Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Don Juan by Molière.

From the 1878 edition of The Dramatic Works of Molière vol. II.
Don Juan, or Dom Juan or the Feast of Stone (Dom Juan ou le Festin de pierre) as it is properly called, is a play by Molière and was first published in 1665, a year before The Misanthrope. As the title suggests, it's based on the legend of Don Juan, also known as Don Giovanni, the famous libertine and womaniser who I became more familiar with having read Byron's Don Juan (1824). The first piece of writing on this legend was in El burlador de Sevilla by Tirso de Molina (1616) in which Don Juan leads a feckless life believing there's plenty of time for his repentance, which, as it turns out, there was not. Molière's play takes a similar path.

In the beginning we meet Don Juan through the eyes of others: his wife Donna Elvira, who he abandons in search of a younger wife, and those around her who believe he is immoral and untrustworthy, especially around women. This is a fair summation of his character, as we learn there is not one but two women he has proposed to: Charlotte and Mathurine. Naturally they demand an explanation when they find out, but Don Juan is able to talk his way out of it before having to hurriedly escape upon finding there are twelve men on horseback seeking him out. So, he and his valet Sganarelle disguise themselves but find themselves lost in a forest. There they meet a beggar, who Don Juan tries to make blaspheme for payment (he is unsuccessful) before stumbling upon a robbery, in which Don Juan saves them victim who turns out to be Don Carlos, the brother of Donna Elvira: he was seeking Don Juan to exact revenge for seducing his sister. This will be delayed in gratitude for saving him. 

And so they continue home, meeting a great variety of characters along the way (including a moving statue of a man who Don Juan had killed) and Don Juan still refuses to truly repent of his ways despite pretending to his father that he has. He is offered many opportunities but remains steadfast to immorality, and when the time comes for his duel with Don Carlos the statue appears with one final warning before Don Juan is swallowed up by hell. Sganarelle is left to mourn his loss, which, typically of Sganarelle, is very self-serving:
Ah, my wages! My wages! Everybody gets satisfaction from his death: the Heaven he offended, the laws he violated, the girls he seduced, the families he dishonoured, the parents he disgraced, the wives he lead astray, the husbands he drove to despair. Every one is satisfied but me! I'm the only unlucky one! After all my years of service the only reward I get is to see my master punished for his impiety with my own eyes and in the most dreadful way possible. My wages, my wages - my wages!
In this Don Juan is presented as a more 'whole' character, neither absolutely bad or absolutely good. For that it's interesting, but, and I think this says more about my mood when I read it (we've had more calamities) it just didn't hold my interest enough for me to get beyond the plot. I know it's a play on hypocrisy (as is The School for Wives and Tartuffe), and I think I may be tempted to say more on that when I've read the other two plays of this series. For now, though, it was entertaining and a welcome break. I'm not entirely sure, though, that Molière will become a favourite author for me.

And that was my 10th title for the Deal Me In Challenge. I'm still a week behind so hopefully I'll read and write about the next title this week. And that title will be - A Meditation upon a Broomstick by Jonathan Swift - I can't believe we're nearly half way through March and I've not had a single short story yet!

4 comments:

  1. i liked the Mozart opera pretty well; it must have been inspired by Moliere... although i have no idea if Mozart read the latter. Mozart had an amazing memory, tho... once when he was taken to an opera by Salieri, he copied down the whole opera, note for note as it was being performed... I don't have a lot of experience with Moliere: he's purported to be famous for his comedies; a region of lit i have yet to explore...
    i hope there's some sort of resolution on the home disaster front?

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    1. No resolution as yet. Very cold. Hopefully early next week we'll see some advancement.

      As for Mozart - never got into him but I'll check out his Don Giovanni - I think I may have heard a part of it and liked it. It rings a bell....

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  2. I am so sorry to hear things are not all smooth! I hope things at home get better soon! I tried reading this way back and then gave up. I am as usual impressed by your stick-ti-itivness but cannot summon interest to try this again!

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    1. I'm actually fairly close to giving up on Moliere - I'll give him another go, or maybe two more goes, but I'm not too into him I'm afraid!

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