Literary Giants: Cervantes & Shakespeare

Bill Federer

Homer's Iliad and Odyssey influenced the development of the Greek language, and Martin Luther's translation of the Bible influenced the German language.

Similarly, William Shakespeare influenced the English language, and Miguel de Cervantes influenced the Spanish language.

Miguel de Cervantes was born in 1547.

He fought the Muslim Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, where he was wounded and lost the use of his left hand.

Four years after the battle, Cervantes was captured by Muslim Barbary pirates sailing across the Mediterranean.

Cervantes spent five years in captivity as a slave in Algiers before being ransomed by the Catholic Trinitarian Order and returned to Madrid, Spain.

In 1605, he published his book, Don Quixote de La Mancha, which is considered the first modern European novel.

In a semi-autobiographical chapter, Cervantes described being held captive:

"They put a chain on me ... I passed my life in that bano with several other gentlemen and persons of quality marked out as held to ransom;

but though at times, or rather almost always, we suffered from hunger and scanty clothing, nothing distressed us so much as hearing and seeing at every turn the unexampled and unheard-of cruelties my master inflicted upon the Christians.

Every day he hanged a man, impaled one, cut off the ears of another; and all with so little provocation, or so entirely without any, that the Turks acknowledged he did it merely for the sake of doing it, and because he was by nature murderously disposed towards the whole human race."

In Don Quixote de La Mancha (First Part, ch. 39-40, 1605), Cervantes described how Muslim pirates raided Christian areas of the Mediterranean.

If they perchance were captured during their attacks, they would proclaim that they intended to become Christian, but upon release, they reverted back to being raiders:

"Some obtain these testimonials with good intentions, others put them to a cunning use;

for when they go to pillage on Christian territory, if they chance to be cast away, or taken prisoners, they produce their certificates and say that from these papers may be seen the object they came for, which was to remain on Christian ground, and that it was to this end they joined the Turks in their foray ...

In this way they escape the consequences of the first outburst and make their peace with the Church before it does them any harm, and then when they have the chance they return to Barbary to become what they were before."

In 1853, anti-slavery Senator Charles Sumner wrote the book White Slavery in the Barbary States, where he documented that throughout the Middle Ages, Muslim Barbary pirates raided coastal towns from the eastern Mediterranean to the Netherlands, and as far north as Iceland, carrying away white Europeans as slaves.

They then sold them throughout the Ottoman Empire and the North African Barbary states of Morocco, Algiers, Salee, Oran, Tunis, Tripoli and Bacra, not stopping until forced to by the Barbary Pirate War of 1816.

Senator Charles Sumner wrote:

"The Saracens, with the Koran and the sword, potent ministers of conversion, next broke from Arabia, as the messengers of a new religion, and pouring along these shores, diffused the faith and doctrines of Mohammed ... even ... entered Spain, and ... at Roncesvalles ... overthrew the embattled chivalry of the Christian world led by Charlemange. (The Song of Roland) ...

Algiers, for a long time the most obnoxious place in the Barbary States of Africa, the chief seat of Christian slavery ... the wall of the barbarian world ..."

Sumner continued:

"And Cervantes, in the story of Don Quixote ... give(s) the narrative of a Spanish captive who had escaped from Algiers ...

The author is supposed to have drawn from his own experience; for during five and a half years he endured the horrors of Algerine slavery, from which he was finally liberated by a ransom of about six hundred dollars."

Miguel de Cervantes stated:

"We ought to love our Maker for His own sake, without either hope of good or fear of pain."

"When God sends the dawn, he sends it for all."

"Among the attributes of God, although they are all equal, mercy shines with even more brilliancy than justice."

"I do not believe that the Good Lord plays dice."

"Truth ... will always bear up against falsehood, as oil does above water."

"Every one is as God made him, and often a great deal worse."

"Never stand begging for that which you have the power to earn."

"A proverb is a short sentence based on long experience."

"God bears with the wicked, but not forever."

"God who sends the wound sends the medicine."

In 1965, Man of La Mancha was made into an award-winning Broadway Musical, and in 1972, a motion picture starring Peter O'Toole and Sophia Loren.

The most popular song of the performance was "The Impossible Dream":

To dream the impossible dream

To fight the unbeatable foe

To bear with unbearable sorrow

To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong

To love pure and chaste from afar

To try when your arms are too weary

To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest to follow that star

No matter how hopeless, no matter how far

To fight for the right without question or pause

To be willing to march into Hell for a heavenly cause

And I know if I'll only be true to this glorious quest

That my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I'm laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this

That one man, scorned and covered with scars

Still strove with his last ounce of courage

To reach the unreachable star.

Miguel de Cervantes died on the same day William Shakespeare died, APRIL 23, 1616, though some claim a day earlier.

In fact it was at least eleven days earlier, as Catholic Spain used the Gregorian Calendar (designated NS for "New Style") while Anglican England still used the Julian Calendar (designated OS for "Old Style.")

William Shakespeare was born APRIL 23, 1564.

