Don Juan

Don Juan (Spanish pronounced [doŋˈxwan]), also known as Don Giovanni (Italian), is a legendary, fictional libertine. Famous versions of the story include a 17th-century play, El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra (The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest) by Tirso de Molina, and an 18th-century opera, Don Giovanni, with music by Mozart and a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte.

By linguistic extension from the name of the character, "Don Juan" has become a generic expression for a womanizer, and stemming from this, Don Juanism is a non-clinical psychiatric descriptor.


In Spanish, Don Juan is pronounced [doɴˈχwan]. The usual English pronunciation is /ˌdɒnˈwɑːn/, with two syllables and a silent "J". However, in Lord Byron's verse version the name rhymes with ruin and true one, suggesting the name was pronounced with three syllables, /ˌdɒnˈən/, in England at the time. This would have been characteristic of English literary precedent, where English pronunciations were often imposed on Spanish names, such as Don Quixote /ˌdɒnˈkwɪksət/.


There have been many versions of the Don Juan story, but the basic outline remains the same: Don Juan is a wealthy libertine who devotes his life to seducing women. He takes great pride in his ability to seduce women all ages and stations in life, and he often disguises himself and assumes other identities in order to seduce women. The aphorism that Don Juan lives by is: "Tan largo me lo fiáis" (translated as "What a long term you are giving me!"[1]). This is his way of indicating that he is young and that death is still distant - he thinks he has plenty of time to repent later for his sins.[2]

His life is also punctuated with violence and gambling, and in most versions he kills a man: Don Gonzalo, the father of Doña Ana, a girl he has seduced. This murder leads to the famous "last supper" scene, where Don Juan invites a statue of Don Gonzalo to dinner. There are different versions of the outcome: in some versions Don Juan dies, having been denied salvation by God; in other versions he willingly goes to Hell, having refused to repent; in some versions Don Juan asks for and receives a divine pardon.

Earliest written version

The first written version of the Don Juan story was a play, El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra (The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest), published in Spain around 1630 by Tirso de Molina (pen name of Gabriel Téllez).[3]

In Tirso de Molina's version Don Juan is portrayed as an evil man who seduces women thanks to his ability to manipulate language and disguise his appearance. This is a demonic attribute, since the devil is known for shape-shifting or taking other peoples' forms.[2] In fact Tirso's play has a clear moralizing intention. Tirso felt that young people were throwing their lives away, because they believed that as long as they made an Act of Contrition before they died, they would automatically receive God's forgiveness for all the wrongs they had done, and enter into heaven. Tirso's play argues in contrast that there is a penalty for sin, and there are even unforgivable sins. The devil himself, who is identified with Don Juan as a shape-shifter and a "man without a name", cannot escape eternal punishment for his unforgivable sins. As in a medieval Danse Macabre, death makes us all equal in that we all must face eternal judgment.[2] Tirso de Molina's theological perspective is quite apparent through the dreadful ending of his play.[2]

Another aspect of Tirso's play is the cultural importance of honor in Spain of the golden age. This was particularly focused on women's sexual behavior, in that if a woman did not remain chaste until marriage, her whole family’s honor would be devalued.[4][2]

Later versions

The original play was written in the Spanish Golden Age according to its beliefs and ideals. But as time passed, the story was translated into other languages, and it was adapted to accommodate cultural changes.[3]

Other well-known versions of Don Juan are Molière's play Dom Juan ou le Festin de pierre (1665), Goldoni's play Don Giovanni Tenorio (1735), José de Espronceda's poem El estudiante de Salamanca (1840), and José Zorrilla's play Don Juan Tenorio (1844). Don Juan Tenorio is still performed throughout the Spanish-speaking world on 2 November ("All Souls Day", the Day of the Dead).

Mozart's opera Don Giovanni 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. The critic Charles Rosen analyzes the appeal of Mozart's opera in terms of "the seductive physical power" of a music linked with libertinism, political fervor, and incipient Romanticism.[5]

The first English version of Don Juan was The Libertine (1676) by Thomas Shadwell. A revival of this play in 1692 included songs and dramatic scenes with music by Henry Purcell. Another well-known English version is Lord Byron's epic poem Don Juan (1821).

Don Juans Ende, a play derived from an unfinished 1844 retelling of the tale by poet Nikolaus Lenau, inspired Richard Strauss's orchestral tone poem Don Juan.[6] This piece premiered on 11 November 1889, in Weimar, Germany, where Strauss served as Court Kapellmeister and conducted the orchestra of the Weimar Opera. In Lenau's version of the story, 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.[7]

In the film Adventures of Don Juan starring Errol Flynn (1948), Don Juan is a swashbuckling lover of women who also fights against the forces of evil.

Don Juan in Tallinn (1971) is an Estonian film version based on a play by Samuil Aljošin. In this version, Don Juan is a woman dressed in men's clothes. She is accompanied by her servant Florestino on her adventure in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.[8]

In Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman (1973), a French-Italian co-production, Brigitte Bardot plays a female version of the character.[9]

Don Juan DeMarco (1995), starring Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando, is a film in which a mental patient is convinced he is Don Juan, and retells his life story to a psychiatrist.

Don Jon (2013), a film set in New Jersey of the 21st century, features an attractive young man whose addiction to online pornography is compared to his girlfriend's consumerism.

Cultural influence

Don Juan fascinated the 18th-century English novelist Jane Austen: "I have seen nobody on the stage who has been a more interesting Character than that compound of Cruelty and Lust".[10]

The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard discussed Mozart's version of the Don Juan story at length in his treatise Either/Or.[11]

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.

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.[12]

During the 1918 influenza epidemic in Spain, the figure of Don Juan served as a metaphor for the flu microbe.[13]

The mid-20th century French author Albert Camus referred to Don Juan in his essay 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".[14]

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.

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".[15]

Don Juan is mentioned in the Broadway musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, in which the character Grantaire states that Marius Pontmercy is acting like Don Juan. In another Broadway musical, Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera, the character of the Phantom writes an opera based on the legend of Don Juan called Don Juan Triumphant.

The character is alluded to in the title of the film Don Jon, which features a protagonist addicted to pornography and casual sex.

See also


  1. Wade, Gerald E. (December 1964). ""El Burlador de Sevilla": Some Annotations". Hispania. American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese. 47 (4): 751–761. doi:10.2307/336326. JSTOR 336326.
  2. 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. Waxman, Samuel M. (1908). "The Don Juan Legend in Literature". Journal of American Folklore. 21 (81): 184–204. doi:10.2307/534636. JSTOR 534636.
  4. Galiş, Florin (2014). "La relación de Don Juan con las mujeres". Journal of Research in Gender Studies (in Spanish). 4 (2): 731.
  5. Charles Rosen, The Classical Style (1977) p. 323-4
  6. Richard Strauss - Don Juan, Op. 20, YouTube
  7. Heninger, Barbara. "Program notes for Redwood Symphony." Retrieved March 9, 2014. Archived 19 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  8. "Don Juan Tallinnas".
  9. "Don Juan (Or if Don Juan Were a Woman)".
  10. D. Le Faye ed., Jane Austen's Letters (1996) p. 221
  11. Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, "The Immediate Stages of the Erotic, or Musical Erotic."
  12. 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)
  13. 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.
  14. Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, "The Absurd Man: Don Juanism"
  15. Anthony Powell, Casanova's Chinese Restaurant (1980) p. 38
  • 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)
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