Don Juan is a comedy performed in five acts. It was written by Moliere and first performed at the Theatre du Palais-Royal in 1665. Moliere played the part of Sganarelle, Don Juan’s valet and moral compass.
Because the religious leaders of the time in Paris thought the play mocked their beliefs, they insisted on censoring. When the play was published censors glued strips of paper over parts that offended them in all copies. Then in 1813 the play was restored in its entirety and published.
The play follows the actions of a libertine. Don Juan is a wealthy nobleman who romances ever pretty young woman he meets regardless of her marital status. He offers them marriage, even going so far as to marry a different woman every month, to get them in his bed.
Moliere’s play shows Don Juan as an atheist who mocks the church. In the end, he is taken into Hell by the living statue of a man he killed in a duel.
After fifteen performances the play was withdrawn from the stage in 1665. Critics called is offensive to their religion and accused the king of glorifying a libertine. Instead of trying to show the danger of “free-thinking” the critics saw it as a mockery of Catholicism. Finally, the play was performed in the twentieth century in its uncensored version and received favorable critical acclaim.
Time: 17th century
Place: Sicily (palace, the seashore, forest near the sea, Don Juan residence, near the city gates in the country)
Main Theme: adultery of Don Juan, and his false conversion into religious man
Moral: criticism of religion through acts of immoral man
The first scene opens in a palace or large public building. Don Juan’s valet, Sganarelle has a snuff-box in his hand and is talking to Elvira’s squire, Gusman. The scene begins in the middle of their conversation. Sganarelle is saying how wonderful snuff is and how it makes users “gracious and benevolent toward everybody” then he moves the conversation back to Gusman’s reason for being there. His mistress, Dona Elvira has followed Don Juan after his departure. She can’t live without him. Sganarelle thinks it is a lost cause and she should have stayed home.
Gusman argues that a man of Don Juan’s rank should be more honorable to the “chaste love of Dona Elvira.” That he is “bound by the sacred ties of marriage.” How could he desert her after forcing the gates of the convent to retrieve her?
Sganarelle tries to explain his master by saying that he is “the greatest scoundrel who ever walked the earth, a mad dog, a demon, a Turk, a heretic who doesn’t believe in Heaven or Hell, or werewolves, even.”
His list of disreputable traits goes on for a while. He goes so far as to assure Gusman that marrying his mistress was the least he would have done for his passion. “He’d have married you too, and her dog and her cat to boot.” He can’t count the number of women Don Juan has “married” to bed them. Sganarelle says that he stays with Don Juan out of fear and assists him in some of his depravity for that reason. They see Don Juan approaching, and Sganarelle warns Gusman not to repeat anything he said. That if he does, he will deny it.
Don Juan asks Sganarelle who he was speaking to. That he looked like Gusman. Sganarelle confirms it and tells Don Juan he knows why the man was there. Don Juan surmises it was because of their quick departure. Sganarelle says that he couldn’t confirm to Gusman because Don Juan hasn’t told him why they left. Sganarelle guesses it’s because “you’ve got some new beloved on the brain.”
Don Juan tells him he guessed right. When he asks Sganarelle what he thinks about his actions, Don Juan is surprised to learn that the man thinks he should show fidelity to one woman. Don Juan thinks that is ridiculous. “How absurd to make a specious virtue of fidelity.” “Constancy is for insensitive clods alone.” Besides he enjoys seducing young women.
Sganarelle can’t find the words to contradict him even though he knows Don Juan is wrong. He suggests that he will write down his objections, so he will be prepared the next time this conversation comes up. Don Juan thinks that is a good idea.
Never the less, Sganarelle is appalled at Don Juan’s behavior. Especially marrying a different girl every month. Even though Don Juan likes weddings, it is against Heaven. “Enough, enough. That’s a matter between myself and Heaven, and Heaven and I will settle it very nicely without your fretting about it.”
Sganarelle points out that the town they followed the “young beauty” to is also the town where Don Juan killed “that Commander, six months ago” Don Juan assures him that he was pardoned for the killing.
Don Juan wants to concentrate on his next conquest. A few days earlier he saw a young couple obviously in love. They are engaged. Their happiness was so beautiful that it hurt his heart to look at it. So, in his jealousy, he plans to end their engagement. He has learned that the couple is planning to take a sail. Don Juan hired a crew and planned to abduct her from the boat. While they are discussing his plans, Dona Elvira walks toward them. Don Juan finds her tiresome and wonders why she didn’t change out of her country clothes.
