Within the pantheon of Spanish literature, Miguel de Cervantes reigns supreme among its many writers. Cervantes was born in 1547 in a town roughly 20 miles from Madrid. He died in Madrid in 1616. During his lifetime, Cervantes was variously a soldier, a civil servant and a writer. It is as a writer that he is best known. Cervantes wrote prose fiction, dramatic works and poetry.
Works of Prose Fiction
Cervantes’ works of fiction include:
1585: Primera parte de la Galatea
This was Cervantes’ first novel. A pastoral, romantic story, the novel did not achieve literary success.
1613: Novelas exemplares
This is comprised of 12 novellas that deal with, among other things, idealism and realism.
1617: Los trabaios de Persiles y Sigismunda, historia setentrional
This was a fantastical, romantic novel that Cervantes completed just three days before he died in 1616. He believed this to be his best work.
It is The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, which is translated to Spanish as El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, for which Cervantes is best known, however. The first part of Don Quixote was published in 1605. The plains of La Mancha provide the setting for the story. It centers on Alonso Quixana. He is an elderly man who has become witless from reading too many books about chivalry. Quixana dresses up in an old suit of armor and roams the country in the guise of a knight-errant who goes by the name of Don Quixote de la Mancha.
Don Quixote is an adventurous and imaginative knight. For example, he thinks windmills are dragons. The story is wonderfully farcical, and is replete with puns, irony and word play.
Writing for the theater was very lucrative work during Cervantes’ time, because plays were important to cultural life in Spain. Cervantes wrote a number of plays, two of which survive, but play writing was not his forte. Dramatic pieces included:
- La Numancia: a tragedy
- Ocho comedias, y ocho entremeses nuevos: a work of comedy
Works of Poetry
In 1614, Cervantes published Viage del Parnaso. It was translated to English in 1870 by Gordon Willoughby James Gryll under the title Voyage to Parnassus.
Cervantes’ novel about Don Quixote was the world’s first ever best-seller. The book and the eponymous gentleman remain as relevant today as ever, and have been a source of inspiration for many writers, poets, dramatists, musicians and film makers throughout history.