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Don Juan (Spanish), Don Giovanni (Italian) is a legendary, fictional libertine. One of the first written versions of the Don Juan legend is Tirso de Molina's, El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra (The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest), a play set in the fourteenth century and published in Spain around 1630. Among the best-known works about this character are Molière's play Dom Juan ou le Festin de pierre (1665), Byron's epic poem Don Juan (1821), José de Espronceda's poem El estudiante de Salamanca (1840), and José Zorrilla's play Don Juan Tenorio (1844). Along with Don Juan Tenorio (still performed every November 2nd throughout the Spanish-speaking world), Don Giovanni, an opera composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, is arguably the best-known version. First performed in Prague in 1787, it inspired works by E. T. A. Hoffmann, Alexander Pushkin, Søren Kierkegaard, George Bernard Shaw, and Albert Camus. "Don Juan" is used synonymously for "womanizer", especially in Spanish slang, and often in reference to hypersexuality.
In Spanish, Don Juan is pronounced [doŋˈxwan]. The usual English pronunciation is //, with two syllables and a silent "J". However, in Byron's epic poem it rhymes with ruin and true one, indicating that it was intended to have the trisyllabic spelling pronunciation //. This would have been characteristic of his English literary predecessors who often imposed English pronunciations on Spanish names, such as Don Quixote //.
Although the various literations of the Don Juan myth show some variation, the basic storyline remains the same. Starting with Tirso's work, Don Juan is portrayed as a wealthy, seductive libertine who devotes his life to seducing women, taking great pride in his ability to seduce women of all ages and stations in life. His life is also punctuated with violence and gambling, and in many interpretations (Tirso, Espronceda, Zorrilla), he kills Don Gonzalo, the father of a girl he has seduced, Doña Ana. This leads to the famous last supper scene, whereby Don Juan invites the father to dinner. The ending depends on which version of the legend one is reading. Tirso's original play was meant as religious parable against Don Juan's sinful ways, and ends with his death, having been denied salvation by God. Other authors and playwrights would interpret the ending in their own fashion. Espronceda's Don Felix walks into hell and to his death of his own volition, whereas Zorrilla's Don Juan asks for, and receives, a divine pardon. The figure of Don Juan has inspired many modern interpretations.
Albert Camus has written on the character of Don Juan, which also fascinated Jane Austen: "I have seen nobody on the stage who has been a more interesting Character than that compound of Cruelty and Lust". In a famous passage, Kierkegaard discusses Mozart's version of the Don Juan story. Charles Rosen saw what he called “the seductive physical power” of Mozart's music as linked to 18th century libertinism, political fervor, and incipient Romanticism. Anthony Powell in his novel Casanova's Chinese Restaurant contrasts Don Juan, who "merely liked power" and "obviously did not know what sensuality was", with Casanova, who "undoubtedly had his sensuous moments”.
- Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, "The Absurd Man: Don Juanism"
- D. Le Faye ed., Jane Austen's Letters (1996) p. 221
- Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, "The Immediate Stages of the Erotic, or Musical Erotic."
- Charles Rosen, The Classical Style (1977) p. 323-4
- Anthony Powell, Casanova's Chinese Restaurant (1980) p. 38
Don Jon (2013)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Don Juan.|
- Text of Molière's Dom Juan' (in French)
- Encyclopædia Britannica article about Don Juan
- Armand E. Singer: A Bibliography of the Don Juan Theme 1954-2003
- "Flowers of Evil", Charles Baudelaire