Hostage to Catalonia

Banner - quill in Orwell fist, de Vere shield

21 February 2021
· A shakedown, a translation experiment, and a new discovery about the real Don Quixote ·


I set out to write a post about Cervantes and Shakespeare. This is not that post. This is a pretender, a usurper, a compelled replacement forced from my hand at penpoint.

The one I intended began well enough. I wrote a scene for Lolofernes, a silly scribbler from Barcelona. In times past my comic characters rarely gave me trouble, but this one deemed his role beneath his dignity. His desire to be taken seriously drove him to serious action– while I was out walking to stretch my bad leg, he kidnapped all but one of my quill pens.

Being Shake-Speare requires a lot of pens. One bucket holds sharpened quills, another collects the dull ones as I work. When the sharps are gone I stop writing and take my penknife to the dulls, refilling the empty bucket. I tried to delegate the job to Lyly when he worked for me, but he never got the hang of cutting the points the way I like them so I went back to doing it myself. We writers all have our little quirks.

When I returned from my walk, Lolofernes was waiting for me.

  • Take a new sheet and pick up that last pen
  • If you hope to set eyes on your buckets again
  • I’ve written a book that you’re going to review
  • In a post that gives me the respect I am due
  • The subject will not with your plans interfere,
  • My book is about Cervantes and Shakespeare.

Not counting the doggerel, this insurrection did have a precedent: who else but Jack Falstaff would pull the stunt. He grudged me killing him offstage in Henry V, forestalling his chance to chew scenery as he expired. In retaliation he refused to stay dead, hounding me for sack and a play of his own, “something with pretty women in it”. If I was ever to get him out of my head, I’d have to buy him out with ink.
Orson Welles in Chimes at Midnight (Falstaff)The Merry Wives of Windsor was my ransom and my revenge, an early reject disinterred and quickly rewritten. It’s nowhere near my best work but it got back at the old knave, and got him back in his coffin. “By my troth, ’tis more commodious than that stinking buck-basket, and less like to be tossed in the Thames.” Exactly.

Now another of my creations was railroading me, though this train was destined to go off the rails. I don’t know when I’ll get back to the other post, so you may as well have a look at the wreckage of this one.


The cover of the book proclaims SHAKESPEARE ÉS CERVANTES in bold red capitals, but it’s a title-trick. Between the covers Shakespeare is not Cervantes. Cervantes is not even Cervantes. According to Lolofernes, a Catalonian named Joan Miquel Sirvent is Cervantes. It is Sirvent who wrote El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, and everything else in Spanish (or Catalan) credited to Miguel de Cervantes. It is also Sirvent who wrote everything in English credited to William Shakespeare.

Stabbed in the back with my own pen.

All of Cervantes plus all of Shakespeare. That’s quite a corpus for one man, no matter what his name is. A fig’s-end for it of course, yet I was intrigued. I have known the challenges of long travel, of living in other languages, of writing in quantity. How was this hard-to-imagine feat of multinational, multicultural, multilingual productivity accomplished? What was Lolofernes’s case for his escriptor emmascaratmasked writer?

Sometimes the metaphors write themselvesI was also curious to see what my ingrateful scribbler chose to scribble about me, or chose not to. Was he only a shadowboxer aiming his left-and-right jabs at Willy Shakspere’s empty shirt, or was he willing to take on the more solid, though also masked, opponent?

Not that it mattered, except for the feathers. Lolofernes’s book was published near Willy’s (and Cervantes’s, sort of) 400th deathday in 2016, but his shakedown had to wait until I wrote him into my draft and left my buckets out. SHAKESPEARE ÉS CERVANTES, lying far beyond the pale of mainstream Iberian historiography, was never going to fly off the shelves. Even in Catalonia Lolofernes and his amics are called out for their unscholarly methods and their cultural persecution complex. They maintain that Spain’s Habsburg kings Charles IHe was at one time or another King Charles I of Spain [Castile and Aragon], Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, Archduke of Austria, Lord of the Netherlands, and Duke of Burgundy. Charles had a whole collection of fancy headgear. and Philip II were the source of Sirvent’s troubles, the sixteenth-century origin of an ongoing Castilian monarcho-literary conspiracy. I wouldn’t know. In England in those days our interest in Philip and his Spaniards began and ended with keeping their feet off of our beaches. In any case what I wanted to read wasn’t why, but how. How Cervantes was Sirvent, how Shakespeare was Cervantes. It’s the title of the book, after all.

Before I could begin, bad omens boded ill. Lolofernes apparently had no more ability to write in English than Shakspere, and I have no Catalan. There was no translation in paper, no e-book in any language. The churl wouldn’t even give me a review copy. Defying augury and my better judgement, I paid for the book I couldn’t read. I staked my ducats and an admittedly ludicrous typing job to test whether Google could turn Lolofernes’s català into passable English. I hoped to have an answer before my fingers were maimed by ál·l the diàcrítïçs.


Sample of Lolofernes's purple prose

Miquel Sirvent, alias Miguel de Cervantes, alias William Shakespeare, genius among geniuses, juggler of senses and meanings, man of the Renaissance, son of the Mediterranean and a homeland that was and is the cradle of light and culture and progress though whipped by the powers of absolutism, a humanist the equal of Francis Bacon, had to hide the truth behind word games and number tricks, behind appearances.

Dr John Dee alchemy demonstration for QEThe good news is that Google Translate passed the test. This is also the bad news.

Speaking as one whose languages were smelted from the ores of study and use, Google’s AI is pure alchemy, a philosophers’ stone to make Doctor Dee and Sir Thomas go weak in the knees. Most of the English output made adequate grammatical sense with no more tweaking than you see in the example above, and only a couple of spots required head-scratching guesswork (Lolofernes was dodging my calls). Allowing that I spent no time beyond the minimum necessary to optimise the English, and that I have no Catalan!, the experiment was a great success.

A great technical success. As it became evident that the AI was up to the task, it became just as evident that prose style and clarity were not lost in translation, they were absent in the original. I never thought I’d see sentences that ran like Burghley’s but there they were, my punishment for inventing a scribbling pen-thief instead of Jordi Puntí. I don’t know where Leo Messi stands on Shakespeare Authorship, but as a literary critic he would throw kick this book against the wall, even if he agreed with it.

Thanks to the G-losophers’ stone, translating SHAKESPEARE ÉS CERVANTES, though tedious, was not difficult. Summarising the translation is another matter.

Lolofernes’s table of contents:

  • Prologue (pgs 9-14) · Sirvent: Cervantes, Shakespeare, and vice versa
  • Part One (pgs 15-56) · Catalans overseas and historical keys
  • Part Two (pgs 57-90) · Literary and political censorship under Charles I and Philip II
  • Part Three (pgs 91-158) · Unknowns surrounding Shakespeare and Cervantes
  • Epilogue (pgs 159-160)

Tilting at these windmills:

  • Prologue · Hurrah for humanism, Freemasonry, and the secret number 102. An inexplicable bit of let’s-pretend, imagining the last days of Sirvent in hidden retirement at Lake Geneva, attended on his deathbed by his Masonic brother Francis Bacon. Falstaff would have loved it. Willy Shakspere is tagged as the good-for-nothing son of a wool merchant from Stratford. Blind squirrel, nut.
  • Parts One and Two · Nobody Expects The Spanish Conquest Of America in a book titled SHAKESPEARE IS CERVANTES. Seventy-six pages of Catalonian maritime history (with maps), the discovery and exploitation of the New World by pseudonymised Catalonians, and the political and cultural oppression of freedom-loving patriots by the monarchy in Madrid. In a nutshell: Catalonians good, Castilians bad. Not so much as a botched Hamlet quote until page 48: Juan Ponce de León or Joan Ponç de Lleó i de Cabrera, that is the question.
  • Part Three · Shakspere finally made his entrance on page 91, but the part was nothing but a walk-on. I longed to be back in Peru, smiting natives with steel blades and smallpox. Part Three is where the train wrecked, the rocketship exploded, the windmill pulled me off my horse and flung me to the ground.

DQ is defeated in the joust
I left Lolofernes a blistering voicemail with my refusal to desublimate any more of his gaseous purple prose, his misidentified portraits, his tables of coincidences, his Masonic hand signals, his mistake-ridden ciphers, his Camp Nou and WILL I AM, his misspellings and misquotes. Every word of it fum i mirallssmoke instead of what was missing: any attempt whatsoever to explain how Cervantes-or-Sirvent, masked or unmasked, could have written the first line of anything that I wrote.

He could keep the bloody pens.


Look at it this way: I read this book so that you don’t have to. But here are a couple of post-translation thoughts, and a startling revelation that could rewrite Western literary history.

