Miguel de Cervantes

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Writers and critics

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra ( September 29, 1547 – April 23, 1616), was a Spanish novelist, poet and playwright. He is best known for his novel Don Quijote de la Mancha, which is considered by many to be the first modern novel, one of the greatest works in Western literature, and the greatest of the Spanish language. It 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 word of human thinking". Israel Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion learned the Spanish language so that he could read it in the original, considering it a prerequisite to becoming an effective statesman.


Early years

Cervantes was born at Alcalá de Henares, Spain, on a day not recorded, but since he was named Miguel it is guessed he was born on the feast day of St. Michael ( September 29) in 1547. He was baptized on October 9, 1547. Although Cervantes' reputation rests almost entirely on his portrait of the gaunt country gentleman, El ingenioso hidalgo, his literary production was considerable. Shakespeare, Cervantes' great contemporary, had evidently read Don Quixote, but it is most unlikely that Cervantes had ever heard of Shakespeare.

Cervantes lived an unsettled life of hardship and adventure. He was the son of a surgeon who presented himself as a nobleman, although Cervantes's mother seems to have been a descendant of Jewish converts to Christianity. Little is known of his early years, but it seems that Cervantes spent much of his childhood moving from town to town, while his father sought work. After studying in Madrid (1568-1569), where his teacher was the humanist Juan López de Hoyos, Cervantes went to Rome in the service of Guilio Acquavita. Once in Italy, he doubtless began straightway to familiarize himself with Italian literature, a knowledge of which is so readily discernible in his own productions. In 1570, he became a soldier, and fought bravely on board a vessel in the great battle of Lepanto in 1571, and was shot through the left hand in such a way that he never after had the entire use of it.

When his wound was healed, he engaged in another campaign, one directed against the Muslims in Northern Africa, and then after living a while longer in Italy, he finally determined to return home in 1575. The ship was captured by the Turks, and the brothers were taken to Algiers as slaves. There he spent five years, undergoing great sufferings, some of which seem to be reflected in the episode of the "Captive" in Don Quixote, and in scenes of the play, El trato de Argel. After four unsuccessful escape attempts, he was ransomed by the Trinitarians, and returned to his family in Madrid in 1580. In 1584, he married the much younger Catalina de Salazar y Palacios. 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) because of irregularities in his accounts, one due rather to some subordinate than to himself. Between the years 1596 and 1600, he lived primarily in Seville. In 1606, Cervantes settled permanently in Madrid, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Literary pursuits

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.

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 ridicule the romances of chivalry, and to destroy the popularity of a form of literature which for much more than a century had engrossed the attention of a large proportion of those who could read among his countrymen, and which had been communicated by them to the ignorant.

Don Quixote certainly reveals much narrative power, considerable humour, a mastery of dialogue, and a forcible style. Of the two parts written by Cervantes, the first has ever remained the favourite. 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.


He died in Madrid on April 23, 1616; coincidentally William Shakespeare also died on that date, though Cervantes died ten days earlier than Shakespeare, Spain being on the Gregorian calendar and England being on the Julian calendar. In 1850 William Wordsworth died on April 23 and in 1915 Rupert Brooke died on the same date.

It is worth mentioning that the Encyclopedia Hispanica claims the date widely quoted as Cervantes' date of death, namely April 23, is the date on his tombstone which in accordance of the traditions of Spain at the time would be his date of burial rather than date of death. If this is true, according to Hispanica, then it means that Cervantes probably died on April 22 and was buried on April 23

Cervantes's influence is seen among others in the works of Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, Gustave Flaubert, Herman Melville, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and in the works of James Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges.



Cervantes's novels, listed chronologically, are:

  • La Galatea ( 1585), a pastoral romance in prose and verse based upon the genre introduced into Spain by Jorge de Montemayor's Diana ( 1559). Its theme is the fortunes and misfortunes in love of a number of idealized shepherds and shepherdesses, who spend their life singing and playing musical instruments.
  • El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha I ( 1605)
  • Novelas ejemplares ( 1613), a collection of twelve short stories of varied types about the social, political, and historical problems of the Cervantes' Spain:
  • La Gitanilla (The Gypsy Girl)
  • El Amante Liberal (The Generous Lover)
  • Rinconete y Cortadillo
  • La Española Inglesa (The English Spanish Lady)
  • El Licenciado Vidriera (The Glass Vidriera)
  • La Fuerza de la Sangre (The Power of Blood)
  • El Celoso Extremeño (The Jealous Old Man From Extremadura)
  • La Ilustre Fregona (The Illustrious Kitchen-Maid)
  • Novela de las Dos Doncellas (The Two Damsels)
  • Novela de la Señora Cornelia (Lady Cornelia)
  • Novela del Casamiento Engañoso (The Deceitful Marriage)
  • El Diálogo de los Perros (The Dialogue of the Dogs)
  • Segunda parte del ingenioso caballero don Quijote de la Mancha ( 1615)
  • Los trabajos de Persiles y Segismunda, historia septentrional, The Labors of Persiles and Sigismunda: A Northern Story ( 1617).

