By David Steinberg

Today, April 23, 1616 is the day that William Shakespeare died. That’s exactly 400 years ago the man considered the pre-eminent playwright in the English language passed away in Stratford-upon-Avon.

On that same day in that same year another famous writer was buried in Spain. His name was Miguel de Cervantes. He died on April 22 but his death is commemorated on the 23rd, the day he was buried.

Cervantes wrote during what is known as Spain’s Siglo de Oro, its so-called Golden Age of the arts, its Renaissance.

Cervantes is considered the father of the modern novel. And that novel he wrote is “Don Quixote de la Mancha.” Therefore, it’s an ideal day to remember the novel and its author

In Spain and in Latin America, the novel is revered, is referenced, is quoted and yes is read and re-read by general readers. Scholars and intellectuals in many countries have critiqued and commented on its power.

In his 2015 book explaining the novel’s profound influence on cultures worldwide, scholar Ilan Stavans presents in Spanish and in English the novel’s opening. Stavans’ book is titled “Don Quixote – The Novel and the World.”

He writes, “If ‘Don Quixote’ is masterful in its entirety, its first sentence is unforgettable: an extract, an Aleph, a microcosm … It gives both purpose and traction to the narrative.”

Here is that opening sentence: En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo de los de lanzas en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco y galgo corredor.

Stavans’ English translation: In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind, there lived not long since one of those gentlemen that keep a lance in the lance-rack, an old buckler, a lean hack, and a greyhound for coursing.

The knight-errant rides a skeletal horse named Rocinante. Don Quixote’s round, practical-minded foil is his squire, Sancho Panza, astride his animal, a donkey named Rucio. They’re the model for many odd couples we’ve seen in literature.

Cervantes wrote “Don Quixote” in two parts. The first part was published in 1605, the second in 1615. It is more than 900 pages long and has been translated into many languages, English one of them. In fact, there have been 20 English translations, four by Americans.

Many Americans have come to the novel, he writes, from having seen the stage musical “Man of La Mancha” or having listened to its soundtrack. “The Impossible Dream” is the signature song from the musical and it encapsulates Quixote’s idealism, his individualism, his quest, his adventures, his sense of hope. So he represents more than medieval chivalry. 

Note: In case you wondered, Stavans was raised in Mexico City and is a professor at Amherst College. W.W. Norton is the publisher of “Don Quixote – The Novel and the World.”

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