Don Juan Tenorio, the boastful libertine who defies God in his search for earthly pleasures, is one of Spain’s mythical figures. In the legend and in Tirso de Molina’s seventeenth century masterpiece El burlador de Sevilla(1625?; The Trickster of Seville, 1923), time runs out and Don Juan is dragged down into hell. Heaven’s justice has been appeased and the fabric of society restored.
In the nineteenth century Don Juan Tenorio by José Zorrilla y Moral, on the other hand, Don Juan is given time and is saved, even after death. The difference between the two works lies in the varying perspective of the hero. Although in both works the personality of Don Juan dominates the play, sweeping all other characters aside, Tirso chooses to accentuate in the title the salient trait of his Don Juan’s nature, that of gamester, the man who views life as a game and uses people, especially women, as pawns. Tirso’s Don Juan is incapable of change or true affection; handsome, magnificently proud, and brave though he may be, he is not complete, not a hero. The Don Juan Tenorio of Zorrilla’s play, by contrast, is a hero, the quintessential romantic hero. In one of those rare moments of inspiration, Zorrilla seems to have found the right combination of medieval lore, literary tradition, and the Romantic ideal. Don Juan Tenorio, appearing at the very end of the Spanish Romantic movement, resonated with the Spanish people, and every November 1, All Saints Day, the play is still performed throughout the Hispanic world.
Spanish Romantic drama extravagantly rebelled against rigid neoclassicism, and Don Juan Tenorio’s only concessions to unity are in the dominance of its protagonist and in its principal theme of salvation through love. It is a long operatic work of seven acts in mixed verse which, although uneven at times, reaches intense melodic heights. The action starts during carnival week in a torch-lit Seville where masked revelers await the participants in a cruel wager, and it ends in a cemetery complete with antithetical vengeful ghosts and cherubs, hellfire and flowers, funeral chants and joyous song. Its acts are titled, each stressing the dominant mood or theme. Act 4, for example, in which Don Juan carries off Ines and...
(The entire section is 934 words.)