If you’re part of the 84% of the global population that regularly enjoys digging into a good book, then there’s a good chance that you will have heard of The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha (El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha) also known as Don Quixote. This wonderfully titled book was written by Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes in the 17th century and it is one of the most translated works of literature in history as the original Spanish has been translated into more than 140 languages. For comparison, The Bible, Pinocchio, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are also in the top 10.
There have also been multiple derivative works on Don Quixote, including television shows and blockbuster movies, including the 2018 release, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. But that’s not all, as the story was recently adapted into a stage show that brings the classic literary hit into the modern ages.
How Australian Theatregoers Can Appreciate Cervantes, Too
Don Quixote may be typically enjoyed as a novel, but it is not the only way that fans can enjoy its brilliant and engrossing tale of chivalry, justice, romance, and humour. Cervantes’ works are often enjoyed on the stage with the California Shakespeare production of Quixote Nuevo (translating as New Quixote) being a recent example.
Cal Shakes’ production was created by Octavio Solis specifically for the theatre company. It reimagines the original Cervantes story as a modern tale in which an elderly man (a retired professor and Cervantes scholar) suffering from dementia escapes from his family as they are about to put him into a care home. Not only does the man believe that he is Quixote himself, but he believes that the border is a wall that is separating him from the love of his life.
This is truly a modern story, as it features karaoke bars, drones, farmworkers and illegal immigrants and, though this is a whimsical tale, it seems that Solis’ work aims to hold a mirror to current society. Despite the singing and dancing of this two and a half hour show, there are some serious themes within.
Given the international news cycle, Cal Shakes’ Quixote Nuevo would translate well to Australian theatres, if it was to make the jump across the water. However, there are some key details that would need to be ironed out. Namely, Solis wrote the story specifically for Cal Shakes and the production stars an all-Latino cast; it being a story specific to a Latino family makes sense. But there would be casting challenges in Australia, meaning that the entire cast from the Cal Shakes production would have to make the journey with Solis’ story.
Until that happens though, there are other ways for Australian theatre fans to enjoy the works of (Don Quixote author) Cervantes. Origin Theatrical sells material to a Quixote musical, which follows a teenage loner who hopes to save damsels in distress. Another musical derivative is the Man of La Mancha musical performance (also by Origin Theatrical), which touches upon Cervantes’ time in prison at the Crown Jail of Seville. In an interesting twist, the performance sees Cervantes and his fellow inmates act out the iconic story that the author has written. It’s a refreshing take on a well-loved tale.
How Influential is Don Quixote?
As evidenced by the Cal Shakes’ production and the way in which Solis has adapted it for today, Don Quixote is Cervantes’ most famous work. Not only has this particular story been read an incredible amount of times in a stupefying amount of languages, but it has also had a significant impact on pop culture and society as we know it. The work is credited as being the first modern novel, meaning that any other novel series that followed it, from the magical Harry Potter series (which has sold 400 million copies around the world) or the sexy and sensual 50 Shades books all owe it to Cervantes for creating the concept of a novel in the first place.
That’s not all though, as Don Quixote has even changed the way that we communicate. According to Betway Casino, the reason we call blackjack veintiuno is that veintiuno (which means 21 in Spanish) is a term popularized by the Don Quixote novel. Quixote and his friends play the famous card game in the story, which is no doubt why the game of blackjack is so widely played today. There is even a Western Australian town named after the writer, as the Cervantes Historical Society explains that the town of Cervantes is named after an American whaling ship which was itself named after the Don Quixote author.
Who Was Cervantes?
Don Quixote isn’t Cervantes’ only impactful story though, nor is it the only interesting thing the writer got up to. Assumed to be born in 1547 in Alcala de Henares, Habsburg, Spain, Cervantes life was filled with significant drama, intrigue and an awful lot of trouble. In 1569, the would-be novelist was forced into exile and found himself moving to Rome where he would assist a cardinal. Then, he became a member of the Spanish Navy infantry but Cervantes was captured by pirates and was locked up for five years! After his release, Cervantes worked for the Spanish government as a tax collector but, due to discrepancies in his accounts, the author was thrown into prison at the Crown Jail of Seville.
But all of this didn’t stop Miguel de Cervantes from creating his beloved literary works. Cervantes had already published one book, La Galatea, in 1585, 12 years before he found himself imprisoned. Upon his release, Cervantes went on to create his most famous works, publishing books from 1605 (when the first part of Don Quixote was released) to 1617 when Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda (The Travails of Persiles and Sigismunda) was published after his death.
Hopefully, you now know a lot more about one of the world’s most famous writers and the events that inspired him.