Miguel de Cervantes Analysis

Other Literary Forms

ph_0111201528-Cervantes.jpg Miguel de Cervantes Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Although Miguel de Cervantes longed for the popular success and financial rewards offered by the stage, he hoped to gain a more prestigious literary reputation as a great poet, as evidenced by the time and dedication that went into his long derivative poem El viaje del Parnaso (1614; The Voyage of Parnassus, 1870), as well as his numerous occasional poems, such as his songs addressed to the Invincible Armada. He believed that his reputation as a writer of narrative would rest on a work to which he devoted much of his energy during his last years, Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda (1617; The Travels of Persiles and Sigismunda: A Northern History, 1619), a novel that he regarded as the best of all his works. It is no more remembered today and no more widely read than a lifeless pastoral novel written early in his career, La Galatea (1585; Galatea: A Pastoral Romance, 1833). His own age and subsequent generations have recognized his outstanding work to be El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615; Don Quixote de la Mancha, 1612-1620). In this long novel, Cervantes not only made a lasting contribution to the development of narrative form but also created two of the most memorable of all imaginary characters, the immortal knight-errant and his squire, Sancho Panza. Cervantes also played an important role in developing the short story as a genre.


Miguel de Cervantes contributed to the Spanish theater in two minor ways, by stirring critical debate and through some of his dramatic works, but he had relatively little impact on the drama of the Spanish Golden Age and does not rank as a playwright with the greatest names of the period, such as Lope de Vega Carpio, Tirso de Molina, and Pedro Calderón de la Barca. In the first part of Don Quixote de la Mancha, published in 1605, Cervantes included a lengthy and impressive attack on the drama of his day. In chapter 48, the canon and the priest exchange thoughts about the Spanish stage and the plays that were most popular. Using these characters as spokespeople for his own views, Cervantes particularly criticizes the violations of the classical unities, the alterations in historical facts, the neglect of moral lessons, and even the character of some of the playwrights. This attack prompted Lope de Vega to respond with the central critical work of the age, his El arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo (1609; The New Art of Writing Plays, 1914), in which he defended himself and his plays and explained that he wrote to please his audience and deliberately violated the rules to produce more entertaining drama. In prompting this remarkable essay in which the great playwright examined his own work and his own motives, Cervantes made a unique contribution to the theater of his time and to theater history.

In his attack in Don Quixote de la Mancha, Cervantes mentions by name his own play The Siege of Numantia as one of the few plays written in accord with the classical rules to have achieved a degree of popularity with the audience. Although the play did attain a degree of success on the stage in its own day, The Siege of Numantia has been more highly praised in later times by such men as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Friedrich von Schlegel,...

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Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Miguel de Cervantes is best known to readers in all languages as the author of El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615; The History of the Valorous and Wittie Knight-Errant, Don Quixote of the Mancha, 1612-1620; better known as Don Quixote de la Mancha). That work was not only one of the first novels, but also the first truly modern novel (and one of the many wonders attendant upon its publication is the fact that such a book came so early in the life of the form); its influence appears in such disparate works as Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857) and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973). Cervantes’s achievement is even more remarkable in view of the idiosyncratic nature of the book, its many and complex allusions to the history of Spain and the Jews in Spain, and the fact that most scholars believe that it did, indeed, start out as satire and only later, in part 2, complete the move from art through parody of art to art through the imitation of nature.

Cervantes’s first novel, written when he was a young man, was La Galatea (1585; Galatea: A Pastoral Romance, 1833). One eminent Cervantes scholar advises readers to forget the story, characters, and structure and imagine listening to it being read by skillful actors in a pleasant garden well furnished with wine and music. Cervantes’s last novel, Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda (1617;...

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Miguel de Cervantes was the first modern novelist. His influence on the novel has been recognized for centuries, not only by scholars but also by novelists themselves. His masterpiece, Don Quixote de la Mancha, achieved immediate and lasting success, making Cervantes one of the unquestioned great figures of world literature. Cervantes also launched the modern short story. Just as in his masterpiece Don Quixote de la Mancha, Cervantes transformed prose fiction through his short stories, collected in Novelas ejemplares. His characters are personalities who are independent of their author. He was the first fiction writer to utilize dialogue to allow his characters to portray themselves. According to E. C. Riley, he was the first writer to theorize extensively on the novel. His most memorable prose presents reality as complex and ambiguous. This style has had a pervasive and ongoing influence on literature in the West.

Other literary forms

Miguel de Cervantes (sur-VAHN-teez) never sought acclaim as a writer of fiction. He longed for the more popular success and financial rewards offered by the stage and hoped to gain a more prestigious literary reputation as a great poet, as evidenced by the time and dedication he committed to his long derivative poem Viaje del Parnaso (1614; The Voyage to Parnassus, 1870). These ambitions were unrealized. In fact, he admits in the poem of 1614 that heaven never blessed him with the poetic gift. His efforts in the theater did not bring him success at the time but did produce some significant work. Cervantes contributed to the Spanish theater not only by writing plays but also by stirring critical debate. In chapter 48 of the first part of Don Quixote de la Mancha, Cervantes attacked the Spanish stage and certain kinds of popular plays. This attack prompted a response from Lope de Vega Carpio, Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo (1609; The New Art of Writing Plays, 1914) that was the central piece of dramatic theorizing of the Golden Age of Spanish theater. Cervantes also wrote one epic tragedy, El cerco de Numancia (wr. 1585, pb. 1784; The Siege of Numantia, 1870), a play praised in later centuries by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Friedrich Schlegel, and Arthur Schopenhauer, and he published a collection of eight comedies and eight interludes in 1615. These works were never performed in the author’s lifetime. The eight interludes, one-act farces that would have been performed as intermission pieces, are original, dynamic, and highly theatrical. They rank with the finest work in the one-act form by Anton Chekhov, August Strindberg, and Tennessee Williams.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Cervantes belongs to that elite group of supreme literary geniuses that includes Homer, Vergil, Dante, Geoffrey Chaucer, and William Shakespeare. The first to establish his greatness as a writer through the medium of prose fiction, Cervantes is acknowledged as an influential innovator who nurtured the short-story form and, more important, shaped the novel, sending it into the modern world. The list of succeeding masters of the novel who paid homage to Cervantes either through direct praise or imitation is awesome—among them Daniel Defoe, Tobias Smollett, Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, Jonathan Swift, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, Voltaire, Stendhal, Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, Victor Hugo, Goethe, Thomas Mann,...

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Discussion Topics

In what ways does Don Quixote reflect the age of Miguel de Cervantes, who began it when he was in his late middle age?

Much of Cervantes’ humor is very difficult to translate. How might a reader unfamiliar with Spanish at least partially overcome this difficulty?

Since few people today are, like Don Quixote, victims of an insatiable love of chivalric romances, how can his story impress modern readers as much as, or more than, it did readers who were very familiar with them?

Is Don Quixote a crazy old man? Does Don Quixote possess nobility?

Consider the statement that Don Quixote transforms Sancho into a better man.

What does the rich assortment of minor...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Cervantes. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Collection of essays addresses topics such as the picaresque, the trickster figure, Cervantes’ biography and use of language, and his attitude toward realism and the literary tradition. Includes an informative introduction, a chronology, a bibliography, and an index.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Cervantes’s “Don Quixote.” Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2001. Collection reprints essays about the novel written by well-known authors and critics, including Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, W. H. Auden, Vladimir Nabokov, and Mark van Doren. Includes an introduction by Bloom,...

(The entire section is 1403 words.)