Don Juan

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Portrait of Francisco D'Andrade as Don Juan in Mozart's Don Giovanni by Max Slevogt, 1912

Don Juan (Spanish pronounced [doɴˈχwan]), also Don Giovanni (Italian), is a legendary, fictional libertine. The first written version of the Don Juan legend was written by the Spanish dramatist Tirso de Molina (nom de plume of Gabriel Téllez).[1] His play, El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra (The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest), was set in the fourteenth century and published in Spain around 1630. The name "Don Juan" is a common metaphor for a womanizer.


The original play was written in the Spanish Golden Age according to its beliefs and ideals, but as the story was translated and time passed the story was adapted to accommodate cultural changes.[1]

Tirso de Molina wrote El burlador de Sevilla in 1630 in order to demonstrate a life-changing lesson. He saw that everyone was throwing his life away, living and sinning as they pleased, because they believed that in the end, as long as they repented before they died, they would receive the grace to enter heaven. However, through his play, he shows that even Don Juan, who is identified as the very devil, a "man without a name" and shapeshifter, has to eventually pay for his sins. Tirso reminds us that we must pay for our actions, and that in the end, death makes us all equal.[2]


Although the various iterations of the Don Juan myth show some variation, the basic story remains the same. Starting with Tirso's work, Don Juan is portrayed as a wealthy libertine who devotes his life to seducing women, taking great pride in his ability to seduce women of all ages and stations in life.

"Tan largo me lo fiáis" (translated as "What a long term you are giving me!"[3]) is the aphorism that Don Juan lives by. It is his way of indicating that he is young and death is still distant, trusting he has plenty of time to repent for his sins.[2]

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 statue of 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. In Da Ponte's libretto for Don Giovanni, he repeatedly refuses to repent despite being given the opportunity by the statue. 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.

Cultural impact[edit]

Albert Camus utilizes Don Juan as a character to portray certain ideas. In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus describes Don Juan as an example of an 'absurd hero', as he maintains a reckless abandon in his approach to love. His seductive lifestyle "brings with it all the faces in the world, and its tremor comes from the fact that it knows itself to be mortal". He "multiplies what he cannot unify... It is his way of giving and vivifying".[4]

Don Juan 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".[5] In a famous passage, Kierkegaard discusses Mozart's version of the Don Juan story.[6] 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.[7] 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".[8]

In Spain, the first three decades of the twentieth century saw more cultural fervor surrounding the Don Juan figure than perhaps any other period. In one of the most provocative pieces to be published, the endocrinologist Gregorio Marañón argued that, far from the paragon of masculinity he was often assumed to be, Don Juan actually suffered from an arrested psychosexual development.[9]

During the 1918 influenza epidemic in Spain, the figure of Don Juan served as a metaphor for the flu microbe.[10]


Religious implications[edit]

The Don Juan legend discusses the theological question of the Act of Contrition, through which those who regretted their sins before death, would automatically receive salvation. However, others believed that some sins were unforgivable and that a simple Act of Contrition would not save them from damnation for all the harm they had caused. Tirso de Molina's theological perspective is quite apparent through the message he conveys with the dreadful ending of his play.[2]

The importance of honor[edit]

Specifically redefined as masculine honor and feminine integrity. Under the importance of honor, men in this time period found feminine integrity to be a crucial element, to the point where women in the Italian version of Don Juan are devalued. These low views of the women society affect Don Juan’s opinions and are sources to his behavior. He begins to view women as a number he could add to his list and not see who they actually were. The quantity was more important to him as opposed to the quality or social statuses of the women. He even disguised himself and used other identities in order to seduce women as he pleased.[11] If a woman was not to remain chaste until marriage, her whole family’s honor would be devalued.[2]

Sin and redemption[edit]

Don Juan is first identified as an evil man for his ability to manipulate his language and seduce women, as the devil is known for taking other forms. However, he finally repents of all his wrongdoings.[2]


In Spanish, Don Juan is pronounced [doɴˈχwan]. The usual English pronunciation is /ˌdɒnˈwɑːn/, 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 /ˌdɒnˈən/. This would have been characteristic of his English literary predecessors who often imposed English pronunciations on Spanish names, such as Don Quixote /ˌdɒnˈkwɪksət/.