Los trabajos 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 for their complicated adventures.

Don Quixote

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

Don Quixote is universally regarded as Cervantes' masterwork and one of the greatest novels of all time, as well as the first novel in the Western literary canon.

The novel is actually 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, as his successful works prove. Under the influence of this feeling, he drew the natural and striking portrait of his heroic Don Quixote, so truly noble-minded, and so enthusiastic an admirer of every thing good and great, yet having all those fine qualities, accidentally blended with a relative kind of madness; and he likewise portrayed with no less fidelity, the opposite character of Sancho Panza, a compound of grossness and simplicity, whose low selfishness leads him to place blind confidence in all the extravagant hopes and promises of his master.The subordinate characters of the novel exhibit equal truth and decision.

A translator cannot commit a more serious injury to Don Quixote, than to dress that work in a light, anecdotical style. A style perfectly unostentatious and free from affectation, but at the same time solemn, and penetrated, as it were, with the character of the hero, diffuses over this comic romance an imposing air, which, were it not so appropriate, would seem to belong exclusively to serious works and which is certainly difficult to be seized in a translation. But it is precisely this solemnity of language, which imparts a characteristic relief to the comic scenes. It is the genuine style of the old romances of chivalry, improved and applied in a totally original way; and only where the dialogue style occurs is each person found to speak as he might be expected to do, and in his own peculiar manner. But wherever Don Quixote himself harangues the language re-assumes the venerable tone of the romantic style; and various uncommon expressions of which the hero avails himself serve to complete the delusion of his covetous squire, to whom they are only half intelligible. This characteristic tone diffuses over the whole a poetic colouring, which distinguishes Don Quixote from all comic romances on the ordinary style; and that poetic colouring is moreover heightened by the judicious choice of episodes.

The essential connection of these episodes with the whole has sometimes escaped the observation of critics, who have regarded as merely parenthetical those parts in which Cervantes has most decidedly manifested the poetic spirit of his work. The novel of El Curioso Impertinente cannot indeed be ranked among the number of these essential episodes but the charming story of the shepherdess Marcella, the history of Dorothea, and the history of the rich Camacho and the poor Basilio, are unquestionably connected with the interest of the whole.

IV centenary of Don Quixote of La Mancha (1605-2005)
IV centenary of Don Quixote of La Mancha (1605-2005)

These serious romantic parts, which are not, it is true, essential to the narrative connexion, but strictly belong to the characteristic dignity of the whole picture, also prove how far Cervantes was from the idea usually attributed to him of writing a book merely to excite laughter. The passages, which common readers feel inclined to pass over, are, in general, precisely those in which Cervantes is most decidedly a poet, and for which he has manifested an evident predilection. On such occasions, he also introduces among his prose, episodical verses, for the most part excellent in their kind and no translator can omit them without doing violence to the spirit of the original.

Were it not for the happy art with which Cervantes has contrived to preserve an intermediate tone between pure poetry and prose, Don Quixote would not deserve to be cited as the first classic model of the modern romance or novel. It is, however, fully entitled to that distinction. Cervantes was the first writer who formed the genuine romance of modern times on the model of the original chivalrous romance that equivocal creation of the genius and the barbarous taste of the Middle Ages. The result has proved that modern taste, however readily it may in other respects conform to the rules of the antique, nevertheless requires, in the narration of fictitious events, a certain union of poetry with prose, which was unknown to the Greeks and Romans in their best literary ages. It was only necessary to seize on the right tone, but that was a point of delicacy, which the inventors of romances of chivalry were not able to comprehend. Diego de Mendoza, in his Lazarillo de Tormes, departed too far from poetry. Cervantes, in his Don Quixote restored to the poetic art the place it was entitled to hold in this class of writing; and he must not be blamed if cultivated nations have subsequently mistaken the true spirit of this work, because their own novelists had led them to regard common prose as the style peculiarly suited to romance composition.

