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Miguel de Cervantes (1547 - 1616)
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From the Wikipedia:
Cervantes was born at Alcalá de Henares, Spain. The date is not recorded but since he was named Miguel it is believed he was born on the feast day of St. Michael (Sept 29) in 1547. He was the second son and fourth of seven children of Rodrigo de Cervantes and Leonor de Cortinas. His father was an impoverished apothecary-surgeon and came from an old family of Northern Spain. Cervantes was baptized on November 9, 1558. Although Cervantes' reputation rests almost entirely on his portrait of the gaunt country gentleman, El ingenioso hidalgo, his literary production was considerable. William Shakespeare, Cervantes' great contemporary, had evidently read Don Quixote, but it is most unlikely that Cervantes had ever heard of Shakespeare. As a child, Cervantes saw the famous actor-manager and dramatist Lope de Rueda and mentions this in the preface to his plays. This possibly ignited his passion for the theatre in later life.
Cervantes lived an unsettled life of hardship and adventure. He was the son of a surgeon who presented himself as a nobleman. Nothing is known of Cervantes' mother nor her background. 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 Giulio Acquavita. In 1570, he became a soldier, and fought on board a vessel in the battle of Lepanto in 1571. He was shot through the left hand and never after had the entire use of it.
He recovered sufficiently to participate in the naval engagement against the Muslims of Navarino in October 7, 1572. He participated in the capture of Tunis on October 10, 1573 and in the unsuccessful expedition to the relief of La Goletta in the autumn of 1574.
After living a while longer in Italy, with periods of garrison duty at Palermo and Naples, he finally determined to return home in 1575. The ship was captured by the Turks, and he and his brother, Rodrigo, were taken to Algiers as slaves. Cervantes was in possession of a letter of recommendation from the Duke of Alba, whose ship he had served on. The letter was found on his person and the Turks took him for a man of some importance who might bring a hefty ransom. He was held captive for five years, since his family could not afford the overpriced sum, undergoing great suffering, some of which seems 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 Catalina de Salazar y Palacios, 22 years his junior. He and his wife had no children, although two years before his marriage Cervantes had fathered an illegitimate daughter, Isabel, in an affair with Ana Francisca de Rojas.
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 was temporarily excommunicated for confiscating supplies which belonged to the dean of the cathedral of Seville. He suffered a bankruptcy, and was imprisoned at least twice (1597 and 1602) because of irregularities in his accounts, one due to a subordinate rather than 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.
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 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, 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.
Cervantes tried to produce several novellas that appear as subplots of the first part. Although it did not make Cervantes rich, it brought him international appreciation as a man of letters. Cervantes also wrote some plays during this period, as well as 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-defense, Cervantes produced his own continuation, or "Second Part", of Don Quixote, which made its appearance in 1615. Surer of himself, this part does not feature extraneous plots.
For the world at large, interest in Cervantes centers particularly on 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 a large proportion of those who could read among his countrymen, and which had been communicated by them to the illiterate.
Don Quixote certainly reveals much narrative power, considerable humour, a mastery of dialogue, and a forceful 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, the largest group of plays written by Cervantes to have survived. At the same time, Cervantes continued working on Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda, a Byzantine novel of adventurous travel completed just before his death, and which appeared posthumously in January, 1617.
He died in Madrid on April 23, 1616 (Gregorian calendar), the same date as the death of Shakespeare (in the Julian calendar). 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.