Shakespeare & Cervantes
Who Improved Our DNA
They never knew it, but when William Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes left this earth, 400 hundred years ago this Saturday, their work were destined to become part of humanity’s greatest treasuries. And English and Spanish, two of the world’s most spoken languages.
Their art not just redefined their mothers’ tongues, but helped England and Spain conquest most of the world, way beyond what their powerful armies were capable of. Four centuries later, over a billion people speak an accented form of what they once put on writing.
Language has always been, arguably, a weapon of global domination. In 1616, with Europe deeply involved in wars of subjugation, Portugal and the Netherlands, for instance, were also militarily capable and actively jockeying for control of resources and trade.
But either for lacking of geographical advantage, strategical wherewithal, or visionary drive, by the time Cervantes published the first part of Don Quixote, or Shakespeare, what was to become the First Folio, none of them were matches to Spaniards and Britons.
That’s of course a simplification. To many, Portuguese Luis de Camões was their equal, and his The Lusiads, the definitive account of the Discovery Era. But neither he nor Portugal’s mighty at sea survived the new century. And today, considerably less people speak his tongue.
A GENTILHOMBRE & THE WINDMILLS
Miguel Cervantes de Saavedra was pretty much the fruit of Spain’s Siglo de Oro, the period between the first decades of the 1500s and the end of the 16th century. Having reconquered their country from the Muslims, Spain was at the center of the world and expanding.
Unprecedented stability and trade, along a vigorous art tradition, forged the nation and inspired Cervantes to embrace the age, but not without struggle. From a humble family, he became a soldier and a crown’s servant, in order to support a career as a writer in his later years.
His tale of a delusional nobleman, chasing a doomed dream of love and peace, with a witty sidekick to counterpoint his reveries, still resonates. The poignancy of his adventures can be traced to Cervantes’ own quest for redemption, which included having been captured and enslaved.
It was all worthy, apparently. After his tomb was discovered last year in Madrid, and as his bones go through forensic analysis, there’s no question about whose history is being exhumed. More than the Inquisition, or the Armada, Spain’s now best represented by Cervantes.
THE BARD WHO MAY NOT HAVE LIVED
Some scholars have grown exasperated about the still lingering questions about Shakespeare authorship. For them, those who believe his works were penned by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, thus the Oxfordians, had their shot and it missed the point. It’s understandable.
There was never any question about the quality, or depth and breadth, of the multiple sonnets, poems, comedies, tragedies, stories, and romances attributed to that person who, despite thought of (more)
* Author, Author
* Bones of Contention
being also an actor and impresario, has left no book signed under his name.
No likeness of his has so far surfaced beyond doubt either. All we know is that he was a Brit. Maybe. But don’t dare mentioning national pride, or a booming tourism industry, as obstacles for determining his identity. It may be all superfluous, of course.
Unless his tomb is uncovered, such er bone of contention will persist. But while the Spaniard above didn’t exactly leave a prolific oeuvre, the Bard is its own literary genre, a bottomless well of words and expressions, and an ever expanding source of academic research.
THE TIME THEY HAVE NEVER MET
There was no way from them to know how the future would regard their work. Neither is likely they’ve even known of each other. In fact, they didn’t even die the same day, as Shakespeare was still stuck in the archaic Julian calendar, which ran behind our Gregorian one.
What they do share, though, is the typical scarcity of information at key moments of their lives. Turmoil and a warring age notwithstanding, it’s what’s probably behind the infuriatingly large number of conspiracy theories about them, who may’ve been even aware of some.
Betting our layman’s two cents, their endurance is at least in part due to an uncanny talent to convey humanity’s wickedness into ruminative tales, full of betrayal, delusion, foolishness, and redemption. Something that even as it elevates us, it also beats us into submission.
It all goes back to English and Spanish, which they used to inject the experience of their lifetimes straight into our own DNA. It didn’t turn us into Shakespeare or Cervantes, hell no. But it has allowed us for some rare moments, partake with the sheer genius of these two.