115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Womanizer’s Anxiety: The Burden of Existence in Tirso de Molina’s El Burlador de Sevilla 

John Danho, California Polytechnic University, Pomona

By tracing and examining the nature of each of his seductions throughout the play, Don Juan’s inextricable relationship with Catalinón, and their inevitable confrontation with the ghost of Don Gonzalo, Don Juan reads as an existentially superfluous figure whose self-imposed burden of grandeur is ultimately what destroys him.



El burlador de Sevilla layers its governing actions, dialogue, and comedy with the cruel and tragic hints of Don Juan’s character. In deference to Frederick de Armas, Don Juan of Tirso de Molina’s El burlador de Sevilla, is “a figure that is eminently misplaced.” Despite his noble lineage, readers are allowed to follow his misdeeds in the play and watch (or read) as he inscribes notoriety and infamy as suffixes to his title. Rather than acting as a figure of full bravado and a force of unadulterated misogyny, Don Juan subtly reveals a mixture of stark anxiety and fear throughout the play that underlie his insecurities. His chief fear is that of inconsequentiality; living in the shadow of his own society, he exists at its outskirts and tries to forge for himself an identity that will stand the test of time. He is not simply a womanizing nobleman operating with the bounds of his social and political power, but rather a deeply troubled figure trying to rationalize his existence in the face of an identity that he uses rhetorical prowess to construct.

The play’s acts are moved by four different seductions, each one unveiling more of Don Juan’s tensions through his language and dialogue. One must infer from each part of the play the root cause(s) and subtle ambitions inherent to Don Juan’s tricks in order to better understand his ultimate failing. Catalinón follows his master throughout the seductions, acting as a repressed moral conscience and a bit of comic relief that juxtaposes Don Juan (yet remains inseparable from him). All the events converge near the play’s climax as both Don Juan and Catalinón come face to face with the just yet vengeful ghost of Don Gonzalo, the father of one of the trickster’s attempted conquests.  He is caught between his social function, status in the court, and the misdeeds encouraged by his rhetoric. Don Juan’s mortal coil is troubled by an anxiety and unwillingness to be trapped in either the ephemeral realm of action and word or the abstractions of a social hierarchy; he is caught in a liminal, uncertain space that will forever label him just as he desired - The Trickster of Seville.