Shakespeare and Cervantes

Professors Carlos Alvar and Breamn Hammond delivered special lectures, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the deaths of Shakespeare and Cervantes.

Carlos AlvarPROVO, Utah (Oct. 27, 2016)—In the lists of English and Spanish literature, two names always come first in prominence: William Shakespeare, for his many plays, and Miguel de Cervantes, for his novel Don Quixote. According to tradition, the two men died on April 23, 1616, a coincidence that has sparked speculation in the following centuries.

To commemorate the 400th year since the writers’ deaths, the Washinton Irving Professorship hosted Carlos Alvar from the University of Alcalcá de Henares and Breamn Hammond from the University of Nottingham to deliver special lectures.

Alvar spoke first, titling his remarks “Encounters and Dis-encounters” and responding in part to speculations that Shakespeare and Cervantes ever met in person. Alvar believes this idea is without merit, based entirely on circumstantial evidence. “However,” he said, “we should at least consider the possibility that Cervantes and Shakespeare knew each other in another way: familiarity with each other’s works.”

For decades, scholars have debated whether or not Shakespeare took inspiration from Cervantes’s short novel El curioso impertinente when co-writing The History of Cardenio with John Fletcher. The novel became well known in Spain, France and England and was adapted for the stage in each of those countries. However, proving that Cardenio was one such adaptation is difficult in that no original draft of the play exists.

This has not stopped scholars from lumping the two together. Their shared deathdate has prompted studies, literary collections, films and even a young adult novel. “This in turn asks us to reflect on the many efforts to establish a deeper connection between them and their work,” Alvar said. “In reality these fictional encuentros (“encounters”) are desencuentros – failed and disappointing. However, Shakespeare and Cervantes eventually found each other through their works, their characters, and the passion of their readers.”

Bream HammondHammond followed with his remarks, titled “Cervantes’ Bones.” In 1727, the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane produced Double Falsehood, written by English playwright Lewis Theobald. Theobald claimed that he based his play on the lost The History of Cardenio. According to Hammond and other scholars, the play does seem to share similarities with the 1612 translation of Don Quixote, though Theobald never claimed any such connection himself.

By 1612, Shakespeare had begun looking for a successor in the King’s Men, eventually identifying John Fletcher as his protégé. By the end of his career, Shakespeare had collaborated with Fletcher on numerous occasions, especially in his plays Two Noble Kinsmen and Henry VIII. Considering that Fletcher was a Hispanophile and fan of Spanish literature, it becomes all too probable that one of their collaborations would include Quixote.

Many scholars have taken issue with the idea that Shakespeare’s professional relationship exceeded anything more than master and apprentice and that Shakespeare could be influenced by the younger writer. In Hammond’s view, however, Shakespeare’s work with Fletcher marks a shift in the playwright’s style, what he identified as “the metaphysics of second chance.” “What Shakespeare’s late tragicomedies do is allow us the redemptive possibility of living our lives again and atoning for our errors in life and making it all better,” he said. “Some of that comes from Cervantes and Fletcher.”

—Samuel Wright (B.A. American Studies ’16)


Samuel covers events for the Department of Spanish and Portuguese for the College of Humanities. He is a senior pursuing a degree in American studies with a minor in editing.

First Image of Carlos Alvar

Second Image of Breamn Hammond