Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 505

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was born in Alcala de Henares, Spain, probably on September 29, 1547, one of seven children of Rodrigo de Cervantes and Leonor de Cortinas. He was baptized on October 9, 1547. Although little is known about Miguel's childhood and youth, a few basic facts emerge. The poverty-stricken Cervantes family moved to Cordoba in 1553, and Miguel probably received his early education at a Jesuit school. The family then moved to Seville, probably in 1563.

Cervantes's later life can be plotted more accurately. In 1569 a warrant for his arrest was issued on the charge of allegedly wounding a certain Antonio de Sigura. Cervantes fled to Rome, where he found employment as a chamberlain to Monsignor Acquaviva. In the summer of 1570, Cervantes enlisted in the Spanish Army and fought against the Ottoman Turks. In the fierce Battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571, Cervantes showed great bravery, suffered a chest wound, and lost the use of his left hand. Some years later, as he sailed back to Spain from Naples in 1575, some Algerian galleys captured the vessel and took Cervantes hostage. He remained in captivity in Algiers for five years, attempting several unsuccessful escapes. Released for a huge ransom, he eventually arrived home in Madrid in December 1580.

Before long, Cervantes turned his attention to literature and cultivated literary acquaintances. He finished his first novel, La Galatea, in 1583, but he had to wait a year before finding a publisher. Meanwhile, he also tried his hand at drama; unfortunately, all but two of the twenty or thirty plays he wrote from 1583 to 1587 have been lost. During a brief visit to Esquivas, Cervantes met Catalina de Salazar y Palacios, whom he married on December 12, 1584. During the early years of his marriage, Cervantes was often away on business. From 1588 to 1589 he worked as a commissary, collecting grain from towns in Andalusia. Not always a welcome visitor, he nonetheless continued to work as a commissary for about thirteen years. It was during these years of traveling around Spain and staying overnight at inns that Cervantes collected material for his masterpiece, Don Quixote. Cervantes spent from August 1597 to April 1598 in prison, charged with deficient accounts. He probably began writing Don Quixote during this time.

After returning to Madrid in 1600, he remained in the Castile region for the rest of his days. From 1600 to 1604 he continued writing the first part of Don Quixote. The first edition appeared in January 1605, and a second edition was published within a few months, testifying to the enormous popularity of the book. Over the next several years, Cervantes worked on The Exemplary Novels. In the fall of 1614, he learned much to his dismay that a forgery of Part II of Don Quixote was circulating in Madrid. This prompted Cervantes to finish his manuscript of Part II, which was already at an advanced stage. He finished the manuscript in three months; Part II was published in November 1615 and met the same enthusiastic reception extended to Part I. Although revered as one of Spain's greatest writers, Cervantes remained poor. He died in Madrid on April 22, 1616.

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