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Sunday, 23 February 2014

Miguel de Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes was born in Alcalá de Henares, a Castilian city about 22 miles northeast from Madrid, on September 29, 1547.  He was the son of Rodrigo de Cervantes, an unsuccessful  penniless surgeon, who ended up in a debtor's prison. His mother, Leonor de Cortinas, may have been a descendant of Jewish converts to Christianity. Miguel was the fourth of sixth children.

He studied at the Estudio de la Villa, whose teacher, Juan López de Hoyos, referred to Cervantes as "our dear and beloved pupil," a common form of address in those days.

As a student a number of his poems appeared in a volume published in Madrid to commemorate the death of the Spanish Queen Elizabeth of Valois.

In 1569 Cervantes obtained a position as Gentleman in Waiting (a kind of secretary) in the household of Cardinal Acquaviva in Rome.

That same year Cervantes left Madrid for Rome, the reasons for which are unclear. According to some sources a warrant was issued for the arrest of one Miguel de Cervantes for having dueled and wounded the master builder Antonio de Sigura.

In 1570, Cervantes enlisted as a private soldier in a regiment of the Spanish naval elite corps, Infantería de Marina, stationed in Naples, then a possession of the Spanish crown.

As a soldier for the Papal Army, Cervantes fought in the great 1571 sea Battle of Lepanto which prevented the Turks making further inroads into Europe.

The Battle of Lepanto by Paolo Veronese (c. 1572

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 his vessel, and suffered three gunshot wounds all together, two in his chest and one left arm. It was "for the greater glory of the right" he said of the wound to his left arm which rendered it useless for the rest of his life.

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

In 1575 the ship on which Cervantes was returning to Spain was captured by Barbary pirates. He and his brother were to Algiers, where they became slaves of a Greek renegade, Dali Marni. When the ransom sent to the pirates proved insufficient to free both he insisted that his brother be freed.

Cervantes himself made two unsuccessful attempts to escape. When one of them failed he took all the blame so that his comrades might go unpunished. The viceroy of Algiers struck by his bravery brought him from his master. After five years of slavery his relatives at last ransomed him.

Unable to continue soldiering due to his maimed hand or obtain an appointment with a noble family, Cervantes turned to writing.

Portrait of Miguel de Cervantes commonly said to be painted by Juan de Jáuregui.

Cervantes' early writing career produced a prodigious amount of poems and plays. However, he was completely unsuccessful, as he deliberately tried to write the kind of plays and poetry popular at the time, and to imitate their style, something he was woefully inadequate at doing.

Cervantes entered into an unhappy marriage to Catalina de Salazar Y Palacios in 1584, which brought him a small dowry.

He became a father to a daughter by his actress mistress Ana Franca de Rojas just before his marriage. Isabel de Saavedra became part of his household. Their marriage was childless.

Cervantes took on a series of odd jobs to make ends meet. During the Armada, Cervantes was the commissary to supply wheat, barley and oil for the troops.

His financial difficulties netted him three or more prison terms and an excommunication by the Spanish Inquisition, although it was clear Cervantes never committed any crimes.

When working as a tax collector Cervantes was imprisoned for deficiencies in his accounts, caused by the disappearance of the Portuguese banker to whom he'd entrusted the money.

The first part of Don Quixote was published in Madrid on January 16, 1605 (Second part 1615). Tradition maintains that Cervantes wrote his satire of chivalric romance in jail at Argamasilla in La Mancha. during one of his imprisonments for debt.

It's full title is "El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha ("The Ingenious Nobleman Don Quijote of La Mancha").

Don Quixote was such an immediate success that within two weeks of its publication, three pirate editions appeared in Madrid. Six editions were  printed in its first year.

Title page of first edition (1605)
According to Spanish folklore, King Philip III of Spain was looking out of his palace window when he saw a man reading a book by the roadside. The man was laughing so heartily that tears ran down his cheeks. "That man" said the king "is either crazy or reading Don Quixote."

Though Don Quixote made Cervantes some money, the pirating of the novel prevented him fully cashing in . He was never rich, in fact he wrote Don Quixote because he was short of cash. His plays had failed, his salary was paid late and he was plagued by litigation.

When Don Quixote pt 1 was published such a style was still a novel idea and it was a major influence on the development of the European novel.

Don Quixote pt 2 is considered to be better than the first in terms of construction and characterisation.

English translations of Don Quixote have frequently been published at intervals. There was only one in the 1600s, but there were at least three during the 1700s, three or four more between 1881 and 1899, three between 1949 and 1957, and there have since been three more published between 1993 and 2003.

Don Quixote has been translated into all modern languages and has appeared in some 700 editions.

Some well known sayings that originate from Don Quixote:
"There are only two families in the world, my old grandmother used to say. 'The haves and the havenots.'”
"Tell me what company thou keepest and I'll tell you what thou art."
"The pot calls the kettle black."
"Be slow of tongue and quick of eye"
"The proof of the pudding is in the eating."

According to Don Quixote the 11th commandment is "mind your own business."

Cervantes' appearance was typical of his period with forked beard and a fancy walrus moustache.

Cervantes' favorite book was Tirant lo Blanch a chivalrous romance written in 1490 by Johan de Galba & Johannot Martorell.

His one-act Eight Interludes, published in 1615, were written, unlike his full-length plays, mostly in prose, and mostly in the colloquial style which was his alone. They were considered unworthy of Cervantes' abilities for a fairly long time, but have lately come to be highly regarded by critics.

Cervantes was told by the playhouse manager that his Eight Interludes did not measure up to the works of other playwrights of the era, which made him quite angry. However, he remained  optimistic about their chances and published them so that at least the reading public might know them. They have appeared in several English translations, but have never gained as wide a public as Don Quixote.

In 1609 Cervantes joined a confraternity which honored the blessed sacrament. Four years later, he traveled to Alcalá, where he became a Franciscan novice.

Incurably ill of dropsy, Cervantes was formally initiated into the Franciscan order in April 1616.

Shortly before his death Cervantes  wrote, "Good-bye pleasant fancies, for I perceive that I am dying. My wish is to see you happy in the other life. "

Cervantes died of dropsy on April 22, 1616,  just after completing Persiles y Sigismonde. and was buried clad in his Franciscan habit at the Convent Church of Trinitarian Nuns in the Calle de Cantarranas in Madrid.

His contemporary, William Shakespeare, died ten days later, and when the calendar was amended, by a freak coincidence, his death date also read (and has remained) April 23, 1616.

When the convent was rebuilt late in the 17th Century, Cervantes' remains were moved into the new building. However, his coffin was lost and his tomb was only re-discovered in 2015.

There is a Cervantes museum in Valladolid, Spain.

George Washington bought the book Don Quixote on September 17, 1787, the day the Constitution was signed.

Nick Kershaw had a UK #10 hit with "Don Quixote," possibly the only early 17th century Spanish novel to inspire a British hit record.

The Broadway musical Man of La Mancha tells the story of the "mad" knight, Don Quixote, as a play within a play, performed by Cervantes and his fellow prisoners as he awaits a hearing with the Spanish Inquisition. The original 1965 Broadway production ran for 2,328 performances and won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

The principal song, "The Impossible Dream" has became a standard. It is sung in the musical by Don Quixote as he stands vigil over his armor, in response to Aldonza (Dulcinea)'s question about what he means by "following the quest" and reprised partially three more times.

Sources  A Lifetimes' Reading Philip Ward, IMDB, Wikipedia 

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