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Don Quixote | Study Guide

Miguel de Cervantes

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Miguel de Cervantes | Biography


Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was born near Madrid, Spain, on September 29, 1547, to a family of decreasing noble stature. At age 21, shortly after the publication of his first poem, Cervantes moved to Rome to manage the household of a cardinal. A year later, he enlisted as a soldier in the Spanish army stationed in Naples, Italy.

Cervantes was a courageous soldier, insisting on fighting the Turkish army at sea while suffering from a fever. He took two bullet wounds in the chest, and a third rendered his left hand useless for the rest of his life. After spending six years in service, Cervantes left the army in 1575 and boarded a ship for home. During the voyage his ship was attacked by Algerian pirates, and Cervantes was taken captive and transported to a prison in Algiers. Cervantes's captors assumed he was someone important, thanks to a letter of recommendation he carried from his commander, so they increased the price of his ransom. The ransom went unpaid, and Cervantes remained in prison for five years. His experiences there served as the basis for several of his stories, including "The Captive's Tale," featured in Part 1 of Don Quixote.

Cervantes's life back in Spain was filled with little adventure and even less money. His first piece of fiction, La Galatea, was published in 1585. Between 20 and 30 unsuccessful plays followed. The first part of Don Quixote was published in 1605, followed by Exemplary Stories, a collection of novellas, in 1613. Part 2 of Don Quixote was published in 1615. The publication of Don Quixote yielded some financial and social benefits for Cervantes. In fact, Don Quixote is thought to be the first best seller in literary history. Unfortunately, Cervantes died the following year on April 22, 1616. Since then, the rambling story about a lunatic knight and his squire has been published in more than 60 languages. Don Quixote is considered to be the first modern novel and one of the greatest novels of all time.

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