Dona Elvira wants to know why Don Juan left. He tells her that Sganarelle will answer her questions. Sganarelle tries to tell them that he doesn’t know, but when Don Juan threatens physical pain, Sganarelle tries to tell her their reason for leaving was “because of conquerors, and Alexander, and the need of more world, that we had to leave.”
When she asks for a more clear explanation, Don Juan tells her that he felt guilty for taking her from the convent and he thought that by leaving her she would return. She is furious and threatens him with a vengeance from Heaven.
When she realizes he doesn’t fear Heaven, she tells him that he should fear “the anger of an outraged woman.” She will have her revenge. Then she exits the stage. Sganarelle laments that Don Juan isn’t capable of remorse. Don Juan wants to plan his next “amorous enterprise.”
This scene opens near the seashore. In the country but not too far from the city. Two peasants are talking. Pierrot was explaining how he rescued men from the ocean. When he brought them home, one of the men was flirting with Mathurine, another peasant girl.
When he tells her about the fancy clothes, Don Juan was wearing she is excited to see them. But he stops her first, so they can discuss how she doesn’t return the love he has for her. He thinks that if she loved him as she says she does then, she would play pranks on him and “thump” him when he walks past. She promises to love him as much as she can. Then they see Don Juan walking up, and Pierrot leaves to get a drink.
Don Juan and Sganarelle come upon Charlotte. Don Juan starts flirting with her determined to make her his next conquest. He complements her figure, her face and checks her teeth. When he offers to take her away with him and tells her, he loves her Charlotte wisely questions his validity. He offers to marry her and Sganarelle assures her he will “marry you as much as you like.” She believes him and accepts his proposal, even though she is engaged to Pierrot.
Pierrot arrives and steps between Don Juan and Charlotte. He warns Don Juan that he might become overheated. Don Juan shoves him and wants to know why he is interfering. Pierrot jumps between them again, and Don Juan shoves him even harder. Pierrot says he shouldn’t shove people like that, but before he can retaliate Charlotte stops him.
Pierrot refuses to step aside and tells Don Juan he can’t kiss their women. Don Juan slaps him. Instead of seeing that as a challenge Pierrot tells him not to keep hitting him and that that is a “fine reward to give a person who saved you from being drowned.”
Charlotte tries to calm him by telling him that when she marries Don Juan, she will be a lady and if he loved her, he would want her to better the station. Pierrot says that if he had known this was going to happen, he would never have saved Don Juan from drowning, instead, he would have hit him with the oar.
This infuriates Don Juan who begins to chase him around Charlotte while Pierrot shouts that he isn’t afraid of Don Juan. Sgnanarell tries to get between them and stop Don Juan who slaps him because of Pierrot ducks. Then Pierrot runs away to alert Charlotte’s aunt.
Sganarelle sees Mathurine, the other peasant girl Don Juan was romancing, approaching. Don Juan takes each girl aside to assure them that he loves only them and is engaged to each of them alone. Then he tells them the other girl is mad so that they won’t talk to each other or within hearing of the other.
When the girls insist that he tell the other that he has chosen them he keeps them guessing with double speak. Finally, he leaves with each girl still thinking he is in love with only her. Then Don Juan leaves, but Sganarelle stays behind.
Sganarelle tries to convince the girls that Don Juan is a liar. Don Juan realizes Sganarelle didn’t follow. When he returns Sganarelle tries to convince Don Juan he was not telling the girls the truth about his character. He begins to sarcastically praise Don Juan.
La Ramee, a rough neck, enters with warnings for Don Juan about his safety. Twelve men on horseback are pursuing Don Juan. Don Juan begins to make plans. First, he assures the girls he will return the next evening and to remember his words of love, then he tells Sganarelle to switch clothes with him. Sganarelle points out that the pursuers might mistake him for Don Juan, but Don Juan assures him he is giving him a great honor. “It’s a lucky valet who can have the glory of dying for his master.” The scene ends with Sganarelle praying that he does not die because of mistaken identity.
The scene opens in a forest near the sea. It is also not far from town. Don Juan is wearing country clothing, and Sganarelle is dressed as a doctor. Don Juan is congratulating Sganarelle on how he looks in the doctor’s robes. Sganarelle tells him he bought it from a pawnshop and had been receiving respectful nods since he put it on. He has also had consultations because people think he is a “learned man.” He tells Don Juan that he has been prescribing treatments to peasants.
Sganarelle’s suit puts him in the mood to debate. He and Don Juan debate Heaven, Hell, the Devil and the existence of God. Then Don Juan realizes they are lost and tells Sganarelle to ask a poor man they see for directions.
