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Miguel de Cervantes

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Miguel de Cervantes
Miguel de Cervantes
Born Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
(1547-09-29)29 September 1547 (assumed)
Alcalá de Henares, Castile, Spain
Died 22 April 1616(1616-04-22) (aged 68)
Madrid, Castile
Occupation Novelist, poet, playwright, soldier
Language Spanish
Nationality Spanish
Notable work(s) Don Quixote
Novelas Ejemplares


Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Spanish:  [miˈɣel de θerˈβantes saaˈβeðɾa]; 29 September 1547 (assumed) – 22 April 1616) was a Spanish novelist, poet, and playwright. His magnum opus, Don Quixote, considered to be the first modern European novel, is a classic of Western literature, and is regarded amongst the best works of fiction ever written. His influence on the Spanish language has been so great that the language is often called la lengua de Cervantes ("the language of Cervantes"). He was dubbed El Príncipe de los Ingenios ("The Prince of Wits").

In 1569, Cervantes moved to Rome, where he served as a valet to Giulio Acquaviva, a wealthy priest who was elevated to cardinal the next year. By then, Cervantes had enlisted as a soldier in a Spanish Navy infantry regiment and continued his military life until 1575, when he was captured by Algerian corsairs. After five years of slavery he was released on ransom from his captors by his parents and the Trinitarians, a Catholic religious order. He subsequently returned to his family in Madrid.

In 1585, Cervantes published a pastoral novel named 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 Novelas ejemplares (Exemplary Novels) in 1613, the Journey to Parnassus (Viaje al Parnaso) 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."

Birth and early life

It is assumed that Cervantes was born in Alcalá de Henares, a Castilian city about 15 miles from Madrid, probably on 29 September (the feast day of Saint Michael the Archangel) 1547. The probable date of his birth was determined from records in the church register and given the tradition to name a child with the name of the feast day of his birth. He was baptized in Alcalá de Henares on 9 October 1547 at the parish church of Santa María la Mayor. The baptismal act read: "Sunday, the ninth day of the month of October, the year of our Lord one thousand five hundred forty and seven years, Miguel is crowned and baptized, son of Rodrigo Cervantes and his wife doña Leonor. Baptized by the reverend sir Bartolomé Serrano, priest of Our Lady. baptized him and signed this in my name. — Bachelor Serrano"

Miguel's father Rodrigo was a barber-surgeon of Galician descent, who set bones, performed bloodlettings, and attended "lesser medical needs"; at that time, it was common for barbers to do surgery, as well. His paternal grandfather, Juan de Cervantes, was an influential lawyer who held several administrative positions. His uncle was mayor of Cabra for many years.

His mother, Leonor de Cortinas, was a native of Arganda del Rey and the third daughter of a nobleman, who lost his fortune and had to sell his daughter into matrimony in 1543. This led to a very awkward marriage and several affairs by Rodrigo. Leonor died on 19 October 1593.

Little is known of Cervantes' early years. It seems he spent much of his childhood moving from town to town with his family. During this time, he met a young barmaid named 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 Charles 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 Seville.

His siblings were Andrés (1543), Andrea (1544), Luisa (1546), Rodrigo (1550), Magdalena (1554) and Juan - known solely because he is mentioned in his father's will.

Military service and captivity

The Battle of Lepanto by Paolo Veronese (c. 1572, oil on canvas, 169 x 137 cm, Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice)

The reasons that forced Cervantes to leave Castile remain uncertain. Whether he was a "student" of the same name, a "sword-wielding fugitive from justice", or fleeing from a 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 Spanish 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 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 an earlier period of the Renaissance.

By 1570, Cervantes had enlisted as a soldier in a regiment of the Spanish Navy Marines, Infantería de Marina, 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, the Republic of Venice, the Republic of Genoa, the Duchy of Savoy, the Knights Hospitaller based in Malta, and others, under the command of King Philip II's illegitimate half brother, John of Austria) that defeated the Ottoman fleet on October 7 in the Battle of Lepanto, in the Gulf of Patras. 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. 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.

"What I cannot help taking amiss is that he charges me with being old and one-handed, as if it had been in my power to keep time from passing over me, or as if the loss of my hand had been brought about in some tavern, and not on the grandest occasion the past or present has seen, or the future can hope to see. If my wounds have no beauty to the beholder's eye, they are, at least, honourable in the estimation of those who know where they were received; for the soldier shows to greater advantage dead in battle than alive in flight."

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 Goulette to the Turks in 1574.

On 6 or 7 September 1575 Cervantes set sail on the galley Sol from Naples to Barcelona, with letters of commendation to the king from the Duke of Sessa. On the morning of September 26, as the Sol approached the Catalan coast, it was attacked by Algerian corsairs under the command of the redoubtable Arnaut Mami, an Albanian renegade and terror of the narrow seas at that time. 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.

"The pen is the language of the soul; as the concepts that in it are generated, such will be its writings." – Miguel de Cervantes at the National Library, Spain -

Literary pursuits

In Esquivias, Toledo, on 12 December 1584, he married the much younger Catalina de Salazar y Palacios (born Esquivias – d. 31 October 1626), daughter of Fernando de Salazar y Vozmediano and Catalina de Palacios. Her uncle Alonso de Quesada y Salazar is said to have inspired the character of Don Quixote. During the next 20 years Cervantes 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 1596 and 1600, he lived primarily in Seville. In 1606, Cervantes settled in Madrid, 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 to do. Cervantes next turned his attention to 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 talent.

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.

The statue of Miguel de Cervantes at the harbour of Nafpaktos (Lèpanto)

The popularity of Don Quixote led to the publication of an unauthorized continuation of it by an unknown writer, who masqueraded under the name of Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda. Cervantes produced his own continuation, or Second Part, of Don Quixote, which made its appearance in 1615. He had promised the publication of a second part in 1613 in the foreword to the Novelas ejemplares (Exemplary Novels), a year before the publication of Avellanda's book. Don Quixote has been regarded chiefly as a novel of purpose. It is stated again and again that he wrote it in order to satirize the romance of chivalry and to challenge the popularity of a form of literature that had been a favorite of the general public for more than a century.

Don Quixote certainly reveals much narrative power, considerable humor, a mastery of dialogue, and a forceful style. Of the two parts written by Cervantes, perhaps 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 shows more constructive insight, better delineation of character, 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. The picaroon strain, already made familiar in Spain through the Picaresque novels of Lazarillo de Tormes and his successors, appears in one or another of them, especially in the Rinconete y Cortadillo. In 1614, he published the Viaje del Parnaso 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 appearing posthumously in January 1617.


While April 23, 1616 came to be recorded as his date of death in many references, and the date on which his death was widely celebrated, Cervantes in fact died in Madrid the previous day, April 22, 1616; he was buried on April 23.

William Shakespeare also died on April 23, 1616. To honour this, UNESCO established April 23 as the International Day of the Book. However, these dates refer to different days: Spain had adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582, but England was still using the Julian calendar. Shakespeare's death date of April 23, 1616 (Julian) was equivalent to May 3, 1616 (Gregorian). This was ten days after Cervantes was buried and eleven days after he died.

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. 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.


Cervantes' La Galatea (1585), original title page
  • El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (1605): First volume of Don Quixote.
  • Novelas ejemplares (1613): a collection of twelve short stories of varied types about the social, political, and historical problems of Cervantes' Spain:
    • "La Gitanilla" ("The Gypsy Girl")
    • "El Amante Liberal" ("The Generous Lover")
    • "Rinconete y Cortadillo" ("Rinconete & Cortadillo")
    • "La Española Inglesa" ("The English Spanish Lady")
    • "El Licenciado Vidriera" ("The Lawyer of Glass")
    • "La Fuerza de la Sangre" ("The Power of Blood")
    • "El Celoso Extremeño" ("The Jealous Man From Extremadura")
    • "La Ilustre Fregona" ("The Illustrious Kitchen-Maid")
    • "Novela de las Dos Doncellas" ("The Novel of the Two Damsels")
    • "Novela de la Señora Cornelia" ("The Novel of Lady Cornelia")
    • "Novela del Casamiento Engañoso" ("The Novel of the Deceitful Marriage")
    • "El Coloquio de los Perros" ("The Dialogue of the Dogs")
  • Segunda Parte del Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (1615): Second volume of Don Quixote.
  • Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda (1617). Persiles, as it is commonly known, is the best evidence not only of the survival of Byzantine novel themes but also of the survival of forms and ideas of the Spanish novel of the second Renaissance. In this work, published after the author's death, Cervantes relates the ideal love and unbelievable vicissitudes of a couple, who, starting from the Arctic regions, arrive in Rome, where they find a happy ending to their complicated adventure.
  • 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

Gustave Doré's first (of about 370) illustrations for Don Quixote

Don Quixote (spelled "Quijote" in modern Spanish) is two separate volumes now nearly always published as one, 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, though still popular in Cervantes' time, had become an object of ridicule among more demanding critics. The choice of a madman as hero also served a critical purpose, for it was "the impression of ill-being or 'in-sanity,' rather than a finding of dementia or psychosis in clinical terms, that defined the madman for Cervantes and his contemporaries." Indeed, the concept of madness was "associated with physical or moral displacement, as may be seen in the literal and figurative sense of the adjectives eccentric, extravagant, deviant, aberrant, etc." The novel also allows Cervantes to illuminate various aspects of human nature. Because the novel, particularly the first part, was written in individually published sections, the composition includes several incongruities. Cervantes himself however pointed out some of these errors in the preface to the second part; 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, an enthusiastic admirer of everything good and great, yet having all these fine qualities accidentally blended with a relative kind of madness. He is paired with a character of opposite qualities, Sancho Panza, a man of low self-esteem, who is a compound of grossness and simplicity.

