Today it’s been 400 years ago that Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra died. And tomorrow it’ll be 400 years ago that William Shakespeare died.
I’m not in generally for remembering when anybody died or even was born, no matter how famous but it was a bit difficult to avoid noticing these dates…
The only work I read by Cervantes is Don Quijote and I can’t even say that I liked it all that much when I was young. It’s much due for re-reading, especially as a few years ago Not So Sophisticated Young Lady bought it in Spanish for my birthday. I was a bit surprised about that, to be honest, although I did ask for a Spanish book to read. It turned out that Cervantes was the only author on the Spanish shelves of Foyles whose name she recognised. (One despairs of the way they teach literature nowadays.) I’m happy to say that she’s much more healthily educated since but there it is: I’ve got Don Quijote in Spanish on the bookshelf and so far I didn’t have the nerve to try and tackle it.
There’s one episode in Don Quijote, however, that everybody, even the people who never read the book at all know about: the fight against the wind-mill:
At this point they came in sight of thirty forty windmills that there are on plain, and as soon as Don Quixote saw them he said to his squire, “Fortune is arranging matters for us better than we could have shaped our desires ourselves, for look there, friend Sancho Panza, where thirty or more monstrous giants present themselves, all of whom I mean to engage in battle and slay, and with whose spoils we shall begin to make our fortunes; for this is righteous warfare, and it is God’s good service to sweep so evil a breed from off the face of the earth.”
“What giants?” said Sancho Panza.
“Those thou seest there,” answered his master, “with the long arms, and some have them nearly two leagues long.”
“Look, your worship,” said Sancho; “what we see there are not giants but windmills, and what seem to be their arms are the sails that turned by the wind make the millstone go.”
Well, a couple of weeks ago I saw a stunning photo of a wind-mill on Instagram… a wind-mill “somewhere in La Mancha” according to the caption. The photo was taken by tar_arte and it’s a wind-mill in Campo de Criptana, supposedly the place that inspired Cervantes to write the scene. (I assume the link takes you to the photo even if you’re not registered on Instagram, but if it doesn’t, I have also shared it on 7 April on my Facebook page.)
As for Shakespeare tomorrow, an English comedian called Mitch Benn has once rapped the entire story of Macbeth in some style here. I should take lessons from him in summarising.