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Tilting at Windmills: Cervantes ‘Meets’ Shakespeare 400 Years On

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By Jamie Ryder

Manchester Metropolitan University’s Humanities in Public series brought together two of the most influential writers in history on Friday with an event entitled ‘Tilting at Windmills: Cervantes ‘Meets’ Shakespeare 400 Years On’.

Taking place at the university’s Number 70 building, the event celebrated the work of both authors who shared literary acclaim and who both died on 23rd April 1616.

Convened by the Department of Languages, Information and Communications, Department of English and Manchester Met’s School of Theatre, the event gave theatre and language students the chance to perform extracts of Cervantes and Shakespeare’s best known works.

SCSenior Lecturer in Spanish Karl McLaughlin opened the evening, saying, “It was a good day for building bridges by bringing Cervantes and Shakespeare’s work onto the same stage and having the two authors meet. It’s about building bridges between theatre and language students and a third bridge between the university and Manchester context.”

Karl then introduced his colleague Senior Lecturer in Spanish Idoya Puig who gave a brief history of Cervantes. She described him as having a “life full of misfortunes” and although he came from “a middle class family of certain noble origins”, “this did not bring him economic well-being.”

Idoya then talked about the legacy of Cervantes’ most famous work Don Quixote and explained that it was written as “a parody of books of chivalry.” She referenced the main character Don Quixote as being the “handsome hero who turns out to be a middle-aged man who has trouble getting on a horse.” Idoya also spoke about the book as the birth of the novel because “the characters are aware of literary principles of the time and discuss ways of story-telling.”

Next, three extracts from Don Quixote were read out in Spanish from language students. The first extract introduced the main character as a “gaunt, middle-age hero” who sets out on a mission of chivalry like the knights he’s read about. The second extract was a humorous exchange between the protagonist and his friend Sancho Panza who insisted that the giants Quixote intended to fight were nothing more than windmills. The final extract saw Quixote coming to his senses and “renouncing his world of fantasy” just as he was killed.

After the reading, Senior Acting Lecturer Simon Gilman talked about what Shakespeare meant to him. He said, “There is no definitive view but the man’s work has resonated with people on every continent. We tend to revere Shakespeare as an icon of literature but we might therefore forget that he was a country lad who went to London to become an actor. Shakespeare’s true greatness stems from his ability as an actor.”

His introduction was followed by two performances of Shakespeare’s plays, Richard III and As You Like It by students from the Manchester Met School of Theatre. The first performance dealt with a “bitter widow whose life is turned upside down by the monster who murdered her husband.” Both students were passionate and emotional with their dialogue, creating an air of tension and comedy. The second performance was light-hearted with the exploration of how to ‘properly woo’ a woman.

Karl then decided it was time to bring Cervantes and Shakespeare together in an imaginary meeting to “engage in a dialogue over a goblet of wine.” Both authors were played by theatre students who delivered a hilarious performance. They discussed issues of education, immigration and the state of their language. ‘Shakespeare’ suggested universities should only teach classical courses rather than anything creative because it would put writers such as himself and Cervantes out of work. ‘Cervantes’ lamented how young people were turning Spanish into something he couldn’t understand. Both authors complimented each other’s literary work and poked fun at certain lines. ‘Shakespeare’ was convinced Cervantes’ phrase “tilting at windmills” would catch on while Cervantes couldn’t see “to be or not to be” lasting.

The meeting concluded with ‘Cervantes’ suggesting they could cement their legacy together by choosing to end their lives on the same day. ‘Shakespeare’ agreed and was confident the 23rd April would come to be known as World Book Day.

For more information about upcoming events in the Humanities in Public ‘World’ strand visit the Humanities in Public Festival’s webpage.

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