Don Quixote is, moreover, the undoubted prototype of the comic novel. The humorous situations are, it is true, almost all burlesque, which was certainly not necessary, but the satire is frequently so delicate, that it escapes rather than obtrudes on unpractised attention; as for example, in the whole picture of the administration of Sancho Panza in his imaginary island. The language, even in the description of the most burlesque situations, never degenerates into vulgarity; it is on the contrary, throughout the whole work, so noble, correct and highly polished, that it would not disgrace even an ancient classic of the first rank. This explanation of a part of the merits of a work, which has been so often wrongly judged, may perhaps seem belong rather to the eulogist than the calm and impartial historian. Let those who may he inclined to form this opinion study Don Quixote in the original language, and study it rightly, for it is not a book to be judged by a superficial perusal. But care must be taken lest the intervention of many subordinate traits, which were intended to have only a transient national interest, should produce an error in the estimate of the whole. By the 20th century it became clear that Don Quixote was the first true modern novel, a systemical and structural masterpiece.

La Galatea

La Galatea, the pastoral romance, which Cervantes wrote in his youth, is a happy imitation of the Diana of Jorge de Montemayor, but exhibiting a still closer resemblance to Gil Polo's continuation of that romance. Next to Don Quixote and the Novelas exemplares, his pastoral romance 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, and from which he never entirely departed in his subsequent writings. As, however, the Galatea possesses but little originality, it constantly excites the recollection of its models, and particularly of the Diana of Gil Polo. Of the invention of the fable, likewise, but little can be said, for though the story is continued through six books, it is still incomplete.

In composing this pastoral romance, Cervantes seems to have had no other object than to clothe in the popular garb of a tale, a rich collection of poems in the old, Spanish and Italian styles, which he could not have presented to the public under a more agreeable form. The story is merely the thread, which holds the beautiful garland together; for the poems are the portion of the work most particularly deserving attention. They are as numerous as they are various: and should the title of Cervantes to rank among the most eminent poets, whether in reference to verse or to prose, or should his originality in versified composition be called in question, an attentive perusal of the romance of Galatea must vanish every doubt of these points.

It was remarked by the contemporaries of Cervantes that he was incapable of writing poetry, and that he could compose only beautiful prose; but that observation referred solely to his dramatic works. Every critic sufficiently acquainted with his lyrical compositions has rendered justice to their merit. From the romance of Galatea, it is obvious that Cervantes composed in all the various kinds of syllabic measure, which were used in his time. He even occasionally adopted the old dactylic stanza. He appears to have experienced some difficulty in the metrical form of the sonnet, and his essays in that style are by no means numerous; but his poems in Italian octaves display the utmost facility; and among the number, the song of Caliope, in the last book of the Galatea, is remarkable for graceful ease of versification.

In the same manner as Gil Polo in his Diana makes the river Turia pronounce the praises of the celebrated Valencians, the poetic fancy of Cervantes summoned the muse Calliope before the shepherds and shepherdesses, to render solemn homage to those contemporaries whom he esteemed worthy of distinction as poets. But the critic can scarcely venture to place reliance on praises dealt out with such profuse liberality.The most beautiful poems in the Galatea are a few in the cancion style, some of which are iambics, and some in trochaic or Old Spanish verse. Cervantes has here and there indulged in those antiquated and fantastic plays of wit, which at a subsequent period he himself ridiculed.

Novelas Exemplares

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 Exemplares (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 novels 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 Diálogo 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 man of glass; 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 led by the unforgettable Monipodio, whose house is the headquarters of the Sevillian underworld. Under the bright Andalusian sky persons and objects take form with the brilliance and subtle drama of a Velazquez, 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.

'Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda

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 the novelist, Cervantes is often considered a mediocre poet.If we cast a glance on the collected works of Cervantes, in order to ascertain what their author was entitled to claim as his original property, independently of his contemporaries and predecessors, we shall find that the genius of that poet, who is in general only partially estimated, shines with the finer lustre the longer it is contemplated. That kind of criticism that is to be learned, contributed but little to the development and formation of his genius. A critical tact, which is a truer guide than any rule, but which abandons genius when it forgets itself, secured the fancy of Cervantes against the aberrations of common minds, and his sportive wit was always subject to the control of solid judgement. The vanity, which occasionally made him mistake the true bent of his talent, must be confessed to have been pardonable, considering how little he was known to his contemporaries. He did not even know himself, though he felt the consciousness of his genius. From the mental height to which he had raised himself, he might, without too highly rating his own abilities, look down on all the writers of his age. More than one poet of great, of immortal genius, might be placed beside him in his own country; but of all the Spanish poets, Cervantes alone belongs to the whole world.

