The Monthly Editorial Blog By Schlafly Beer Co-Founder Tom Schlafly
To dream the impossible dream.
To fight the unbeatable foe.
To bear with unbearable sorrow.
To run where the brave dare not go.
Alert readers (ARs) of a certain age will instantly recognize this song from Man of La Mancha, the 1964 musical inspired by Don Quixote, the 17th century masterpiece by Miguel de Cervantes. Don Quixote is regarded by many scholars as the first novel ever written. Man of La Mancha was staged as a play within a play performed by Cervantes and his fellow prisoners awaiting trial by the Spanish Inquisition.
Much has been written on the question of whether the character of Don Quixote was based on Cervantes himself. As a young man he had been severely wounded at the battle of Lepanto in 1571. He was later captured by Barbary pirates and held for five years in Algiers as a slave of the Ottoman Empire. According to some commentators, he emerged from this experience with a determination “to right the unrightable wrong,” just like Don Quixote.
Without resolving the question of whether Don Quixote was autobiographical, it’s worth noting that long before it was published, Cervantes had written a play titled The Bagnios of Algiers. The main character was a man named Sayavedra, who, like Cervantes, was a Christian held captive in Algiers. After inventing the character of Sayavedra, Cervantes then changed his name to Miguel de Cervantes Sayavedra. You read that correctly. Cervantes actually took on the identity of a fictional character he had created based on his own experience. Say what?
All of this is relevant because we’re coming up on the 400th anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes on April 23, 1616. Ten days later William Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616. Say what? I am not making this up. The first novelist and the greatest playwright ever both died on April 23, 1616…ten days apart. The explanation is that Cervantes died in Catholic Spain, which followed the Gregorian Calendar, while Shakespeare died in Protestant Britain, which still followed the Julian Calendar. Shakespeare actually died on May 3, 1616 according to the Gregorian Calendar, which Britain didn’t get around to adopting until 1752.
Considering that we’re also coming up on the quadricentennial of Shakespeare’s death, now would be as good a time as any to heed the immortal words of Cole Porter: “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.” ARs who are familiar with this number probably that it’s from Kiss Me Kate, which, like Man of La Mancha, is a play within a play. They will also recall that it’s presented as advice on how to woo educated women:
Brush up your Shakespeare.
Start quoting him now.
Brush up your Shakespeare
And the women you will wow.
Granted, not all of the lyrics pass the test of political correctness in the 21st century:
If she says your behavior is heinous,
Kick her right in the Coriolanus.
Nevertheless, it’s hard not to appreciate lines like:
If your girl is a Washington Heights dream,
Treat the kid to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
ARs who want to follow this advice can treat their kids to this very play free of charge this summer in Forest Park, where it will be staged by The Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis from June 3rd to 26th. More information can be found at www.sfstl.com. It should be noted that even though the play will be performed around the time of the summer solstice (Midsummer Night), the action in the play actually culminates on May Day (May 1st).
Something else that happens on May Day this year is the Chi-caaago MS Walk on the Chicago Lakefront. Among the participants will be an AR named Alex Vournas, his girlfriend Jen Harper and their dog Tucker. My connection to Alex predates his existence by several years. (I introduced his parents to each other back in 1972, long before he was born. Put another way, if it weren’t for me, Alex probably wouldn’t exist.) Because Multiple Sclerosis has affected members of both Alex’s and Jen’s families, the two of them have an especially strong motivation to raise money to fight this horrible disease. I’m honored that Schlafly Beer is part of their training program and would encourage any ARs who might want to support them to visit http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/Alex_Vournas
Meaning no offense to Man of La Mancha, I have to say their dream is not impossible and the foe of MS is not unbeatable.