Dom Juan

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Not to be confused with the titular character, Don Juan.
Title page for Dom Juan with illustration of the statue at the feast. From posthumous works of Molière, 1682.

Dom Juan or The Feast with the Statue (French: Dom Juan ou le Festin de pierre) is a French play by Molière, based on the legend of Don Juan. Molière's characters Dom Juan and Sganarelle are the French counterparts to the Spanish Don Juan and Catalinón, characters who would later become familiar to opera goers as Don Giovanni and Leporello. "Dom Juan" is the last part in Molière's hypocrisy trilogy, which also includes The School for Wives and Tartuffe. It was first performed on February 15, 1665, in the Palais-Royal theatre, with Molière playing the role of Sganarelle.

The play's title and the name of the main character are often translated as "Don Juan".

The play was originally written in prose, and was withdrawn after 15 performances after attacks by Molière's critics, who considered he was offending religion and the king by eulogizing a libertine. The play was a costly failure. Sganarelle, Dom Juan's valet, is the only character who speaks up for religion, but his particular brand of superstitious Catholicism is used more as a comic device than as a foil to his master's free-thinking. As a result, Molière was ordered to delete a certain number of scenes and lines which, according to his censors, made a mockery of their faith. A severely edited text of the play was published for the first time in 1682, and it was revived only in 1687, after Molière's death, in a versified and softened version by Thomas Corneille (brother of Pierre Corneille). Corneille's adaptation was the only version of the play performed for nearly a century and a half. The play was produced in its original, uncensored version for the first time in 1884.

Molière drew his inspiration from the main character of a work by Tirso de Molina called El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra. However, the characters from the two plays differ in several aspects. Molière's Dom Juan clearly states that he is an atheist, but the Don Juan of Tirso de Molina's original play is a Catholic who believes that he can repent of his evil deeds many years later before he dies. However, his death comes sooner than expected and he finds that his attempts to repent and confess his sins are ineffective. In both plays the main character is condemned to Hell.

Plot summary[edit]

Dom Juan is essentially a Casanova. He exasperates his servant Sganarelle and must constantly be extricated from sticky situations by his disapproving father. He excels at trapping countless women because he engages in secret, mock marriages that appease the girls, but leave him with no strings attached when he tires of them. He has most recently lured the beautiful Elvire from a convent to "marry" her in this manner.

Despite Sganarelle's indignation and warnings of Heaven's wrath, Dom Juan has left Elvire and now plans to ensnare the fiancée of a friend. In order to do so, Dom Juan and Sganarelle get into a small boat on the same lake where his friend and the fiancée are going to go sailing. Suddenly, the boat is capsized and both master and servant face danger until they are rescued by a peasant. In no time at all, Dom Juan is proposing marriage to two peasant girls who argue with each other about which one of them he will choose. The disillusioned Sganarelle then informs the girls that Dom Juan will not actually marry either of them.

At this point, Dom Juan learns that Elvire's brothers intend to kill him in revenge for abandoning their sister. Sganarelle and his master disguise themselves to make their way back to the city. On the way, Dom Juan saves a stranger from bandits. This stranger turns out to be one of Elvire's brothers. This man now owes Dom Juan his life; even after he finds out his savior's identity, he decides to have mercy on Dom Juan instead of avenging his sister.

Starting out for the city again, Dom Juan and Sganarelle come across the tomb of the Commandant that Dom Juan killed. Dom Juan jokingly tells Sganarelle to invite the statue to dinner, but is surprised when the statue actually nods its acceptance. Even more frightening for Sganarelle is the fact that the statue actually appears at dinner time. The servant attributes the incident with the statue to Heaven's due wrath.

Dom Juan is not concerned by "Heaven's wrath," though, and decides to pretend to become religious. Heaven's wrath cannot tolerate this insincerity, however, and swallows Dom Juan up in a flaming abyss after his hypocritical rants. Thereupon Sganarelle comments:

"By his death everyone gets satisfaction. Heaven offended, laws violated, girls led astray, families dishonored, relatives outraged, wives ruined, husbands driven to despair, they all are satisfied. I am the only unlucky one. My wages, my wages, my wages!" [1]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Fort, Alice B. and Kates, Herbert S. Dom Juan or The Stone Death. Minute History of the Drama. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935. p. 47. Nov 27, 2007. http://www.theatrehistory.com/french/donjuan001.html

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