Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Molière’s DON JUAN is one of the great examples of a work of literature or drama that was ahead of its time. The play scandalized and confused Molière’s contemporaries, and only in modern times has it achieved a worthy appreciation. It was the complexity of Don Juan’s behavior that made him a puzzle to the French and a fascinating figure to later audiences. The spectators of the classical age were bewildered by a play, really a tragi-comedy, in which the unities were neglected, and which contained magic, fantasy, and buffoonery. Yet today we are intrigued by the impossible task of analyzing the haughtiness and arrogance of Don Juan, of trying to understand the depths of his hypocrisy, villainy, and despair. Molière took the Spanish hero and made him not merely a heedless libertine and unbeliever, but, by strengthening the atheism suggested by his predecessors until it dominated the play, gave his hero the deep and bitter philosophy of the man who cannot help himself, who must deny even if it destroys him.

The play lays bare the hero’s soul, yet the plot is surprisingly weak. It is structured in loose sequences of scenes, the main characters providing the only strong link; the great speeches, the rhetorical rhythm, are what carry the drama forward. Don Juan thought himself free from all obligations, believing neither in God nor hell nor doctors, nor in the sacredness of promises, yet as an aristocrat he assumed that others would keep...

(The entire section is 414 words.)