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Cervantes' Spain
About Cervantes
About Cervantes
The Golden Age of Spain


About Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was born in Alcalá de Henares in 1547. The author of over thirty plays, five novels, and numerous poems, Cervantes is arguably Spain's most well-known writer. Scant historical documents, however, have left little evidence to adequately describe Cervantes's life as a writer and his personality. The evidence that does exist reveals a man not dissimilar to his character Don Quixote, a world traveler who fights his battles with conviction.

Cervantes lived during a historical period when Spain was experiencing its Golden Age and the Reformation was turning Europe into a battleground in which the Turks aggressively fought the Catholic Spaniards for power. A Catholic and patriot, Cervantes was devoutly religious and loyal to his country. In 1571, twenty-year-old Cervantes joined the Spanish army with his brother. Much of what is known about Cervantes documents his involvement in the military. He fought in the battle of Lepanto against the Turks, where his valiant fighting was greatly commended. Volunteering to fight in exposed areas, he received two shots in the chest and a permanent wound to his left hand.

Despite losing the use of one hand, Cervantes then served as a soldier in various military campaigns, including Navarino and La Goleta, under the command of Don Manuel Ponce de León. In 1575, he decided to return home with his brother. While en route to Spain, Cervantes's ship was detained by Algerian pirates and both Cervantes and his brother were captured and sold as slaves.

While Cervantes was held as a slave in Algiers, he repeatedly struggled to escape with his fellow captives. Each time he and his companions were caught, he voluntarily accepted full responsibility. Luckily, the Dey of Algiers, Hassan Pacha, found Cervantes's display of courage impressive and always spared him from what would have been atrocious punishments.

In 1580, Cervantes finally returned to Spain, but had no form of employment. He started to write plays, including La Galatea, but received little recognition. (Of the thirty to forty plays he wrote, only a few have survived today.) During this time, Cervantes was involved with a Portuguese woman who ultimately left him and their daughter Isabel. He later married Catalina Salaza y Vozmediano, the daughter of a wealthy farmer. Still wrestling with financial difficulties, Cervantes struggled to support himself and his wife, child, mother, two sisters, and mother-in-law, and eventually his financial failures led to the deterioration of his marriage.

Cervantes was hired as Royal Commissioner of Supplies in 1587 to collect food for the Invincible Armada, beginning his life as a traveling businessman. During this period, he became acquainted with a Spanish peasant who provided fodder for the later creation of Sancho Panza in Don Quixote.

In 1592, Cervantes was arrested for illegally selling wheat, but was released shortly thereafter. Around this period, Cervantes wrote various poems, including odes to the Invencible Armada and a ballad on La morada de los celos, and he may have started work on some of his short novels, including El cautivo, Rinconete y Cortadillo, and El celoso extremeño.

Soon Cervantes was appointed to collect taxes in Granada, where he deposited money into Simón Freire's bank. Freire's bank eventually collapsed, and Cervantes was imprisoned again. Scholars have opined that Cervantes started to write Don Quixote while in jail during this period.

After Cervantes was released from prison, he completed Don Quixote in 1604. The play garnered immediate success, and at age 67, Cervantes wrote the sequel to Don Quixote, quickly completing it because a pirate version of his idea was already receiving attention.

Between the ages of 57 and 69, Cervantes also published Exemplary Novels, twelve stories that recount the everyday experiences in Spain at that time, and the play Eight Interludes and Eight Comedies. In 1605, Don Quixote was published in Madrid and was immediately successful.

Cervantes died in April 1616 from dropsy. Before he died, he wrote The Troubles of Persiles and Sigismunda, a novel that some consider one of the most poignant final works of any writer's life.