Last Updated September 5, 2023.
In the early seventeenth century, Spanish dramatist and Roman Catholic monk Gabriel Téllez—better known as Tirso de Molina—published The Trickster of Seville, a three-act play notable for its creation of a well-known fictional archetype. Téllez's womanizing protagonist, Don Juan, is a literary libertine. He philosophically resists all semblance of personal or moral restraint in his unyielding desire for sexual gratification and leaves only disaster in his wake. Despite Don Juan’s philandering, the character proved immensely popular, and his name became synonymous with attractive, sexually successful men.
Act one begins in Naples as Don Juan makes love to Duchess Isabel. Afterward, she lights a lamp, revealing the unexpected man with whom she has unwittingly shared her bed. Rather than gazing down upon her lover, Duke Octavio, Isabel sees Don Juan. She screams and alerts Don Pedro, who arrests the offender—until he realizes that the man he holds captive is his nephew, Don Juan. Motivated by sympathy and familial obligation, Don Pedro releases his nephew and aids in his escape by announcing that the man in Duchess Isabel’s bedroom was, in fact, Duke Octavio. After Duke Octavio's arrest, he becomes suspicious that Isabel was unfaithful and plans to flee the country.
With the disaster in Naples somewhat resolved, the play returns to Don Juan. While sailing home, he—alongside his servant, Catalinón—was shipwrecked off the coast of Tarragona and washed up on shore. Thisbe, a local peasant girl, happens upon their unconscious forms and attempts to resuscitate the two men. As she does, Don Juan awakens and immediately declares his love for her, telling Thisbe that he wishes nothing more than to marry her. Overwhelmed by his unexpected affection, Thisbe is seduced, and the pair retire to her home.
Shortly after, Don Juan and Catalinón announce that they are leaving; Thisbe, ashamed of her actions and filled with righteous anger, chases after them. She berates Don Juan for his callousness before committing suicide. In response, Catalinón chides his master for his womanizing ways, but Don Juan brushes off his concerns with a light-hearted joke. Back in Seville, Don Gonzalo discusses his daughter, Doña Ana's, marriage prospects with the king, who suggests that he betroth her to Don Juan. Don Gonzalo, clueless about Don Juan’s ways, readily agrees.
Act two begins in Seville, as Don Diego, Don Juan’s father, reveals to the king that his son is responsible for the assault on Isabel. Stunned by this revelation, the king bans Don Juan from Seville and retracts the offer of an arranged marriage between the philanderer and Doña Ana. His name is now cleared, so Duke Octavio takes up residence in the castle. Meanwhile, Don Juan befriends Marquis de la Mota, who professes his love for Doña Ana. Don Juan arranges a meeting between the two, but it quickly goes awry, leading to Don Gonzalo's death at the hands of Don Juan and the arrest of de la Mota for the crime. Once again, Don Juan flees the scene, narrowly escaping the crisis he created.
The next day, Don Juan happens upon a peasant wedding and is immediately taken with the bride-to-be, Aminta. Her groom, Patricio feels threatened by him but lacks the power or status to kick him out. His fears prove warranted, as act three opens with Don Juan’s plan to force Aminta to marry him. Falsely, he claims that he took her virginity; therefore, she must marry him. The pair leave the wedding to consummate their union. The focus returns to Duchess Isabel, who is searching for Don Juan, as much to her chagrin, the king has declared that she...
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must marry him. While she does not find her errant lover, she does come upon Thisbe, who survived her suicide attempt. The duchess inquires after the source of the peasant girl’s sorrow and learns of her soon-to-be husband’s transgression.
Despite their banishment, Don Juan and Catalinón return to Seville and visit Don Gonzalo’s grave. Don Juan laughs at the statue atop the grave and jokingly invites it to dinner, mocking the slain man’s threats of vengeance. Much to his surprise, Don Gonzalo’s ghost arrives at Don Juan’s home and dines with him. The ghost invites Don Juan to dinner; he accepts the challenge, returns to the graveyard, and joins Don Gonzalo for an elaborate meal of scorpions and vipers. When Don Juan finishes the meal, the ghost of Don Gonzalo strikes him dead and vanishes with the corpse. Catalinón, who was present for the meal and the death of his master, travels to the castle to inform the king of Don Juan’s death.
When Catalinón arrives at the castle, he is greeted by a slew of wronged women; the Duchess Isabel, Thisbe, Doña Ana, and Aminta have all journeyed to the castle to complain about the harm Don Juan caused them. Catalinón tells the collected crowd of his master’s supernatural demise and reveals the truth of all his misdeeds. In light of this, the king declares all the women widows, leaving them free to marry as they wish. Duchess Isabel marries her lover, Duke Octavio, Doña Ana weds Marquis de la Mota, and the rest are freed from Don Juan's tyranny and return home.