The Demise of Don Juan
THE SOURCE: “A Splendid Wickedness” by David Bentley Hart, in First Things, Aug.–Sept. 2011.
The mythical story of the energetic seducer Don Juan fascinated Europe for three centuries, stirring thinkers such as Søren Kierkegaard and Albert Camus to pen reflections on his character. But today the Don Juan myth is all but dead. How did one of literature’s most potent figures become what David Bentley Hart calls an “imaginative impossibility”?
The early Don Juan offered commentators the opportunity to weigh in on society’s morals, argues Hart, a First Things contributing editor. A longtime folk legend, the infamous sensualist made his first notable literary appearance in the 17th-century play The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest, by the Spanish writer Tirso de Molina. The early Juan had all of the legend’s trademark rakishness but was more dissolute than the one of later centuries. Writing during the Renaissance, when morality plays prevailed, Molina wanted the great seducer to stand as “a cautionary example of the vicious and debased state to which unrestrained appetite reduces a soul,” Hart writes.
To read the rest of this article, please consider becoming a WQ subscriber, which allows online access to the current WQ issue as well as archive content. Other access options are below.
Research, browse, and discover more than 35 years of articles, essays, and reviews by preeminent scholars and writers. Our searchable archive of back issues is free for WQ subscribers.