsequent scholar has been successful in verifying this statement. In any case, there were at least two other Miguels born about the middle of the century.
d. "He" refers to the writer of a spurious Part II of Don Quixote (Second Volume of the Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha) known under the pseudonym Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda. Avellaneda had referred to Cervantes as an "old and one-handed" man.