Don Juán, illustration by Carlos Saenz de Tejada, 1938
(Photo credit: WikiArt.org)
I’ve been writing a chapter on Molière‘s enigmatic Dom Juan (1665), the same Don Juán as Tirso de Molina‘s (24 March 1579 – 12 March 1648) Burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra and Mozart‘s Don Giovanni (1587) composed on a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte.
Molière’s Dom Juan does not seem a comedy. It lacks a young couple trying to marry despite a heavy father’s objections. However, it borrows elements from the Italian commedia dell’arte. Molière’s Dom Juan has in fact been labelled a dramma giocoso, a playful or comic drama, blending tragic and comical elements, which violates the rules of 17th-century French drama.
For instance, Sganarelle is a descendant of Brighella, a zanni in the Italian commedia dell’arte. He and Dom Juan are nearly always together, which makes for an incongruous relationship: Dom Juan is the master and Sganarelle, the valet. Molière’s play is a Saturnalia.
The Characters and other Elements
Our main characters are Dom Juan and his valet, Sganarelle (Mozart’s Leporello), played by Molière when the play premièred on 15 February 1665.
Dom Juan is Done Elvire’s husband. She has left a convent to marry him, but he no longer wishes to be her husband. He wants to be “free.” Done Elvire’s brothers, Dom Carlos and Dom Alonse, must avenge Done Elvire: (point d’honneur, point of honour), but fail to do so. When Dom Carlos speaks to Done Juan (V. iii), the latter has become a faux dévot, a man who feigns devotion to serve earthly needs. It appears Molière is meditating his Tartuffe (1664).
The play also features two peasant girls, Charlotte and Mathurine, whom Dom Juan tries to “seduce.” He’s told Charlotte that he will marry her, but her fiancé, Pierrot, puts up a fight. Dom Juan has also told Mathurine that he will marry her. However, there is no successful seduction in Molière’s play, not even a kiss, except on Charlotte’s hand, that she describes as black. This scene is the “La ci darem la mano,” of Mozart’s Don Giovanni (see video below).
Molière’s play on Don Juán is singularly devoid of eroticism. His Dom Juan is compiling conquests, as does Leporello in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. However, the catalogo Dom Juan keeps is a metaphorical rather than literal catalogo. Yet, at the beginning of the play (I. i) Sganarelle tells Gusman, Done Elvire’s escort and servant, that Dom Juan is the very devil. He is a grand seigneur [lord] méchant homme, an aristocrat, but an evil man.
Don Giovanni by Angela Buscemi
(Photo credit: Google Images)
In fact, other than the above-mentioned events the plot of Molière’s Dom Juan consists in a series of fruitless attempts to save Dom Juan from eternal damnation. The individuals begging Dom Juan to convert are Sganarelle (1), Dom Juan’s valet, Done Elvire (2), Dom Juan’s abandoned wife, and Dom Louis (3), Dom Juan’s father.
When Sganarelle warns his master, whom he calls a pèlerin, a pilgrim, that he may be punished, he is silenced immediately, not by an angry, but verbose or quiet Dom Juan. Sganarelle falls short of words and when his master will not speak, he collapses (III. i).
Similarly, when Dom Louis, Dom Juan’s father, bemoans the fact that aristocracy is no longer as it was, Dom Juan listens, but does not hear. When Dom Louis is finished, Dom Juan simply invites him to sit down so he can speak more comfortably (IV. iv). In 1665, the noblesse oblige of earlier years has been replaced by self-interest.
Later (IV. vi), Done Elvire implores Dom Juan to mend his ways as God is about to strike. He lets her speak, but as she is leaving, he invites her to stay overnight. It is late. Done Elvire leaves. It is as though she had not spoken a word.
Dom Juan as faux dévot
At the beginning of act V, Dom Louis returns and praises his son who now feigns devotion. Dom Louis does not notice that Dom Juan is putting on an act. Moreover, it is as a faux dévot that Dom Juan dismisses Dom Carlos. He will not live with Done Elvire as man and wife, because it is God’s will (V. iii).
However, Dom Juan has killed a Commandeur. There is a statue of the Commandeur with whom Dom Juan is to have dinner. At the appointed hour, the statue of the Commandeur takes him by the hand which causes the earth to move and engulf Dom Juan.
The above is an incomplete introduction to Molière’s Dom Juan, not to say le donjuanisme. I have left out the encounter with Francisque, a poor man, and uneven fight, &c. But this is a beginning.
- Bergamo: Arlecchino & Brighella (23 July 2014) ←
- The Figaro Trilogy (14 July 2014)
- Picasso in Paris (9 July 2014)
- Picasso’s Harlequin (3 July 2014)
- Arlecchino, Arlequin, Harlequin (30 June 2014)
- Pantalone: la Commedia dell’arte (20 June 2014)
Sources and Resources
- Dom Juan by Molière/Sganarelle
- The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest (Wikipedia)
- Synopsis of Don Juan
- Don Juan, trans. by Brett B. Dodemer, Digital Commons (pdf)
- Don Juan, ou le Festin de pierre is Gutenberg’s [Ebook #5130] FR
- Tartuffe; or, the Hypocrite is Gutenberg’s [Ebook #2027]
Baryton Dmitri Hvorostovsky has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. He’s being treated in the best facilities, in London, England, but these are shattering news. He has a very rich voice. I hope he soon recovers.
Dmitri Hvorostovsky died on 22 November 2017. May he rest in peace.
With kind regards to all of you. ♥
© Micheline Walker
24 February 2016