The poor man gives them directions and warns them about robbers on the roads. Then he asks Don Juan for some alms. He tells the men that he spends his days praying for everyone who helps him. Don Juan acts surprised to learn that all that praying hasn’t made him wealthy. Then he offers a gold piece if he will say one blaspheme. The poor man refuses, but Don Juan gives it to him anyway and sees three men attacking a man. He decides to come to his aid.
The scene opens with Sganarelle alone. He narrates the action of Don Juan chasing the ruffians away. Don Carlos, Elvira’s brother, thanks to him for intervening. As the two men are talking Don Juan learns that Don Carlos and his brother are searching for him. Don Juan asks Don Carlos if he has ever seen him, but Don Carlos says no, he only has his brother’s description to go by.
Then when he tries to tell Don Juan that the man they are looking for is a cad, Don Juan says he is a friend of his, and he doesn’t want to hear him degraded. Since Don Juan saved his life he agrees. Don Juan offers to assist Don Carlos in locating Don Juan by bringing him to him. He asks Don Carlos to name the time and place.
Don Alonso, Elvira’s other brother, enters. When he sees his brother talking to Don Juan, he reprimands him for speaking to their enemy. Don Carlos is surprised, and when Don Juan and Don Alonso try to draw their swords, he stops them. Meanwhile, Sganarelle runs away to hide.
Since Don Alonso values honor more than life, he insists on revenge against Don Juan. But Don Carlos finally convinces him to allow one day so Don Juan can decide whether to give reparations peacefully or violently. Don Alonso and Don Carlos leave.
Don Juan calls for Sganarelle who comes out from hiding. When Don Juan berates him for hiding, Sganarelle says he had to go behind the bushes to relieve himself. Sganarelle is surprised to learn the man Don Juan saved was Elvira’s brother. He informs Don Juan the matter could be solved peacefully, but Don Juan reminds him that his passion for Elvira has expired and he can’t be tied down to just one woman. “My heart belongs to all beautiful women, and it’s their business to claim it, each in her turn, and to keep it as long as they can.”
Then Don Juan’s attention is snagged by a building. Sganarelle informs him the building is the tomb of the Commander he killed. Don Juan decides to visit the tomb against Sganarelle’s wishes. “My visit will do him a courtesy, and if he’s a man of breeding, he’ll receive me graciously.”
The tomb and statue are made of marble. Sganarelle is impressed, but Don Juan thinks the statue looks ridiculous dressed as a Roman. He insists Sganarelle request the Commander join him for dinner. Although he feels silly talking to a statue, he asks if he would like to have dinner with Don Juan. The statue nods.
Sganarelle is terrified, and Don Juan thinks he is silly. To prove him wrong Don Juan asks the statue who nods his head again. The two men leave quickly.
Scene One opens in Don Juan’s residence. The two men are discussing the statue. Don Juan thinks it was a trick of the light. Sganarelle thinks it is Heaven telling Don Juan to mend his ways. When Don Juan threatens to call for a whip and beat Sganarelle if he doesn’t stop moralizing, Sganarelle begins to compliment him. Don Juan calls Ragotin, his servant to bring him a chair so they can begin dinner.
La Violette, another servant, announces the arrival of Monsieur Dimanche, Don Juan’s tailor. Sganarelle reprimands La Violette for not turning the creditor away. But La Violette says he tried; the man won’t leave. Don Juan says to send him in. “I know the secret of sending them away happy without paying them a penny.”
Don Juan greets the man with effusive politeness. Don Juan begins by calling Dimanche his dearest friend and offering him a comfortable chair. Then he inquires about his family individually, even the dog. Every time Dimanche tries to ask Don Juan about the debt he owes, Don Juan cuts him off with more politeness and friendly overtures. Then he asks Dimanche to share his dinner. Dimanche says he must go home at once and Don Juan calls for a torch to light the man’s exit. He also calls for men with muskets to escort him home. After a hug, Don Juan exists.
Sganarelle escorts the man. Dimanche reminds him that he owes him money, too. Sganarelle uses Don Juan’s tactics to avoid paying his debt and pushes him off stage.
La Violette announces to Don Juan that his father has arrived. Don Juan says that is just what he needs to drive him out of his mind. Don Luis proceeds to berate his son and lecture. The only thing Don Juan says to him is to offer him a chair. Don Luis vows to put a stop to Don Juan’s depravities and then exits.