♦ Lolofernes’s argument is so circular and his cherry-picking so one-sided, his publisher should have printed the book on a Möbius strip. A verse in one of my old limericks describes this sort of business. I was speaking of Stratford at the time, but Lolofernes wears the same shoe size.

  • Engineers know this practice as slick
  • Draw your curve first and then your points pick
  • If a fact doesn’t fit
  • Simply close eyes to it
  • While you hope no one’s wise to your trick

♦ Feeding Google, paragraph by paragraph, a book that I typed in a language I do not know brought home a point that I knew already. No Englishman in the sixteenth century who lacked:

  • • advanced language study, reading, and writing
  • • access to private libraries, as all libraries were
  • • first-hand experience in use
  • • Berlitz, Rosetta Stone, or the Rosetta Stone
  • • the internet
  • • a Babel fishBabel or protocol droid
  • • someone else doing it for him

would be able to obtain, understand, and adapt untranslated literary source material written in a language other than English. Not possible.

♦ Lolofernes asserts that the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega was the real-life model for Don Quixote. I assert less speculatively that this man was a singular character in history on both sides of the Atlantic. Don’t confuse him with the non-Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, the Toledan poet. The Inca Garcilaso was born in Cuzco in the early years of la conquista. His mother came from the nearly-obliterated Incan royal line, his father was a conquistador and viceregal official. There was no church wedding. Garcilaso spent his adult years in Spain as a chronicler of the New World and a devout Catholic– a curious blend of Atahualpa, William Camden, Geoffrey of Monmouth, and Uncle Tom.

Garcilaso may have died on 23 April 1616. Lolofernes made a big deal of this being the same day as the one decreed by UNESCOUNESCO celebrates World Book and Copyright Day on the putative deathday of the greatest intellectual-property thief in literary history. I can’t make this stuff up. as the deathday of both Cervantes and Shakspere, but he had the wrong stick by the wrong end, missing a fact of much greater importance. Both the Inca and I were born on the same date, the twelfth of April– he in 1539, me in 1550, no Julian-vs-Gregorian calendar fudging needed. Clearly this can mean only one thing: that I myself was the model for Don Quixote. Cervantes (the real one) and I were in the same part of Italy in the summer of 1575. Would he have heard about me, or I about him? Did our paths cross? That’s the post I was writing when my pens were abducted, it will have to wait. You know who to blame. [23 April 2022: The wait is over. See the Related Posts links at the end of this one.]

To rule out random chance, I verified my Quixotehood using the same Baco-Rosicrucian cipher key that Lolofernes employed forty-three (43) times in Part Three of his book.


Take the secret number 195 as revealed by the cipher, sum its digits to get 15. Now take the precise difference of 11 years between the Inca and myself, sum those digits to get 2. Add to the previous 15. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you the significance of 17. QED.

My new book, SHAKE-SPEARE IS QUIXOTE, will be available for purchase at Waterstones (when they reopen) and Amazon. In English.


What did my creation have to say about his creator? Two sentences in the middle of page 94. Gentles, this is all.

Lolofernes's two-sentence dismissal

As for Edward de Vere, he died in 1604, before some of the works attributed to him were written. In addition, his verses had metrical forms that did not match much with any poem that Shakespeare had written.

Two facepalms are not nearly enoughBut Catalonia also gave us Antoni Gaudí.

Looking up inside Sagrada FamiliaBasilica de la Sagrada Família, Barcelona


  • • Another look at translation: I worked from a different language (Latin, no Google required) on a short epitaph written by an incomparably better scribbler, then I wrote about it on his own deathday anniversary. In Obitum Christopher Marlowe, posted 30 May 2018.
  • • Not all reviews require larceny and extortion. Here’s one I was happy to write. Book Review: Strong Stuff, posted 28 September 2017.
  • • For an assortment of books that, unlike SHAKESPEARE ÉS CERVANTES, are worth your time, see my library page Learned Books.


  • Pugiwilly Shakspere the punching puppet []
    (dead link: mcphee[.]com/products/shakespeare-punching-puppet)
  • · Archie McPhee & Co, Seattle, USA
  • · from the description: “Be forewarned, if anyone implies that his works were written by Francis Bacon, by his hand he will supplant some of their teeth and make their eye as black as night!” I can’t make this stuff up.
  • [jump return]

[23 Dec 2021] Alas, the URL returns a page-not-found error on the McPhee site. You can find Pugiwilly elsewhere online with a bit of punching poking. Search “William Shakespeare punching puppet”.

cover 1st ed Homage to Catalonia