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The Classical Treatment of Don Juan in Tirso, Molière, and Mozart: What Cultural Work Does It Perform? J. Douglas Canfield The Don Juan story has fascinated Western audiences, at least, for almost four hundred years. There are three famous "classical" treatments—one in Spanish by Tirso de Molina (El Burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra, first performed around 1612), one in French by Molière (Dom Juan; ou, Lefestin de pierre, first performed in 1665), and, of course, an opera in Italian, libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte and music by Mozart (Don Giovanni, first performed in 1787).' I call these "classical" as opposed to the later Romantic treatments of the figure by Byron, Kierkegaard, Shaw, and Camus, to cite the more famous, who have made out of him a hero of one kind or another. In the classical treatments, however attractive this ultimate transgressor, he is finally put in his place—that is, hell. His defiance is contained , purged. The classical Don Juan has been analyzed in the twentieth century most profoundly in psychoanalytical terms, first by Freud's disciple Otto Rank and then by a host of followers, who have treated him as a sadist who is incapable of real love with women because he is ultimately a latent homosexual.2 More recently he has been profoundly reconsidered in structuralist and post-structuralist terms—that is, in terms that foreground language and its various economies—by Michel Serres, Shoshana Felman, and Julia Kristeva.3 Serres interprets especially Molière's protagonist as engaged in a counterfeit economy, exchanging mere words for real goods.4 Borrowing concepts from J. L. Austin's speech-act theory, Felman, also concentrating on Molière's protagonist, sees him as proffering nothing but performative instead of constantive, referential rhetoric. Implicitly following Kierkegaard, Kristeva finds in the style of Molière and 42 /. Douglas Canfield43 especially the music of Mozart transcendence of morality in the sheer Nietzschean jouissance of art itself. Profound as these treatments are, I should nevertheless like to try to supplement them by shifting the ground from psychoanalytical and poststructural to sociopolitical interpretation. I should like to analyze Don Juan's famous and obviously attractive defiance in culturalist terms—that is, in the light of recent work in the interpretive method loosely defined as cultural studies. Much of this work has been diachronic, focusing on local, historical contexts and parallel texts that reveal shifting ideologies. Although one can argue the subtleties of such shifting ideologies from each to each of these great classical Don Juan plays, I should like to take a more synchronic approach and ask what cultural work do they consistently perform for late feudal aristocracy before middle-class revolutions transform Europe. Despite differences between the treatments, Don Juan remains throughout this late feudal epoch a trope, a figure, a necessary negation that affirms the very code it denies. Locked in the avenging Statue's handshake, he paradoxically reaffirms a system of shared power between men—at the expense of women and oppressed classes.5 I Surface Cultural Work: Reaffirmation of the Code of Wordas -Bond. What Don Juan defies is the feudal patriarchal system of reproductive control. Because in the high feudal system generally , both political power and economic power were transmitted by patrilineal, primogenitive genealogy, the patriarchs had to control the twin threats of usurpation and sexual promiscuity with their concomitant forms of anarchy—an anarchy that would destroy monarchal and baronial succession and aristocratic inheritance . Of course, the ultimate enforcing power of this control was the sword. But the patriarchs also attempted to enforce it by an elaborate system of word-as-bond: oaths of allegiance, vows of monogamous fidelity, severe punishments for disloyalty, inconstancy , perjury, adultery. Most important to the system was the constant portrayal of it through sermons and through art as underwritten by the divine Word, by a God who would not brook his name being taken in vain. Sermons and art inculcated the system especially by showing the fate of transgressors. Perhaps the most memorable medieval example is Dante's Inferno, at the center of which is stuck Satan, that archbetrayer, with his three 44The Classical Treatment of Don Juan mouthfuls...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 42-64
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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