Viaje al Parnaso

The prose of the Galatea, which is in other respects so beautiful, is also occasionally overloaded with epithet. Cervantes displays a totally different kind of poetic talent in the Viaje al Parnaso, a work which cannot properly be ranked in any particular class of literary composition, but which, next to Don Quixote, is the most exquisite production of its extraordinary author.

The chief object of the poem is to satirize the false pretenders to the honours of the Spanish Parnassus, who lived in the age of the writer. But this satire is of a peculiar character: it is a most happy effusion of sportive humour, and yet it remains a matter of doubt whether Cervantes intended to praise or to ridicule the individuals whom he points out as being particularly worthy of the favour of Apollo. He himself says :"Those whose names do not appear in this list may be just as well pleased as those who are mentioned in it".

To characterise true poetry according to his own poetic feelings, to manifest in a decided way his enthusiasm for the art even in his old age, and to hold up a mirror for the conviction of those who were only capable of making rhymes and inventing extravagances, seem to have been the objects which Cervantes had principally in view when he composed this satirical poem.

Concealed satire, open jesting, and ardent enthusiasm for the beautiful, are the boldly combined elements of this noble work. It is divided into eight chapters, and the versification is in tercets.

The composition is half comic and half serious. After many humorous incidents, Mercury appears to Cervantes, who is represented as travelling to Parnassus in the most miserable condition; and the god salutes him with the title of the "Adam of poets." Mercury, after addressing to him many flattering compliments, conducts him to a ship entirely built of different kinds of verse, and which is intended to convey a cargo of Spanish poets to the kingdom of Apollo. The description of the ship is an admirable comic allegory. Mercury shows him a list of the poets with whom Apollo wishes to become acquainted and this list, owing to the problematic nature of its half ironical and half serious praises, has proved a stumbling block to commentators. In the midst of the reading, Cervantes suddenly drops the list. The poets are now described as crowding on board the ship in numbers as countless as drops of rain in a shower, or grains of sand on the seacoast; and such a tumult ensues, that, to save the ship from sinking by their pressure, the sirens raise a furious storm. The flights of imagination become more wild as the story advances. Thy storm subsides, and is succeeded by a shower of poets, that is to say poets fall from the clouds. One of the first who descends on the ship is Lope de Vega, on whom Cervantes seizes this opportunity of pronouncing an emphatic praise. The remainder of the poem, a complete analysis of which would occupy too much space, proceeds in the same spirit.

One of the most beautiful pieces of verse ever written by Cervantes, is his description of the goddess Poesy, whom he sees in all her glory in the kingdom of Apollo. To this fine picture the portrait of the goddess Vain-Glory, who afterwards appears to the author in a dream, forms an excellent companion. Among the passages, which for burlesque humour vie with Don Quixote is the description of a second storm, in which Neptune vainly endeavours to plunge the poetasters to the bottom of the deep. Venus prevents them from sinking, by changing them into gourds and leather flasks. At length a formal battle is fought between the real poets and some of the poetasters. The poem is throughout interspersed with singularly witty and beautiful ideas; and only a very few passages can be charged with feebleness or languor. It has never been equalled, far less surpassed by any similar work, and it had no prototype. The language is classical throughout; and it is only to be regretted that Cervantes has added to the poem a comic supplement in prose, in which he indulges a little too freely in self-praise.


Comparisons have also diminished the reputation of his plays, but two of them, El Trato de Argel and La Numancia, ( 1582), made a big impact and were not surpassed until Lope de Vega appeared.

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 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 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 del Amor, the cloak and dagger play La Entretenida, El Rufián Dichoso and Pedro de Urdemalas, a sensitive play about a pícaro 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) , 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 the greater self-complacency in proportion as they experienced the neglect of 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.

La Numancia

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, in doing which 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' historical importance and influence

Cervantes' novel Don Quixote has had a tremendous influence on the development of prose fiction; it has been translated into all modern languages and has appeared in 700 editions. The first translation in English, and also in any language, was made by Thomas Shelton in 1608, but not published until 1612.

