Don Juan Tenorio

Don Juan Tenorio (14th century) In late medieval legend, libertine Spanish nobleman who is taken off to hell for his sins. Don Juan, the son of a leading family in Seville, killed the commandant of Ulloa after seducing his daughter. To put an end to his debaucheries the Franciscans enticed him to their monastery and killed him, telling the people that he had been carried off to hell by the statue of the commandant, who was buried on their monastery grounds.

The legend of Don Juan is believed to have originated in various Spanish ballads in which insult to the dead and invitation to join the living at a banquet frequently appear. Don Juan first appears on the stage in Tirso de Molina’s play El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra (The Playboy of Seville and the Stone Guest). The French took up the subject with plays by Dorimon, De Villiers, and Molière. The German and Swiss writers Grabbe and Frisch also wrote plays about Don Juan, the former on Don Juan and Faust, while the latter wrote a comedy in which Don Juan flees from his wedding, only to meet his bride in a park, to which she had also fled in fear of marriage.

The most important opera on the theme is Mozart’s Don Giovanni, with a libretto by Da Ponte. Other musical works are Dargomijsky’s Kamjennyi Gost (The Stone Guest) with a Pushkin text, Gluck’s ballet Don Juan, and Richard Strauss’s tone poem Don Juan. Later plays on the subject are Zorrilla’s Don Juan Tenorio, in which the don is saved, and Shaw’s Man and Superman. Byron’s long narrative poem Don Juan recasts the Don into an agreeable young man, passively amoral rather than actively evil.


Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow
– Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante