About the Author

Portrait of Miguel de Cervantes

Spanish novelist, playwright, and poet, the creator of Don Quixote, the most famous figure in Spanish literature. Although Cervantes' reputation rests almost entirely on his portrait of the gaunt country gentleman, El ingenioso hidalgo, his literary production was considerable. Shakespeare, Cervantes's great contemporary, had evidently read Don Quixote, but it is most unlike that Cervantes had ever heard of Shakespeare.

Cervantes lived an unsettled life of hardship and adventure. He was born in Alcalá de Henares, a town near Madrid, into a family of the minor nobility. His father was a doctor and much of his childhood Cervantes spent moving from town to town while his father sought work. After studying in Madrid (1568-69), where his teacher was the humanist Juan Ló;pez de Hoyos, he went to Rome in the service of Guilio Acquavita. In 1570 he became a soldier and took part in the sea battle at Lepanto (1571), during which he received a wound that permanently maimed his left hand. Cervantes was extremely proud of his role in the famous victory and of the nickname he earned, el manco de Lepanto.

In 1575 he set out with his brother Rodrigo on the galley El Sol for Spain. The ship was captured by the Turks and the brothers were taken to Algiers as slaves. Cervantes spent five years as a slave until his family could raise enough money to pay his ransom. Cervantes was released in 1580, and after the return to Madrid he held several temporary administrative post. In 1584 he married 18 years younger Catalina de Salazar y Palacios. During the next 20 years he led a nomadic existence, also working as a purchasing agent for the Spanish Armada and a tax collector. He suffered a bankruptcy and was imprisoned at least twice (1597 and 1602) because of fiscal irregularities. Between the years 1596 and 1600 he lived primarily in Seville. In 1606 Cervantes settled permanently in Madrid, where he remained the rest of his life. He died on April 23, 1616.

Cervantes started his literary career in Andalusia in 1580. His first major work was the Galatea (1858), a pastoral romance. It received little contemporary notice and Cervantes never wrote the continuation for it, which he repeatedly promised. In his play El Trato de Argel, printed in 1784, he dealt with the life of Christian slaves in Algiers. Aside from his plays, his most ambitious work in verse was Viaje del Parnaso (1614), an allegory which consists largely of a rather tedious though good-natured reviews of contemporary poets. Cervantes himself realized that he was deficient in poetic gifts. Later generations have considered him one of the world's worst poets.

Tradition maintains, that he wrote Don Quixote in prison at Argamasilla in La Mancha. Cervantes' idea was to give a picture of real life and manners and to express himself in clear language, "in simple, honest, and well-measured words," as he stated in the prologue to Part I of Don Quixote. 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. According to a story King Philip III of Spain once saw a man reading beside the road and laughing so much that the tears were rolling down his cheeks. The King said: "That man is either crazy or he is reading Don Quixote." Cervantes also wrote many plays, only two of which have survived, short novels, and the second part of Don Quixote (1615).

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