He married Ann Hathaway, had three children, moved to London, and became shareholding director of Globe Theater.

Shakespeare wrote 38 plays which impacted world literature.

They comedies, histories and tragedies, such as:

  • Taming of the Shrew, 1590-1591;

  • Richard III, 1592-1593;

  • A Comedy of Errors, 1594;

  • Romeo and Juliet, 1595;

  • A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1595;

  • Merchant of Venice, 1596-1597;

  • Much Ado About Nothing, 1598-1599;

  • Julius Caesar, 1599;

  • As You Like It, 1599-1600;

  • Henry V, 1599;

  • Hamlet, 1599-1601;

  • Twelfth Night or What You Will, 1601;

  • Othello, 1603-1604;

  • All's Well That Ends Well, 1604-1605;

  • King Lear, 1605-1606;

  • Macbeth, 1606;

  • The Tempest, 1610-1611.

In 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh founded the Roanoke settlement in a colony he named "Virginia" in honor of the virgin Queen Elizabeth I.

In 1588, the Spanish Armada attempted to invade England, but was destroyed in a hurricane.

In 1590, when supply ships finally returned to Roanoke, they found the settlement abandoned, resulting to it being referred to as "The Lost Colony."

In 1591, Shakespeare introduced his play, King Henry the Sixth, portraying England's monarch who ruled 1422 to 1461; and 1470 to 1471; who also was the disputed King of France from 1422 to 1453.

In the play, Shakespeare wrote in Part II, act II, scene i, line 34:

"Blessed are the peacemakers on earth."

In King Henry the Sixth, Part II, act II, scene i, line 66, Shakespeare wrote:

"Now, God be praised, that to the believing souls,

Gives light in darkness, comfort in despair!"

In scene iii, line 55, he exclaimed:

"God defend the right!"

In Part III, act V, scene v, line 7, Shakespeare penned:

"So part we sadly in this troublous world,

To meet with joy in sweet Jerusalem."

In 1592-93, William Shakespeare wrote the play King Richard the Third, portraying the life of England's monarch who ruled 1483-1485.

In the play, Shakespeare wrote in act I, scene iv:

"O, I have passed a miserable night,

So full of ugly sights, of ghastly dreams,

That, as I am a Christian faithful man,

I would not spend another such a night,

Though 'twere to but a world of happy days."

Shakespeare wrote in King Richard the Third, act I, scene 4:

"Before I be convict by course of law,

To threaten me with death is most unlawful.

I charge you, as you hope for any goodness,

By Christ's dear blood shed for our grievous sins

That you depart and lay no hands on me."

In 1595-96, Shakespeare wrote the play King Richard the Second, England's king from 1377 to 1399.

In act IV, scene i, line 97, Shakespeare wrote:

"Many a time hath banished Norfolk fought

For Jesus Christ in glorious Christian field,

Streaming the ensign of the Christian Cross,

And there at Venice, gave His body to that pleasant country's earth,

And his pure soul unto his captain Christ,

Under whose colors he had fought so long."

In King Richard the Second, act IV, scene i, line 170, Shakespeare wrote:

"So Judas did to Christ: but He, in twelve,

Found truth in all but one; I, in twelve thousand, none.

God save the king! Will no man say, amen?"

In King Richard the Second, act IV, scene i, line 239, Shakespeare wrote:

"Some of you with Pilate wash your hands,

Showing an outward pity."

In the play, The Merchant of Venice, act I, scene ii, line 59, Shakespeare penned:

"God made him, and therefore let him pass for a man."

In The Merchant of Venice, act I, scene iii, line 99, Shakespeare wrote:

"Mark you this, Bassanio:

The devil can cite Scripture for his own purpose.

An evil soul, producing holy witness,

Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,

A goodly apple rotten at the heart."

In The Merchant of Venice, act IV, scene i, line 184, Shakespeare wrote:

"The quality of mercy is not strained,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blessed;

It blessed him that gives and him that takes:

Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;

His scepter shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,

But mercy is above this sceptered sway,

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself,

And earthly power doth then show likest God's

When mercy seasons justice.

Therefore ... Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy,

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy."

In 1598, Shakespeare wrote King Henry the Fourth, portraying the King who ruled England from 1399 to 1413.

In part I, act i, scene 1, line 18, Shakespeare wrote:

"Therefore friends,

As far as to the sepulchre of Christ,

Whose soldier now, under whose blessed cross

We are impressed and engaged to fight ...

To chase these pagans in those holy fields.

Over whose acres walk'd those blessed feet,

Which fourteen hundred years ago were nail'd

For our advantage on the bitter cross."

Engraved in the Library of Congress' Jefferson Building in the North Corridor is a quote from Shakespeare's play Henry the Fourth, pt. ii, Act iv., Sc. 7:


In 1598-1600, Shakespeare wrote King Henry the Fifth, about the King of England who ruled from 1413-1422.

In act III, scene vi, line 181, William Shakespeare wrote:

"We are in God's hand."