Sganarelle tells Don Juan he should not have let his father speak to him so derisively while thinking to himself Don Juan’s father was justified. Don Juan asks when dinner will be served.
Ragotin announces a lady in a veil. It is Dona Elvira. She tells Don Juan that she has changed and only thinks of his welfare. She feels no passion for him. She says she will pray for him and asks that he turn to Heaven for forgiveness. Sganarelle is moved by her speech.
Don Juan says that she stirred some slight feelings in him. Then asks for his dinner again. As he is sitting down, he tells Sganarelle they must give some thought to reforming. Sganarelle becomes excited until Don Juan says they will think about it in twenty or thirty years.
Don Juan has Sganarelle join him at the table. But every time food is placed on his plate, Ragotin removes it. There is a knock at the door, and Sganarelle promises to turn so they could be over the meal. When he returns looking frightened, Don Juan asks what is wrong, and Sganarelle nods his head as the statue did. Don Juan goes to the door, and Sganarelle looks for a place to hide.
Don Juan has his servants bring a chair for the statue. He bids Sganarelle join them, but he denies his hunger. When Don Juan tells Sganarelle to share a toast to the Commander, he isn’t thirsty, nor does he want to sing them a song.
The Commander asks Don Juan if he has the courage to meet him for dinner the next day. Don Juan says he will bring Sganarelle with him. Sganarelle says it is a fast day for him. Don Juan tries to make Sganarelle light the Commander’s way with a torch, but he Commander says “there’s no need for light when Heaven is our guide.”
This scene opens with Don Luis, Don Juan and Sganarelle standing near the city gates in the country. Don Luis asks if Don Juan has had a change of heart. Don Juan hypocritically replies that he has renounced his sinful ways. Don Luis goes to give the good news to Don Juan’s mother.
Sganarelle rejoices at Don Juan’s decision until he learns Don Juan was lying to his father. Sganarelle is shocked to learn that Don Juan plans to appear a pious man while spinning. Don Juan says there are plenty of men who do that. “Hypocrisy is now a fashionable vice, and all fashionable vices pass for virtues.” Don Juan says that if his secret life is ever discovered other hypocrites will vouch for him. Sganarelle tries to argue against Don Juan’s logic.
Don Carlos enters. Don Juan uses his hypocritical voice to appease him. He tells him he can’t marry Elvira as she has rejoined the convent. Don Carlos argues that her brothers don’t want her in the convent.
Don Juan continues to argue that he is doing Heaven’s will. Don Carlos is angry and thinks Don Juan is insulting his honor. He exits with plans for retribution.
Sganarelle admonishes Don Juan for his, new manner. Soon a ghost of a woman enters. When Sganarelle sees the ghost, he thinks Heaven has come to give Don Juan a warning. Don Juan thinks Heaven should speak more clearly.
The ghost warns that Don Juan has only one minute to repent or be “doomed to perdition.” Don Juan insists on knowing who is addressing him. The ghost changes shape into Time complete with a scythe in hand. Don Juan pulls his sword to see if the “thing is body or spirit.” But it vanishes before he can strike it. Don Juan still refuses to “stoop of repentance.”
The statue enters. Don Juan takes the statue’s hand and is engulfed in flames. The earth opens up and swallows him amid lightning and thunder. Sganarelle says that everyone will be happy to see his master’s demise but him. He wants to know where he will get his back wages.
Don Juan – The main protagonist of the play. Don Juan is a libertine and a nobleman of considerable wealth, controlled by his father. He has no scruples when it comes to seducing pretty women.
He falls in love quickly with every woman he sees and then falls out of love after he has bedded them. He also marries quite a few of the women; then he leaves them. In the play, he takes a woman out of a convent. He marries her then leaves her. The woman’s brothers spend the play in pursuit of Don Juan and his servant. This does not stop Don Juan from romancing other women.
Don Juan refuses to “tie himself down to the first pretty woman who takes his fancy, and forsake the world for her, and never look at another.” He thinks that all “fair women have the right to enchant us.” So by romancing all of them, he is doing them all a favor. To pledge himself to one woman would be unjust to the rest.
He likes the pursuit and thinks that after he has won a woman’s heart he becomes bored only to become interested again when another pretty woman enters. Don Juan is also a man of no religion. In the end, he tries to fool everyone into thinking he has repented. But instead, he still doubts Heaven so he is taken to Hell.
Sagnarelle – Don Juan’s valet. Sagnarelle is the moral compass for Don Juan. But since he is only a servant he is often forced to agree with Don Juan even when he knows he is acting unjustly. Sagnarelle hides from the danger Don Juan rushes into. He is pragmatic yet religious.
