Culture® 4.0
Contextual Guide and Internet Index to Western Civilization

Sample Culture 4.0 Interdisciplinary Lesson

(about links at this site)


Culture 4.0 comes with a supporting Workbook (available both in linked HTML format and as a separate MS Word document) of questions on all content sections of the program. The program has many other possible uses in the classroom, however, and to that end we have presented here a sample interdisciplinary lesson. The format of this lesson can easily be extended to disciplines and eras other than the particular subject matter (Cervantes) of the sample below.

Subject Area: Literature, Humanities

I. Title: "The Life and Times of Miguel de Cervantes"

A humanities assignment.

II. Objectives

At the end of the lesson the students should be familiar with Cervantes and his enormous contributions to Western literature. They should also be able to describe some characteristics that distinguish the early Baroque era in which Cervantes lived by identifying some contemporaries who are historically significant in the different disciplines: history, literature, art, music, philosophy, science and miscellaneous.

III. Skills

IV. Materials Needed:

V. Time Required

Total assignment: 4 days -- Computer lab and library 2 days research /2 days evaluating, synthesizing and writing

VI. Procedures

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra 1547-1616

Spanish novelist, playwright, short story writer and poet, considered the finest Baroque novelist. Cervantes, also deemed the greatest Spanish writer, is famous for his vast picaresque novel Don Quixote (1605, 1615), considered the first modern novel and one of the most celebrated books ever written; Macaulay called it "the best novel in the world, beyond comparison." (It is one of the Encyclopedia Britannica's "Great Books of the Western World.")

Cervantes spent his 20s as a soldier, was captured by Barbary (i.e., Algerian) pirates and imprisoned, along with his brother Rodrigo, for five years. After four daring attempts at escape, Cervantes was finally ransomed by his family and settled down to a literary and governmental career. [He lost his left hand fighting in the Battle of Lepanto (7 October 1571), the first major defeat of the Ottoman Turks by the West. It was also the last naval action fought between galleys manned by oarsmen.]

Cervantes' first major work, La Galatea, a pastoral romance, was printed in 1585. Nearly always in debt he wrote plays to pay his bills. His life supplied the subject matter for several of his works, e.g., his Algerian plays, La Numancia (c.1583-1585), a historical tragedy about the lives of Christian slaves in Algiers, El trato de Argel (The Traffic of Algiers, c.1583-1585) and Los banos de Argel (The Bagnios of Algiers, c.1583-1585).

In 1587 Cervantes became the purchasing agent for provisions to be used for the Spanish Armada. He rarely managed to balance his books and, after the disastrous defeat of the Armada, Cervantes sought other governmental posts. In 1594 he was appointed a tax collector in Andalusia. Not much better in this line of work than as a purchasing agent, Cervantes was forced to quit in 1596. In 1597 discrepancies in his accounts landed him in jail in Seville where he was confined until April 1598. It is thought that he wrote Part I of his great Don Quixote while in prison in La Mancha (hence "The Man of La Mancha").

Don Quixote, Part I, printed in 1605 in Madrid, became an immediate hit. After its publication, Cervantes busied himself with other writings, e.g., poems, tales, etc., until another writer, Alonso de Avellaneda, brought out a spurious part two in 1614. Fortunately, Cervantes decided to write his own Part II which he brought out in 1615. It is the longer and greater of the two parts. By strange coincidence, Cervantes and his fellow literary giant, Shakespeare, died on the same day, 23 April 1616.

In Cervantes' great story, Alonso Quijano, an aging idealistic dreamer inspired by reading tales of chivalry, changes his name to Don Quixote de la Mancha and imagines himself to be a gallant, heroic knight. After being knighted by an innkeeper in a seedy hostelry he mistakes for a castle, Don Quixote acquires some rusty armor, an old nag, Rosinante (or Rocinante), and chooses Dulcinea del Toboso as the lady for whom he will accomplish great deeds. (Dulcinea is in fact a sweaty farm girl -- yet another delusion.)

Quixote meets Sancho Panza, a down-to-earth, illiterate and realistic peasant who becomes his good-natured and loyal squire and rides a donkey named Dapple; they make a good pair. Joseph Wood Krutch, writing in Five Masters (1930), said that they had "come to represent the two types of human wisdom -- that which knows how things really are and that which knows how they ought to be."

Don Quixote (aka the Knight of the Sad Countenance) and Sancho Panza ride off to their exploits, e.g., Quixote battles a windmill believing it to be giants [hence the expression, "to tilt at windmills"], attacks flocks of sheep he thinks are armies [after which the enraged shepherd nearly kills him], takes the village whores to be noble ladies, etc. After a host of ridiculous and painful situations one of Quixote's friends, Samson Carrasco, disguises himself as a knight (i.e., the Knight of the White Moon) and, for Quixote's own good, defeats him in combat and makes the aging knight promise to abstain from knight-errantry for a year.

At the end the two lead roles are reversed. Sancho Panza encourages the dying Quixote to hold onto life and go on one more adventure. Don Quixote, who now realizes that he is just plain Alonso Quijano, gently but realistically declines saying, "there are no birds in last year's nests." And so Alonso Quijano dies of a broken heart, thinking he has been a fool.

Chock full of human types of every description [thanks to Cervantes we have the word "quixotic," meaning something impractically romantic and idealistic], Don Quixote is one of the most widely translated, studied and written-about books in the world. Critics have argued over deeper meanings in Don Quixote. To be sure, it is a satire on chivalric romances as well as a wonderful adventure story. But beyond that, it has been seen as an attack on a specific individual (e.g., Charles I, Philip II, St. Ignatius Loyola). Other critics have conjectured that it is an autobiographical statement of Cervantes' own disillusionment, a parable of sanity and madness, a story of loyalty, etc.

More than just a parody or satire of the imaginary world of chivalric romances, Don Quixote also grapples with the realistic un-romantic values of the modern (i.e., 16th century) world. While Don Quixote evokes laughter as well as tears, the aging Quixote is not merely a ridiculous figure. More a tragic than a comic figure, the proud, brave and long-suffering Quixote finds that the world is unsympathetic to his old fashioned, noble ideals, just as an older reader of the masterpiece rather poignantly realizes that his or her own noble ideals of youth have not all been fulfilled -- but by God, the effort was worth it!

Don Quixote has inspired numerous artists and musicians, e.g., Hogarth, Goya, Picasso. It is the editor's view that Richard Strauss' tone poem, Don Quixote, is the greatest musical work to be based on Cervantes hero. Almost a cello concerto, the deep solo instrument IS Quixote and the ending is poignant beyond belief.


Cervantes' reputation rests almost entirely on Don Quixote. Most writers regard his poetry (Viage del Parnaso [Voyage to Parnassus, 1614], is a long allegorical poem) and plays to be less than wonderful. Only the 12 short stories in Novelas exemplares (Exemplary Tales, 1613) are worthy of his reputation. (Cervantes claimed in the prologue to the Novelas that he was the first to write Italian-style novellas or short stories in Castilian).

The consensus seems to be that Samuel Putnam's 1949 translation of Don Quixote is the best. Melveena McKendrick's Cervantes (1980) is an excellent study.

ART: Don Quixote -- Ridpath illustration, engraving by Dore.
WWW -- Cervantes

©2000-2010, Cultural Resources, Inc.