In other works[edit]

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 2 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 Juans Ende, a play derived from an unfinished 1844 retelling of the tale by poet Nikolaus Lenau, inspired Richard Strauss' orchestral tone poem Don Juan, Op. 20,[12] which premiered on November 11, 1889, in Weimar, where Strauss served as Court Kapellmeister and conducted the orchestra of the Weimar Opera. In Lenau's rendering, Don Juan's promiscuity springs from his determination to find the ideal woman. Despairing of ever finding her, he ultimately surrenders to melancholy and wills his own death.[13]

In 1901, Finnish composer Jean Sibelius wrote the second movement of his second symphony based on the climax of Don Juan. The piece begins with a representation of Death walking up the road to Don Juan's house, where Don Juan pleads with Death to let him live.

Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman wrote and directed a comic sequel in 1960 titled The Devil's Eye in which Don Juan, accompanied by his servant, is sent from Hell to contemporary Sweden to seduce a young woman before her marriage.

Don Juan is also mentioned in the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, in which the character Grantaire states that Marius Pontmercy is acting like Don Juan.

Also in Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera, the Phantom writes an opera based on the legend of Don Juan called Don Juan Triumphant.

Errol Flynn stars as a swashbuckling lover of women who also fights on the side of a good Spanish queen (Viveca Lindfors) against the forces of evil in the film The Adventures of Don Juan (1948).[14]

In 1971, Gunta Virkava and Juhan Ulfsak starred in Estonian film version "Don Juan in Tallinn" based on Samuil Aljošin play. In this version, Don Juan is a woman dressed in men's clothes and is accompanied by her servant Florestino in their adventure in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.

In 1995, Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando starred in the film Don Juan DeMarco, in which Depp plays the title role, a mental patient convinced he is Don Juan, and who retells his life story to the psychiatrist played by Brando.

The film Don Jon (2013) and its womanizing protagonist is a reference to Don Juan.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Waxman, Samuel M. (1908). "The Don Juan Legend in Literature". Journal of American Folklore. 21 (81): 184–204. JSTOR 534636. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Rodríguez, Rodney (2004). "La comedia del Siglo de Oro". Momentos cumbres de las literaturas hispánicas (in Spanish). Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. pp. 262–318. ISBN 9780131401327. 
  3. ^ Wade, Gerald E. (December 1964). ""El Burlador de Sevilla": Some Annotations". Hispania. American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese. 47 (4): 751. doi:10.2307/336326. JSTOR 336326. 
  4. ^ Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, "The Absurd Man: Don Juanism"
  5. ^ D. Le Faye ed., Jane Austen's Letters (1996) p. 221
  6. ^ Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, "The Immediate Stages of the Erotic, or Musical Erotic."
  7. ^ Charles Rosen, The Classical Style (1977) p. 323-4
  8. ^ Anthony Powell, Casanova's Chinese Restaurant (1980) p. 38
  9. ^ Marañón, Gregorio. "Notas sobre la biología de Don Juan" ("Notes about the Biology of Don Juan"), Revista de Occidente III (1924): 15-53, reprinted in a 1945 book and in his Obras completas, in Spanish)
  10. ^ Davis, Ryan A. (2013). The Spanish Flu: Narrative and Cultural Identity in Spain, 1918. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 105–107. ISBN 978-1-137-33921-8. 
  11. ^ Galiş, Florin (2014). "La relación de Don Juan con las mujeres". Journal of Research in Gender Studies (in Spanish). 4 (2): 731. 
  12. ^ Richard Strauss - Don Juan, Op. 20, YouTube
  13. ^ Heninger, Barbara. "Program notes for Redwood Symphony." Retrieved March 9, 2014. Archived October 19, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ HK: I own a copy of the film.
  • Macchia, Giovanni (1995) [1991]. Vita avventure e morte di Don Giovanni (in Italian). Milano: Adelphi. ISBN 88-459-0826-7. 
  • Said Armesto, Víctor (1968) [1946]. La leyenda de Don Juan (in Spanish). Madrid: Espasa-Calpe. 
  • Guillaume Apollinaire: Don Juan (1914)
  • Michel de Ghelderode: Don Juan (1928)
  • Don Jon (2013)

External links[edit]