Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Don Juan is a deeply subversive play whose main character willfully distorts traditional Early Modern ideas concerning religion as well as interpersonal relationships and obligations. He is a deeply destructive, deeply predatory personality whose beliefs and behaviors introduce conversations around themes of emotional and romantic manipulation, religion (as well as irreligion), and the willful breakdown of the traditional order (both social and moral).
Emotional and Romantic Manipulation
Don Juan is deeply manipulative and romantically predatory. He is perhaps most famous for his Casanova tendencies, seducing one woman after another, enticing them into marriage, and then moving on to the next. Moliére presents this situation from all sides of this predicament: in Don Juan, we see the self-serving romantic predator, driven by his own hedonistic impulses; in Elvire, we see a past lover tossed aside; and in Charlotte and Mathurine, we see two women caught up in his current seductions, unaware of his dishonest intentions.
Religion versus Irreligion
Religion also plays a critical theme in Don Juan, and a large part of the play involves various conversations where religion and irreligion are played out against one another. Indeed, Don Juan himself is deeply irreligious (and this is understood as a key contributor to his Epicurean tendencies). He does not believe in God or religious teachings on moral obligations and will mock those who do (such as in his encounter with the beggar, where he tries to bribe the beggar into swearing).
At the same time, there are those around him who are religious. His servant, Sganarelle, often pleas with him to repent of his blasphemies and adopt more proper behavior (though, given his purely selfish reaction to his master's damnation, one might wonder whether Sganarelle is truly as religious as he claims to be), while Elvire pleas with him to change his ways, fearing for the fate of his soul. Meanwhile, Don Juan's attitude to religion goes beyond merely being a nonbeliever—he actively manipulates the religious beliefs of others and will dishonorably invoke God and religious tenets whenever it suits his own ends, making his actions all the more blasphemous.
The Breakdown of Morality
In Don Juan, we see the breakdown of traditional early modern morality and social structure, someone who will willfully abuse notions of honor and interpersonal loyalty to meet his own selfish ends. He's ultimately a corruptive force, deeply destructive toward everyone around him. He killed the commander before the story began, and he sets Elvire aside for future conquests (dishonoring her and her family, which is thrown into disorder). We see him disrupting the marriage of Charlotte and Pierrot. We see him willfully manipulating and deceiving his father while voicing disdain for him behind his back. When looking at his impact in the lives of the people around him, we see someone deeply toxic to everyone around him and corrosive to the moral and social order of his world. This makes the play's conclusion particularly important. Don Juan closes on a scene of divine justice made manifest. The offender faces punishment for his various crimes, with the social and moral order restored.