Cervantes' Don Quixote And Shakespeare's Hamlet: Two Idealists Of The Renaissance

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Cervantes' Don Quixote and Shakespeare's Hamlet: Two Idealists of the Renaissance

Cervantes' Don Quixote and Shakespeare's Hamlet: Two Idealists of the Renaissance


Cicero declares that "He who does not know history is destined to remain a child." The ideas of Voltaire (in Candide), Cervantes (in Don Quixote), and William Shakespeare (in Hamlet) illustrate how men remain children because of their ignorance or denial of the history of mankind, which is a history of corruption, greed, violence, and deceit. As long as an individual lives in ignorance of the past, he will see every experience as utterly new and will deal with that experience in the same way as a child who lives with no storehouse of knowledge or wisdom which would allow him to avoid past mistakes. The message of Voltaire's Candide is that the world in which we live is populated with people who live primarily in order to get what they want, using whatever means necessary, and always looking for innocent victims of whom they can take advantage.

Cervantes' Don Quixote and Shakespeare's Hamlet: Two Idealists of the Renaissance

Readers have always loved Don Quixote. Critics, however, have offered mixed assessments of the novel. For example, Lord Byron asserted that Cervantes was responsible for finally extinguishing the flame of chivalry in Europe. This charge was repeated by the English author Ford Madox Ford. Other negative reviewers, like Miguel de Unamuno and Giovanni Papini, consider Don Quixote a brilliant novel but deem its author a disorganized hack. Yet, these authors are in the minority. Most critics appreciate the achievement of the novel and the author. Highest praise for the author came from Victor Hugo: "Cervantes sees the inner man."

Don Quixote's popularity spread throughout Europe soon after the first English translation of the first part of the novel appeared in 1612. By the eighteenth century, Cervantes was a literary icon. In his biography of the author, Tobias Smollet recalled that dignitaries visiting Spain were appalled by the idea that Cervantes was not financially supported for his contribution to Spanish literature. Summarily, said Smollett, "Cervantes, whether considered as a writer or a man, will be found worthy of universal approbation and esteem."

Cervantes is often compared with his English contemporary, William Shakespeare. For example, Wyndham Lewis compared the character of Don Quixote to Falstaff. Ivan Turgeniev, in "Hamlet and Don Quixote" made a more immediate comparison: While Hamlet represents the Northern European archetype; Don Quixote represents ...
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