Statuettes of Don Quixote (left) and Sancho Panza (right)

Don Quixote is cited as the first classic model of the modern romance or novel, and it has served as the prototype of the comic novel. The humorous situations are mostly burlesque, and it includes satire. Don Quixote is one of the Encyclopædia Britannica's Great Books of the Western World, while the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky called it "the ultimate and most sublime work of human thinking". It is in Don Quixote that Cervantes coined the popular phrase "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" (por la muestra se conoce el paño), which still sees heavy use in the shortened form of "the proof is in the pudding", and "who walks much and reads much, knows much and sees much" (quien anda mucho y lee mucho, sabe mucho y ve mucho).

Novelas Ejemplares (Exemplary Novels)

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 belongs 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 Spanish nearly what the novellas of Boccaccio were to Italians. Some are mere anecdotes, some are romances in miniature, some are serious, some comic; all are written in a light, smooth, conversational style.

Four novelas 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 honour; 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, or rather required, 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, respectively, 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 make profound observations) and finally two dogs, Cipión and Berganza, whose wandering existence serves to mirror the most varied aspects of Spanish life. El colloquio de los perros features even more sardonic observations on the Spanish society of the time.

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, the 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. 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. The solemn ritual of this band of ruffians is all the more comic for being presented in Cervantes' drily humorous style.

Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda (The Labors of Persiles and Sigismunda)

Title page of Persiles and Segismunda

Cervantes finished the romance of Persiles and Sigismunda, shortly before his death. The idea of this romance was not new and Cervantes appears to imitate Heliodorus. The work is a romantic description of travels, both by sea and land. Real and fabulous geography and history are mixed together; and in the second half of the romance the scene is transferred to Spain and Italy.


Some of his poems are found in La Galatea. He also wrote Dos Canciones à 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 a mediocre poet, although he himself always harbored a hope that he would be recognized for having poetic gifts.

Viaje del Parnaso

Frontispiece of the Viaje (1614)

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.


Comparisons have diminished the reputation of his plays; but two of them ( El Trato de Argel and La Numancia – 1582) made a big impact. The first of these, El Trato de Argel, is written in five acts. Based on his experiences as a captive of the Moors, the play deals with the life of Christian slaves in Algiers. The other play, Numancia, is a description of the siege of Numantia by the Romans. It is stuffed with horrors, and has been 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 (1615),
  • Los Baños de Argel (1615),
  • La Gran Sultana, Doña Catalina de Oviedo (1615),
  • La Casa de los Celos (1615),
  • El Laberinto de Amor (1615),
  • La Entretenida, a cloak and dagger play, (1615)
  • El Rufián Dichoso (1615),
  • Pedro de Urdemalas (1615), a sensitive play about a picaro, who joins a group of Gypsies for love of a girl.

He also wrote eight short farces (entremeses) (1615):

  • 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' 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 that he had to maintain with the Spanish public, who required certain conditions of 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 (and which, we may assume, characterize all drama in every age) 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 Spanish 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.

La Numancia

Miguel de Cervantes in a late and idealized portrait of the 18th century (Retratos de Españoles Ilustres-Portraits of Illustrious Spanish, 1791)
Cervantes: Image from a 19th century German book on the history of literature

This play is a dramatization of the long and brutal siege of the Celtiberian town Numantia, Hispania, by the Roman forces of Scipio Africanus. 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 for 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, in the sense that Homer, Dante, Defoe, Dickens, Balzac, and Joyce are all the same writer whose spirit wanders through the centuries. Francis Carr, who is a noted promoter of conspiracy theories such as the one that Mozart was poisoned by his wife Constanze and a lover of hers, took Fuentes' statement literally and suggested that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays and Don Quixote, both claims which are considered ridiculous by mainstream scholars and critics. Shelton renders some Spanish idioms into English so literally that they sound nonsensical when translated — as an example he always translates the word dedos as fingers, not realizing that dedos can also mean inches. (In the original Spanish, for instance, a phrase such as una altura de quince dedos, which makes perfect sense in Spanish, would mean fifteen inches high in English, but a translator who renders it too literally would translate it as fifteen fingers high.)

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 1965 ballet (no relation to the one by Minkus) with choreography by George Balanchine, an American musical – Man of La Mancha (1965) – by Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh, and Joe Darion. which was made into a film in 1972, directed by Arthur Hiller, and a song by Brazilian tropicalia-pioneers Os Mutantes. 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, Twain, and Dostoevsky, and in the 20th -century works of James Joyce, Giannina Braschi, and Jorge Luis Borges. The theme of the novel also inspired the 19th-century French artists Honouré Daumier and Gustave Doré.

The Euro coins of €0.10, €0.20, and €0.50 made for Spain bear the portrait and signature of Cervantes. The Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, a digital library, hosted by the university of Alicante, the largest digital archive of Spanish-language historical and literary works in the world, is named after Cervantes.

Ethnic and religious heritage

There is ongoing debate over Cervantes' family origins. While it was long assumed that Cervantes was an Old Christian, many modern scholars have suggested that he may have descended from a New Christian (or converso) background.

Advocates of the New Christian theory, first set forth by Américo Castro, often suggest Cervantes' mother was a converso. 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 Canavaggio. Others, such as Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz (or Francisco Olmos Garcia, who considers it a "tired issue" and only supported by Américo Castro) reject the theory strongly.

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