In King Henry the Fifth, act IV, scene i, line 309, Shakespeare wrote:

"O God of battles! steel my soldiers' hearts;

Possess them not with fear; take from them now

The sense of reckoning, if the opposed numbers

Pluck their hearts from them."

In his longest play, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, 1600-01, act 3, scene I, Shakespeare wrote:

"To be, or not to be, that is the question:

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them: to die."

In Hamlet, act I, scene I, Shakespeare wrote:

"Some say - that ever 'gainst that season comes

Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated

The bird of dawning singeth all night long."

In Hamlet, act III, scene i, line 150, Shakespeare wrote:

"I have heard of your paintings too, well enough;

God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another."

In Hamlet, act III, iv, line 149, Shakespeare wrote:

"Confess yourself to heaven;

Repent what's past; avoid what is to come."

In Hamlet, act V, scene i, line 84, Shakespeare wrote:

"A politician ... one that would circumvent God."

In Hamlet, act v, scene ii, Shakespeare wrote:

"Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince,

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!"

William Shakespeare wrote in Othello, the Moor of Venice, 1604-05, act I, scene i, line 108:

"You are one of those that will not serve God if the devil bid you."

In Othello, act II, scene iii, line 106, Shakespeare wrote:

"Well, God's above all;

and there be souls must be saved,

and there be souls must not be saved."

In Othello, act II, scene iii, line 293, Shakespeare wrote:

"O God! that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains;

that we should, with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause, transform ourselves into beasts."

In 1607, the Jamestown Colony was founded in Virginia.

In 1609, the English ship Sea Venture was sailing on the Third Supply mission to Jamestown, but was caught in a hurricane and shipwrecked on the Island of Bermuda for nine months.

This is thought to inspired Shakespeare's play The Tempest (1610-1611).

In 1613, William Shakespeare wrote his play King Henry the Eighth, about the ruler of England from 1509 to 1547.

In act III, scene ii, line 456, Shakespeare wrote:

"Had I but served my God with half the zeal I served my king, he would not in mine age Have left me naked to mine enemies."

Shakespeare remarked:

"God's goodness hath been great to thee;

Let never day nor night unhallowed pass,

But still remember what the Lord hath done."

With the rise of Puritanism in England, theaters were considered dens of immorality.

For a time, pressure was put on Shakespeare not to mention God in his plays, as it was considered taking God's name in vain.

This led to a period where Shakespeare referred to mythology, Greek gods, or the fates, such as in A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1595-1596.

Upon seeing A Midsummer Night's Dream on September 29, 1662, Member of Parliament Samuel Pepys described it as "the most insipid, ridiculous play that ever I saw."

Puritans eventually succeeded in forcing the Globe Theater to close in 1642, and in 1648, pulled it down to the ground.

After the Puritan era of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector, King Charles II was restored to the English throne in 1660, and theaters were once again reopened, though Shakespeare's Globe Theater was not rebuilt until 1997.

Nine years after the founding of Jamestown, William Shakespeare died on APRIL 23, 1616.

Only 52 years old at his death, he wrote in his Will:

"In the name of God, Amen! I, William Shakespeare, of Stratford-upon-Avon, in the county of Warr., gent., in perfect health and memory, God be praised, do make and ordain this my last will and testament in manner and form following, that is to say,

First, I commend my soul into the hands of God, my Creator, hoping and assuredly believing, through the only merits of Jesus Christ, my Saviour, to be made partaker of life everlasting, and my body to the earth whereof it is made."

Carved on Shakespeare's tomb in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-on-Avon, England, is:

"Good Friend For Jesus Sake Forbeare,

To Digg The Dust Enclosed Heare.

Blese Be Ye Man Spares Thes Stones,

And Curst Be He Moves My Bones."

Woodrow Wilson stated at the 300th anniversary of the translation of the Bible into the English Language, May 7, 1911:

"How like to the Scripture is all great literature! What is it that entrances us when we read or witness a play of Shakespeare?

It is the consciousness that this man, this all-observing mind, saw men of every cast and kind as they were in their habits, as they lived.

And as passage succeeds passage we seem to see the characters of ourselves and our friends portrayed by this ancient writer, and a play of Shakespeare is just as modern to-day as upon the day it was penned and first enacted.

And the Bible is without age or date or time. It is a picture of the human heart displayed for all ages and for all sorts and conditions of men."

Victor Hugo wrote in his Preface to Cromwell, 1827:

"Lastly, this threefold poetry flows from three great sources -- The Bible, Homer, Shakespeare ...

The Bible before the Iliad, the Iliad before Shakespeare."

Victor Hugo stated:

"England has two books, the Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare, but the Bible made England."

U.S. District Court decision Crockett v. Sorenson (W.D. Va. 1983) stated:

"The First Amendment was never intended to insulate our public institutions from any mention of God, the Bible or religion ...

Some of the better known works which rely heavily on allusions from the Bible include ... THE PLAYS OF SHAKESPEARE, especially Measure for Measure ...

Secular education imposes immediate demands that the student have a good knowledge of the Bible ...

A basic background in the Bible is essential to fully appreciate and understand both Western culture and current events."


World History