Don Juan

By William Markiewicz

Don Juan's Universe
(Don Juan's Universe -- linocut & drawing -- WM)

Traditionally in November, the Spaniards go to the theatre to see their national masterpiece, "Don Juan." What values should a theatrical piece embody to become a timeless symbol, part of a ritual?

"Don Juan", like "Hamlet", is a play about the psychological truth of the person rather than about specific situations as in "Oedipus", "Electra", "Romeo and Juliet". Here, the hero strives in a timeless setting on a minor scale. Don Juan does nothing but seduce, as if other things of interest didn't exist. The idea of "Don Juan" is frivolous in itself but it contains something that distinguishes it from vaudeville and also saves the hero from his own vacuousness. I don't refer to the mystical and phantasmagoric part proper to the author's epoch, but to something prosaic and eternal at the same time, linked to the personality of the hero. Don Juan is a pretentious boaster, frank and ingenuous like his friend Don Luis, and like those who gather in groups of conscripts, students, apprentices, etc ... This swaggering without depth is proper to juvenile vitality; the "Don Juan" of Zorrilla is a hymn to youth.

Don Juan is a man of good company, a popular hero like today's adventure comic and movie heroes. The author's achievement is to place this kind of man into strange and phantasmagoric situations which have turned this play into a traditional All-Saints' piece in Spain. This gives an anachronistic charm to the piece and the author, like Goethe, touches the eternal theme of man with two faces, of the Janus found more or less in each of us.

We can find more archetypical values in the play. I see three basic parts. The first is the work in itself, with the "musical" and poetic transcendental values of the ensemble, beyond any logical analysis. The second part is the hero himself, his personality, and the third is the substrate in which he acts, in this case, women.

In "Don Juan" we have virtual women. Dona Inez is a case apart, almost a metaphysical symbol. Yet if we refer to women of flesh and blood we see that the work of Zorrilla constitutes a lucid look at the personality of eternal woman, which has attained its liberation now with the disappearance of social and sexual taboos. This shows in the simple fact that women fall into Don Juan's arms aggressively.

If Don Juan seems to dominate women, it's thanks to his coolness. He is much less erotic than his "victims," acting more from braggery than from passion. And so the roles are imperceptibly reversed. Don Juan reaches his objective too easily and we don't know if it is he who conquers or who is conquered. The myth of Don Juan shows us the free woman of tomorrow -- our today -- with her strengths and her appetites. To today's woman who is Don Juan? He's a man who generally is more primitive than herself, who lives -- as she does -- in his own universe, with the temporary truce of solitude only in the field of the bedroom, and who shows her the same indifference as the Don Juan on the stage. Men of any other category, "flayed" and tense, (at least in our Western world), are in no way Don Juans. On the contrary, at each step they encounter "donas juanas" who dominate their life and make them sacrifice their days for their nights. This man, opposite to "Don Juan", the man defeated, is represented by another masterpiece: "Carmen."

Is the story of victorious versus defeated the unique source of artistic and literary inspiration? Not necessarily. Flamenco proposes the third alternative: mutual defiance, mutual triumph of the protagonists. Flamenco is an optimistic promise of happy love, perhaps that of after-tomorrow.


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