Who is Miguel de Cervantes? Information about the life, biography, books and works of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote.
Miguel de Cervantes; (1547-1616), Spanish writer, who was Spain’s greatest literary genius and among the most esteemed figures in world literature. His works, the greatest of which is Don Quixote, exemplify the fusion of Renaissance humanism and aesthetics with the disillusion, skepticism, and critical attitudes of the baroque period. Cervantes’ style is a harmonious balance between the affected rhetoric of the 16th century and the natural spoken language. His role in Spanish literature is similar in several respects to that of Lope de Vega (1562-1635). Both stood at the crossroads between the Renaissance and the baroque; both splendidly synthesized the ideas and habits of their fellow Spaniards; and both were the creators of modern literary genres in Spain: Cervantes in the novel and Lope in the theater. However, there the comparison ends, for Lope had worthy competitors but Cervantes was without peers.
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was born in Alcalá de Henares, a town near Madrid. He was baptized on Oct. 9, 1547; although the exact day of his birth is not known, it is believed that he was born on September 29, the day of San Miguel (Saint Michael), whose name he bears. Miguel was the fourth of seven children born to Leonor de Cortinas and Rodrigo de Cervantes, a member of the minor nobility, who evidently was unsuccessful in his practice of surgery. In 1551, seeking a livelihood, the father moved his family from town to town in Spain—to Valladolid, Córdoba, Seville, and Madrid.
Cervantes probably studied with the Jesuits in Córdoba or Seville, and perhaps spent two years at the University of Salamanca, the oldest Spanish university. In 1568-1569 he studied in Madrid with Juan López de Hoyos, a humanist, who probably instilled in the young man a desire for knowledge and a love of freedom. In 1569, by publishing three poems in which Cervantes honored the death of Isabel of Valois, the third wife of Philip II, López de Hoyos revealed his affection for his disciple. The same year, Cervantes went to Rome in the service of Guilio Acquaviva, who became a cardinal in 1570. Scholars can only speculate as to Cervantes’ reason for going to Italy. It could have been to seek adventure, to make his way in the world, or to escape punishment for a youthful indiscretion.
In 1570, Cervantes became a soldier, and on Oct. 7, 1571, fought in the naval battle of Lepanto, in which the forces of Don Juan of Austria, half brother of Philip II of Spain, defeated the Turks. Cervantes fought bravely aboard the galley Marquesa and received a wound in the chest and another that permanently maimed his left hand. This injury to his hand earned him the title “Cripple of Lepanto,” a nickname of which he was very proud. After his recuperation in Messina, Sicily, he returned to active duty in the campaigns of Corfu and Navarino (1572) and Tunis (1573).
In September 1575 he and his brother Rodrigo set out on the galley Sol for Spain, carrying letters written by Don Juan of Austria and the Duke of Sesa, viceroy of Sicily, recommending him for promotion. The Sol was captured by Barbary pirates, and for five years Cervantes was a slave of the Moors in Algiers. His brother was ransomed two years after their capture, but Miguel’s ransom was set much higher because the Moors thought he was a more important captive in view of the influential letters of recommendation they found in his possession. Four times he participated in unsuccessful attempts to escape from captivity. Finally, on Sept. 19, 1580, two Trinitarian monks effected his release with the payment of 500 escudos raised by their order and Cervantes’ family.
Return to Spain:
When Cervantes returned to Madrid, he found his family in dire poverty and his war service forgotten. He held- several temporary and ill-paid administrative posts of little consequence. Then he returned energetically to literature, and between 1583 and 1587 wrote his pastoral novel La Galatea, a number of plays, and some poetry. During this time he had a love affair with an actor’s wife named either Ana Franca de Rojas or Ana de Villafranca, and from this union was born Isabel de Saavedra. On Dec. 12, 1584, he married Catalina de Salazar Pala-cios of Esquivias, near Toledo. She was a girl almost half his age, and her dowry consisted of a house and some land not far from Madrid. From 1585 to 1587 the couple lived in Esquivias, paying occasional visits to Madrid to tend to matters related to Cervantes’ writings. The marriage proved to be a failure, and toward the end of 1587, Cervantes left his wife. During the next 20 years he led a nomadic existence, traveling about Spain in an effort to eke out a livelihood.
In Seville, Cervantes became a purchasing agent for the Spanish Armada, which Philip II was outfitting tor his attack on England. Cervantes was not really a suitable choice for this post or others like it. He squabbled with peasants who refused to pay a share of their crops to the government; he was accused of mismanaging funds; he lost money because of bank failures; he was excommunicated by the church for expropriating its wheat; and he was brought to trial several times and imprisoned at least twice (1592 and 1597) because of fiscal irregularities. In 1590 he had sought and been denied a post in the American possessions of Spain. During one of his incarcerations (probably the second one, which was in a Sevillian jail) Cervantes conceived the idea for or began to write Don Quixote. His prologue to this work states that it was “engendered in some dismal prison where wretchedness is rooted and every dismal noise resides.” The scoundrels and criminals he encountered in prison appeared in his fiction, their behavior and language realistically portrayed.
In 1603 or 1604, Cervantes went to live with his two sisters, his illegitimate daughter, and a niece in Valladolid, where Philip III had established his court. The first part of Don Quixote was published early in 1605. During the evening of June 27 of the same year, Gaspar de Ezpeleta, a nobleman, was mortally wounded outside Cervantes’ house, and Cervantes and several members of his family were arrested and charged with complicity in Ezpeleta’s death. Although they were exonerated of this crime, there is evidence to indicate that the morality of the family, especially that of the women, was held in low esteem.
Cervantes moved to Madrid when the court returned there in 1606, and he remained there the rest of his life. In the next 11 years, his major works appeared: in 1613, Exemplary Tales (Novelas ejemplares); in 1614, Journey to Parnassus (Viaje del Parnaso), a volume of poems; and in 1615, the second part of Don Quixote and Eight Comedies and Eight Interludes (Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses), a collection of plays. He finished Persiles and Sigismundo (Persiles y Sigismundo) not long before his death in Madrid on April 23, 1616. Despite his attainment of wide recognition as an outstanding literary figure in the final years of his life, Cervantes continued to be harassed by poverty and was bitterly disillusioned over the conduct of his illegitimate daughter.