Cervantes and Shakespeare

Cervantes died on the same date (day, month, and year) as Shakespeare but not on the same day, due to the difference between the Gregorian and Julian calendars.

The strange coincidences do not end there. Cervantes was named Miguel, very possibly because he was born on September 29. He was baptized a few days after that and given a name that none of his ancestors had. Perhaps he was a sick baby and the family invoked the protection of the powerful saint. Why the few days delay on baptizing him? No one knows but they called him Miguel and that connects him mysteriously to Shakespeare on the other end of his life.

The origins of the name Shakespeare are uncertain. The name suddenly appears on the record in Warwickshire two generations before the Bard. It is possible that the Shakespeare ancestors were of Norman origin and their original name was Saint- Michel. Since there was no way to anglicize that surname in the manner of Saint-Claire to Sinclair, they may have picked one of the attributes of the saint, who actually carries a spear in most images. St. Michael — the spear shaker — is the one who will dispatch the devil in the end times. Many believe he was leading the Christian forces at Lepanto where Miguel de Cervantes coincidentally was that day.

Cervantes lived at the edge of the Modern Age. In fact he lost the use of one arm while fighting under Don Juan of Austria in Lepanto, October 7, 1571. He was also a prisoner of the Sultan in Algiers. Canadian poet and writer Robert Eady comments:

“In my view Don Quixote was to Cervantes a knight who lived in a real world, while those around him were suffering in a chimera of chaos and delusions. From his books he learned what honour and chivalry were, and went out into the Spain of his time to champion them. The fact that what he encountered was petty, absurd, treacherous and uninspiring, was irrelevant. The knight was a true knight because he never flagged in living his chosen role to the letter. He never demeaned his chosen profession. His faith was solid.One can not be held responsible for external reality, only for internal reality which is what matters.”

I like to interpret Don Quixote more or less in the way Mr Eady does. Yet I find it hard to carry that interpretation all the way to the final duel with the Bachelor, on the beach of Barcino.

He succeeds in making Don Quixote abandon his foolish career to become once again mere Alonso Quijano. The Bachelor fights under the nom de guerre the “Knight of the White Moon” (el “Caballero de la Blanca Luna”) a clear figure of the Church made even clearer by the fact that the Bachelor is a priest. Because he is a scholarly priest we learn how the science of the Church defeats the last dreams of pagan Spain.

Were the demons in Don Quixote’s mind defeated by St. Michael at Barcino? Did that skirmish anticipate the final battle for the world? In any case that victory was final. The chivalry genre, a variation of the medieval canción de gesta did not survive in the Spanish language but its mystical tone reappears with St. John of the Cross, fully Christianized and subdued to the deep mysteries of the soul. In a way it also survived in distant, Protestant England with King Arthur’s stories to this day.

I think Shakespeare and Cervantes are avatars of St. Michael. They are both Catholics who knew exile both abroad (Cervantes) and at home (Shakespeare.) Both found consolation in writing extraordinary stories. Borges likes to think they are talking with God now, almost as equals since they dared to imitate Him by creating universes of their own, and succeeded.

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