Santiago Muñoz Machado (Pozoblanco, 1949) is a jurist by training, professor of Administrative Law at the Complutense University of Madrid, and has also been passionate about Cervantes since his youth. As director of the Royal Spanish Academy, he lives surrounded by references to the author of the Quixotealthough he discovered that the painting that presides over the assembly hall of the RAE is false. This is explained in the prologue of Cervantes (Crítica), the extensive monograph that has just been published on the writer from Alcala, using an expression that appears throughout this book of more than a thousand pages.
With the anecdote of the false painting, do you put the reader on notice of what the book will be: fix what is true and discard the falsehoods around the figure of Cervantes?
The book is a general review of his life, literary criticism, the process of publishing his works, and an examination of the society and politics of his time. His biography was compiled from fragments and dedications that appeared in his works and was not completed until the beginning of the 20th century. In this process there have been inventions and false attributions, starting with fixing the place of his birth.
Cervantes lived through an almost revolutionary time, because very profound changes took place”
How has literary criticism of your works evolved?
At first, The Quixote it was considered a humorous work and later a very serious book, containing many messages that had to be deciphered. There were also psychological analyzes and later it was understood as a criticism of the society of his time. I have tried to establish which is the fairest.
What are the Cervantine sources?
I was interested to see where this ingenious man got his ideas. Some come from previous books, but what I find most interesting is to see how he was inspired by the politics and society of his time, and by minorities, such as the Moors, the Jews, the Gypsies. Also how the court worked and why there was so much corruption in the appointment of positions.
He delves into couple relationships through his works.
It was something that interested him a lot and his books are full of romantic entanglements, marriages, cohabitation relationships…
I have analyzed what he thought of the legal system, an aspect that has been little studied”
A time of changes.
Cervantes lived through an almost revolutionary time, because very profound changes took place, with the formation of the modern State and urban societies. He writes after the Council of Trent, but notes the previous practices that were maintained. Before Trento there was no need to get married and afterwards the solemnity of a ceremony was necessary. He has one foot in the past and the other in the present, so that he describes realities of both times. These are things little treated in Cervantine studies.
Was there still belief in magic and witchcraft?
They were deeply rooted in the beliefs of the people, both the uncultured and vulgar, as well as the cultured and documented, which is why it appears extensively in The Quijote.
And as a good jurist, he analyzes legislative aspects of his works.
It is the shortest chapter, but I have dealt with the Cervantine conception of law. Law and justice were important aspects to him. He was imprisoned several times and his sisters and his daughter had lawsuits and lawsuits. I have analyzed what he thought of the system, an aspect that has been little studied.
In his book he points out that Cervantes was an arbitrator.
From Felipe II, intellectuals appear who have ideas to offer to the crown to improve the government of the kingdom. They make very long writings that would be equivalent to the current detailed reports on the necessary reforms. There were very serious ones and other lighter ones, which could be taken as a tigernut. Cervantes makes fun of these arbitrists and makes them appear in The Colloquium of the dogs. On The Quijote formulations of this type appear. I say that Cervantes was in a certain way arbitrator, because in many of his works he makes recommendations for the best government of the monarchy and also criticizes the corruption with which relevant offices are entrusted to worthless people and that the performance of the office is accompanied by criminal practices, bribery, as in The little gypsy.
Cervantes was somewhat of an arbitrator, because he makes recommendations for the best government of the monarchy and criticizes corruption”
Does Sancho’s Ínsula Barataria follow this line, the manual of good government according to Cervantes?
That’s it. Don Quixote gives Sancho Panza a long recommendation of what he has to do and what not to do as governor.
What is the main contribution of your work?
I have made a new arrangement and systematization on different bases of all his biography and subsequent data. What I consider my great personal contribution is the political and social history of Spain reflected in the work of Cervantes, which was little studied. The result is a sufficiently proven biography.