Hostage to Catalonia

Banner - quill in Orwell fist, de Vere shield

· 21 February 2021 ·
[Shakespeare, Cervantes, a translation experiment, and a new discovery about the real Don Quixote]


This is not the Cervantes-and-Shakespeare post I began to write.

Scribbling away on that one, I wrote a subplot for Lolofernes, a scribbler from Barcelona. Comic subplots have done well for me in the past, but Lolofernes wanted none of it. He stole all but one of my quill pens (I go through a lot of pens), insisting that I take a new sheet and scribble for him alone. He said he had a book he wanted me to review. He said it was about Cervantes and Shakespeare.

This extortion-by-character had a precedent: Jack Falstaff pulled a similar stunt on me, long ago. Much to his annoyance I killed him offstage in Henry V, where he was unable to chew any scenery. Much to my annoyance he refused to stay dead, beseeching 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 old reject dug up and quickly rewritten. It’s far from my best work but it got back at the old knave, and it 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 the train would go off the rails this time. 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. The masked writer is a Catalonian named Joan Miquel Sirvent. Sirvent, asserts Lolofernes, wrote not only El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha and everything else in Spanish (or Catalan) credited to Miguel de Cervantes, but also everything in English credited to William Shakespeare.

Stabbed in the back with my own pen.

All of Cervantes and all of Shakespeare. That’s quite a corpus for one man, no matter who he is. A fig’s-end for it of course, but I was intrigued. I have known the demands of long travel, of living in other languages, and of writing in quantity, so I wanted to know how this multi-national, multi-lingual hyper-productivity was supposed to have been accomplished. What was Lolofernes’s case for his twice-masked author?

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 easy left-and-right jabs at Willy Shakspere’s empty shirt, or was he willing to take on a more solid, though also masked, opponent?

Not that it mattered. Lolofernes published his book at the time of Willy’s (and Cervantes’s, sort of) 400th deathday in 2016, but his shakedown had to wait until I wrote him into my post and left my pens lying about. SHAKESPEARE ÉS CERVANTES, far beyond the pale of mainstream Iberian historiography, was never a book to fly off store shelves. Even in Catalonia, Lolofernes and his amics are called out for their unscholarly methods and their cultural persecution complex. Why should Sirvent need this sort of subterfuge? Lolofernes indicts the Habsburgs, especially Philip II.

I have no locus standi on the issue of a 450-year-old Castilian monarcho-literary conspiracy. In England in those days, our interest in Philip and his Spaniards began and ended with keeping their feet off of our beaches. All I wanted now was to read some scribbling about my work. I hit a snag: Willy may have had small Latin and less Greek, but I had no Catalan. Lolofernes offered no English translation, no digitised e-book at all. He wouldn’t even give me a review copy, he wanted my ducats.

Against my better judgement, I paid. The cost and an admittedly ludicrous typing job were the stakes I hazarded, to test whether Google could turn Lolofernes’s català into readable English. I hoped I’d 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, whipped by the powers of absolutism, 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 doing a good job, it became equally evident that prose style and clarity were not lost in translation, they were absent in the original. That’s what I get for inventing a pen-pilfering scribbler instead of Jordi Puntí. Leo Messi would throw kick this book against the wall, even if he agreed with it.


Thanks to Google it was not a difficult chore to translate SHAKESPEARE ÉS CERVANTES. Describing what’s in it is another matter.

Table of contents:

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

Tilting at these windmills:

  • Prologue · Hurrah for humanism and the secret number 102. An inexplicable, invented scene of the death of Sirvent in retirement at Lake Geneva, cared for 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. Squirrel, nut.
  • Parts One and Two · Nobody Expects The Spanish Conquest Of America in a book whose title is SHAKESPEARE IS CERVANTES. Seventy-six pages of Catalonian maritime history, the discovery and subjugation of the New World by Castilianised Catalonians, and the political and cultural repression forced on Catalonia 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 soon I wished I was back in Peru, exterminating the natives with steel blades and smallpox. This is where the train wrecked, the rocket exploded, the windmill pulled me off my horse and flung me to the ground. The translation was done; so was the translator. I left Lolofernes a blistering voicemail refusing to desublimate any more of his purple prose, his tables of coincidences, his misidentified portraits, his Masonic hand signals, his mistake-ridden ciphers, his WILL I AM, his misquotes and misspellings, and most of all his entirely missing attempt to explain how his man, masked or not, could have written what I wrote. He could keep the bloody pens.

DQ is defeated in the joust


Look at it this way: I read this book so that you don’t have to. But here are a couple of thoughts, and an astounding revelation that will re-write 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. I once wrote a verse in a limerick about this sort of business. I was speaking of Stratford, 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
  • • someone else doing it for him
  • • the internet
  • • a Babel fishBabel

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

♦ Lolofernes asserts that the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega was the model for Don Quixote. I assert less speculatively that he was a singular character in sixteenth-century history and European literature. Don’t confuse him with the non-Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, the Toledan poet. The Inca Garcilaso, as he called himself, was born in Cuzco in the early years of la conquista. His mother was of the nearly-obliterated Incan royal line, his father a conquistador and viceregal official. There was no church wedding. Garcilaso lived his adult life in Spain as a man of letters and a devout Catholic, a curious blend of Atahualpa, William Camden, Geoffrey of Monmouth, and Uncle Tom.

Garcilaso died (possibly) on 23 April 1616. Lolofernes made much of this being the same day that custom decrees for the deaths of both Cervantes and Shakspere, but he missed a fact of far greater significance: the Inca and I were born on the same date, exactly eleven years apart– 12 April, he in 1539, me in 1550. Clearly this can mean only one thing: that I myself was the model for Don Quixote. Cervantes (the real one) and I very nearly crossed paths in Sicily in the summer of 1575. I’m certain he’d have heard about me, I was the talk of the island, it was in all the papers. That’s in my hijacked post, it will have to wait. You know who to blame.

I unlocked the verification of my Quixotehood with the very same Baco-Rosicrucian cipher key that Lolofernes employed forty-three (43) times in Part Three of his book.


Take the secret number 195, sum its digits to get 15. Now take the precise difference of 11 between the Inca Garcilaso 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 at Waterstones (when they reopen) and Amazon. In English.


What did my scribbler 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

Related posts

♦ 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 the anniversary of his death. 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.

Sources and related reading

  • Pugiwilly Shakspere the punching puppet []
  • · sold by 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]

cover 1st ed Homage to Catalonia