Don Juan Tenorio Summary and Study Guide

Jose Zorrilla

Don Juan Tenorio

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  • Features 2 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
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Don Juan Tenorio Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 26-page guide for “Don Juan Tenorio” by Jose Zorrilla includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 2 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Damnation and Salvation and Corruption and Innocence.

Plot Summary

José Zorrilla y Moral (1817-1893), was a poet, dramatist, and major figure of the nationalist wing of the Spanish Romantic movement. He was born in Valladolid, Spain and educated at the Real Seminario de Nobles, a Jesuit school, and later at the universities of Toledo and Valladolid. Though Zorrilla’s father hoped his son would become a lawyer, Zorrilla left his studies and went to Madrid to pursue a career as a poet. In 1837, he became an overnight success after his dramatic recital of an elegy at the funeral of the essayist and satirist Mariano José de Larra. Witnesses claimed that Zorrilla leaped into the grave and stood on the coffin to deliver his reading. Zorilla ran away from his wife, and financial distress, and was abroad from 1855 to 1866, where he wrote prolifically, but remained insolvent. His first volume of verse, Poesias garnered him immediate acclaim and recognition as one of the primary voices in Spain’s Romantic movement. Between 1839 and 1849, Zorrilla composed forty plays, including Don Juan Tenorio in 1844. In 1889, he was crowned Spain’s national poet and was granted a government pension.

Don Juan Tenorio, a Spanish drama in two parts and seven acts, was written by Zorrilla while he was in his twenties and was first produced and published in 1844. It is the more romantic of the two principal Spanish-language literary interpretations of the legend of Don Juan. The other is the 1630 El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra (The Trickster of Seville and the Guest of Stone), which is attributed to Tirso de Molina.

Zorrilla’s Don Juan Tenorio shifts away from the moralistic theme of Tirso de Molina’s play. Zorilla’s character is much more conflicted than Molina’s original, and highlights the manner in which the values of the myth can be reinterpreted. Zorrilla’s play, and Don Juan’s final repentance, is often understood as an assertion of the author’s conservativism and Catholic faith. Despite being despised by Zorrilla as a failure, Don Juan Tenorio was the most popular play of 19th-century Spain and is still frequently performed. It has become a tradition of Spanish theater to perform the piece on All Saints Day, so the play has been performed at least once every year for over a century. Like his other works, it exhibits those qualities that have made Zorrilla a uniquely national author: picturesque characters, intrigues and coincidences in its plot, lyrical flights, and great Romantic coloring.

In Don Juan Tenorio, the title character leads a life of debauchery; drinking, dueling, and wenching his way through sixteenth-century Seville. Don Juan Tenorio and Don Luis Mejia make a bet to see who can do the most damage with these activities in a year. When that bet spawns another, Don Juan has to try to seduce Don Luis’s fiancée and kidnap his own bride. These actions lead to many deaths. Don Juan ultimately receives salvation through the love of a pure woman. The young novice Dona Ines chastely falls in love with Don Juan, then dies after he abandons her. Don Juan later kills her father, Don Gonzalo. Years later, a statue of Don Gonzalo—the requisite “stone guest” of Don Juan tales—appears to Don Juan and shows him a vision of hell. Dona Ines also appears to him and asks him to repent. He does so, though not until he is dying. While Zorrilla’s Don Juan is as selfish and lusty as his other literary counterparts, he is more an enchanter than a calculating seducer, and his vivid last-minute conversion adds a moral air to the play.

Unfortunately, the author did not benefit from his play’s success: not long after he finished writing it, Zorrilla sold the rights to the play, since he did not expect it to be much more successful than any of his other works. Aside from the price paid for the rights, Zorrilla never made any money from any of the productions. Later, he wrote biting criticisms of the work in an apparent attempt to get it discontinued long enough for him to revise it and market the second version himself. However, he never succeeded.

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