Don Juan is one of the most popular characters in the literature. In fact, it is possible to trace different versions of Don Juan’s legend, which written forms date back to the 14th century. Many outstanding writers and poets attempted to narrate their version of Don Juan but Byron’s interpretation of the legend was probably one of the most original ones.
In fact, different versions of Don Juan compared to Byron’s version reveal the wide gap between traditional interpretation of Don Juan’s legend and Byron’s one. Byron’s version is a satirical depiction of Don Juan. However, unlike conventional depiction of Don Juan as womanizer, Byron depicts Don Juan as a man seduced by women.
In his poem, Byron uses epic poetry and the legend of Don Juan, which are satirically represented by Byron in his poem. For instance, it is possible to trace epic poetry in the following lines:
Brave men were living before Agamemnon
And since, exceeding valorous and sage,
A good deal like him too, though quite the same none (Byron, Canto 1)
Most epic poets plunge ‘in medias res’
(Horace makes this the heroic turnpike road),
And then your hero tells, whene’er you please (Byron, Canto 1)
In such a way, Byron uses traditional epic style but puts it in the context of the poem, which depicts not heroic acts but adventures of Don Juan.
The satirical representation of the legend of Don Juan can be traced in the following lines:
In Seville was he born, a pleasant city,
Famous for oranges and women—he
Who has not seen it will be much to pity,
So says the proverb—and I quite agree;
Of all the Spanish towns is none more pretty (Byron, Canto 1)
The first line seems to start the epic narration of Don Juan, but the depiction of the city reveals that it is just a pleasant city, neither better nor worse than any other city in Spain.
The following scene depicts the family life of Don Jose and Donna Inez:
Don Jose and the Donna Inez led
For some time an unhappy sort of life,
Wishing each other, not divorced, but dead;
They lived respectably as man and wife,
Their conduct was exceedingly well-bred,
And gave no outward signs of inward strife,
Until at length the smother’d fire broke out,
And put the business past all kind of doubt (Byron, Canto 1).
This scene shows that Don Jose and Donna Inez did not love each other and expected each other’s death. Today, they could be depicted as a middle-class family living a routine life. The husband and the wife have poor relationships and they are about to divorce. They have extramarital liaisons but they refuse from official divorce just to save their money.
Gordon, George. (Lord Byron). “Canto 1.” Don Juan. Project Gutenberg E-book of Don Juan. 6 June 2007. 24 October 2011. <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/21700/21700-h/21700-h.htm>.