His character is also given some of the best sarcastic lines. For example, he sees Don Juan ready to approach another woman Sganarelle calls her another victim. When Don Juan tries to convince her he is not the kind of man who would love her and then leave her, he turns to Sganarelle for confirmation. He sarcastically says, “Oh, no! Perish the thought.”
For example, he sees Don Juan ready to approach another woman Sganarelle calls her another victim. When Don Juan tries to convince her he is not the kind of man who would love her and then leave her, he turns to Sganarelle for confirmation. He sarcastically says, “Oh, no! Perish the thought.” In the end, Sganarelle can not get his master to repent and sees him taken by the statue to Hell. Sganarelle’s main concern is his back wages.
Elvira – Don Juan sees her at a convent and convinces her to leave and marry him. Right after the wedding, he moves onto newer women. She confronts him which achieves nothing. Her brothers are brought into retrieving her husband, dead or alive. Finally, in the end, she decides Don Juan was a mistake and goes back to the convent. Don Juan barely acknowledges her leaving.
Don Carlos – One of Elvira’s brothers. He had never met Don Juan so when a young man rescues him from some brigands that outnumbered him and set upon him, Don Carlos is very grateful.
Later he tries to give Don Juan the chance to honor his wedding vows or duel him. Don Juan chooses neither and tries to double talk Don Carlos who sees through the ruse and considers Don Juan, a coward.
Statue of the Commander – Don Juan and Sganarelle visit the tomb of the man Don Juan killed in a duel, the Commander. There is a statue of the man in the tomb, and it nods at them in answer to questions.
Finally, the statue comes to dinner at Don Juan’s house, and they insist on Don Juan coming to his house for dinner. The statue takes Don Juan down into Hell at the end of the play.
Jean-Baptiste Poqelin Moliere Biography
Born in 1622 in Paris, France to a wealthy bourgeois family, Moliere went on to become a favorite of the court of Louis XIV. His mother died while he was young and Moliere was never close to his father, Jean Poquelin. His father held a prestigious office in the court of Louis XIII. He was the valet of the King’s chamber and the keeper of carpets and upholstery. Poquelin purchased the position and planned to pass it down to his son. But Moliere had different ideas.
Moliere attended school at the Jesuit College de Clermont where he got his first taste of the stage. When he was twenty-one years old, Moliere dropped out of school so he could concentrate on the stage. Me and the actress, Madeleine Bejart opened a theater together. It was called the Illustre Theatre. Although Madeleine’s brother and sister helped them with their performances, the theater went bankrupt in 1645.
Moliere was imprisoned for 24 hours, but the debts were paid by either his father or a lover of one of the troupe, and Moliere was released to resume acting. After this, he adapted his stage name, Moliere. The reason could have been because he did not want to embarrass his father. The court of Louis XIV has made actors more fashionably accepted in society, but they still could not be buried in consecrated ground.
For the next twelve years, Moliere and his troupe traveled throughout France putting on plays. Moliere had a talent for mockery which was evident in his plays. Along the way, he acquired a patron. Armand was the Prince of Conti of the House of Bourbon, and the governor of Languedoc. Moliere lost his patronage after Armand incurred syphilis and became religious. Then Armand joined with a group of zealots who boycotted Moliere’s risque plays.
When Moliere finally returned to Paris, he had developed some notoriety. In Paris, he rented the Louvre, which was a theater at the time, and performed for the King in 1658. His troupe was a success and awarded the title of Troupe de Monsieur. While there Moliere wrote plays in a comedic style. His plays used humor to criticize the customs of France at that time.
Moliere contracted pulmonary tuberculosis during his time in prison while young. In 1673 Moliere was performing in the play, Le Malade Imaginaire, or The Imaginary Invalid. It is a play about a hypochondriac. During a scene, Moliere is supposed to fall into a coughing fit. Unfortunately, the coughing fit was real, and Moliere was dying. He insisted on finishing the play.
After the play was finished, he collapsed and was taken to his home. He died 1673. He did not receive last rites because two priests refused and a third was late. There is a superstition that green brings bad luck to actors because that was the color Moliere wore on that fateful night.
Since Moliere was an actor, he could not be buried in consecrated ground, but his wife appealed to the King. He allowed her to bury Moliere at night in the part of the cemetery set aside for unbaptized infants. Moliere’s remains were moved to the Museum of French Monuments in 1792 and then moved again to the Pere Lachaise Cemetary in Paris in 1817.