“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” –William Shakespeare, Hamlet
William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes could not have imagined their writing would still touch the lives of millions 400 years after their deaths—especially considering nearly half of Shakespeare’s work didn’t appear in print during his lifetime.
But the two great European storytellers, who likely never crossed paths but both died on April 23, 1616, are immortalized through their words, which have been adapted into movies, are taught to millions of students each year and have together been translated into more than 80 languages.
Friday, FIU’s Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs led a program that gathered members of the community at the Coral Gables Museum to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s and Cervantes’ deaths with an afternoon of live Renaissance music, spoken word performances and a discussion on why their work remains noteworthy in modern times.
FIU Spanish Professor Ricardo Castells believes Cervantes’ famous novel Don Quixote still continues to capture readers’ imaginations because it is a classic tale of Renaissance self-fashioning.
“This book is basically Alonso Quixano’s bucket list,” Castells said, comparing the book’s protagonist, who fashions himself a chivalric, knight-errant alter ego named Don Quixote, to a star in a reality television show.
Cándido Creis Estrada, the consul general of Spain in Miami, said Don Quixote “reflects very well not just the spirit of the Spanish culture, but of all of us. We all have dreams. We all want to enjoy life.
“Cervantes gave us a wonderful lesson on how to be brave in life.”
Castells also said readers can keep rereading the book throughout their lives and find new meaning in it each time.
“I’m going to keep reading Don Quixote for another 43 years, because there’s no telling what you’ll find in that time,” Castells said.
Shakespeare’s work remains relevant in popular culture because of his ability to convey the human condition through his characters, according to Paul Smith, the director of the British Council USA.
“In his plays, I do not think there is any vice or virtue which is not explored in a totally three-dimensional way. Treachery, anger, jealousy, egoism, revenge,” Smith said. “But in many ways, the greatness of Shakespeare is his extraordinarily upbeat analysis and depiction of the virtues—when Shakespeare talks about such extraordinary things as kindness, gentility, magnanimity, friendship, family, tolerance, patience, will, faith and love.”
Adding to Shakespeare’s continuing popularity is the fact that his plots remain relevant in today’s society.
“There are very few words I mentioned there that are not in our headlines now,” Smith said. “When we watch Shakespeare, we are watching real people in real time creating real experiences.”
The event also featured live performances, including a dramatic reading of the first chapter of Don Quixote by FIU student Alfonso Vieites, who dressed as Cervantes; a theatrical interpretation of a passage from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performed by FIU student Adele Robinson; and a Renaissance music interlude performed by FIU choral students.
“Four hundred years later, groups all over the world are gathering to think about these two great writers,” said Smith. “In a year of intense engagement of Shakespeare and Cervantes, this weekend is the peak of celebration. There is probably not a country or major city in the world that is not celebrating.”
This event was part of the Green School’s TotalBank Distinguished Speaker Series.
Check out a gallery of photos.