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 tone poem by the German composer Richard Strauss; a German film (1933) directed by G. W. Pabst and a Soviet film (1957) directed by Grigori Kozintzev; a ballet (1965) by George Balanchine; and an American musical, Man of La Mancha (1965), by Mitch Leigh.

Its 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 Dostoyevsky. The theme also inspired the 19th-century French artists Honoré Daumier and Gustave Doré.

Selected criticism


  • Passing for Spain: Cervantes and the Fictions of Identity / Barbara Fuchs, 2003
  • Cervantes, the Novel, and the New World / Diana De Armas Wilson, 2001
  • Cervantes for the 21st Century / Edward J. Dudley, 2000
  • Miguel de Cervantes (Twayne Series) / Manuel Duran, 1999
  • Cervantes, Don Quixote (Norton Critical Editions), 1999
  • Cervantes: Essays on Social and Literary Polemics / Dominick L. Finello, 1998
  • Studies on Cervantes / Karl-Ludwig Selig, 1993
  • Through the Shattering Glass: Cervantes / Nicholas Spadaccini, 1993
  • Cervantine Journeys / Steven D. Hutchinson, 1992
  • On Cervantes: Essays for L.A. Murillo / James A. Parr, 1991
  • In the Margins of Cervantes / John G. Weiger, 1988
  • Critical Essays on Cervantes / Ruth S. El Saffar, 1986
  • A Study of Don Quixote / Daniel Eisenberg, 1985
  • The Substance of Cervantes / John G. Weiger, 1985
  • The Romantic Approach to Don Quixote / A. J. Close, 1978
  • Don Quixote: or, The Critique of Reading / Carlos Fuentes, 1976
  • Cervantes; A Critical Trajectory / Raymond E. Barbera, 1971
  • Cervantes ( 20th Century Views) / Lowry Nelson, 1970
  • Cervantes Across the Centuries / Angel Flores, 1969


  • Discordancias Cervantinas / Julio Baena, 2003
  • Estudios Sobre Cervantes y la Edad de Oro / Alberto Porqueras Mayo, 2003
  • El Mundo como Escritura: Estudios Sobre Cervantes / Ines Carrasco Cantos, 2003
  • Cervantes / Rosa Navarro Duran, 2003
  • El Pensamiento de Cervantes y Otros Estudios Cervantinos / Americo Castro, 2002
  • Para Leer el Quijote / Alicia Parodi, 2001
  • La Rara Invencion: Estudios Sobre Cervantes / E. C. Riley, 2001
  • Don Quijote, el Lector Por Excelencia / Asun Bernardez, 2000
  • Nuevas Visiones del Quijote / Felipe Benitez Reyes, 2000
  • Don Quijote, Ciudadano del Mundo, y Otros Ensayos / Alberto Sanchez, 1999
  • El Quijote y la Critica Contemporanea / Jose Montero Reguera, 1997
  • Cervantes y la Melancolia: Ensayos/ Javier Garcia Gibert, 1997
  • Cervantes / A. J. Close, 1995
  • Cervantes y las Puertas del Sueno / Aurora Egido, 1994
  • Cervantes: Estudios en la Vispera de su Centenario, 1994
  • Cervantes: Novelar Del Mundo Desintegrado / Georges Guntert, 1993
  • Estudios Cervantinos / Daniel Eisenberg, 1991
  • Cervantismos y Quijoterias / Carlos E. Mesa, 1985
  • Lecciones Cervantinas / Alberto Blecua, 1985
  • Cervantes / Angel Basanta, 1981
  • Nuevos Deslindes Cervantinos / Juan Bautista Avalle-Arce, 1975
  • Cervantes / Juan Luis Alborg, 1966
  • Vida de Don Quijote y Sancho / Miguel de Unamuno, 1905


  • Cervantes and Shakespeare both died on the same date, but not on the same day. Britain was still using the Julian calendar, whereas Spain had already adopted the Gregorian calendar. April 23 is UNESCO's International Day of the Book in honour of this co-incidence.
  • There is no surviving portrait of Cervantes. It is common to find pictures claiming to represent Cervantes' likeness, but none of them has been authenticated.
  • Cerventes is the name of a character in the "Soulcalibur" video game series, first appearing as an arcade game then moving to Sega's Dreamcast console and most recently to Nintendo's Gamecube, Microsoft's Xbox, and Sony's Playstation 2. The character in the video games shares nothing in common with the author save their name, unless Cervantes was in reality a particularly deadly demon pirate.

Retrieved from " http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miguel_de_Cervantes"