Document Type


Date of Award



José Zorrilla, Don Juan Tenorio

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Comparative Literature

First Advisor

George E. Wellwarth

Second Advisor

E. George Erdman, Jr.

Third Advisor

Frederick M. Garber


The Don Juan created by Zorrilla is quite likely a composite of the Count of Villamediana (Don Juan de Tassis, who probably influenced Tirso de Molina in his creation of the original Don Juan) and Miguel de Mañara. Ultimately, however, there is no firm proof of any Don Juan Tenorio as such having ever existed.

Don Juan's redemption, as Zorrilla has portrayed it, is but the first of a diverse line of Don Juan variations. The most authentic of these tend to be structured around the episodes of Tirso's plot, seductions, duels, murders, and the vengeance of Don Gonzalois statue. But within the framework of these plot conventions, authors have portrayed Don Juan as impotent, powerful, young, old, capable, incompetent, philosophical, foolish—in sum, they have treated him as a plastic material whereby any age or nation may express its dominant obsessive view of sexuality and rebellion.

By their repeated uses of him as a character, artists of various epochs have posited Don Juan as a symbol of aggression in the areas of sex and violence. But the character as symbol has, through the general constancy of the elements of Tirso’s plot as its setting, generated a myth around itself.

This mythical status is due partially to its roots in pre-literary European folk legends, partially to the numerousness of its treatments, and partially to its connection with the deep-seated psychological concerns of sex and violence.

Despite the value of Don Juan as a psychological symbol, however, it is a critical mistake to limit him to the predictability of any one psychological structure. It is precisely his flexibility in the hands of various artists which allows his myth to grow through adaptation.

Thus Tirso represents him as a mindless sinner, Molière as a witty rake, Da Ponte as an elite sadist, Zorrilla as a Romantic hero, Shaw as a philosophical genius, Montherlant as a puppet, Frisch as a husband. Always though, Don Juan is a threat, even when thwarted.

It is perhaps this threatening aspect which makes him so at home in Zorrilla's treatment of him as a Romantic hero, a rare combination of Satanic hostility and sentimental amorousness.

Like Shelley’s Prometheus, Zorrilla's Don Juan directly defies a deity at risk to himself, for though powerful, he is nevertheless a human being. Like Byron’s Don Juan, who shares little but his name, Zorrilla's Don Juan is vindicated of any wrongdoing, despite the colossal scale of that wrongdoing. Like Goethe's Faust, he succeeds in achieving redemption primarily through his ability to love a woman with selfless commitment. Like Lermontov's Pechorin, he is a callous, cold-hearted brawler, spawned by the aristocracy but disdainful of its social constraints.

A junction between two important literary traditions, Zorrilla’s Don Juan holds an important place in the growing Don Juan myth as well as in the tradition of the Romantic hero. As a link in the Don Juan myth, he provides an influential example of the myth’s potential for radical variation. As a Romantic hero, he illustrates aspects of the kinship of Spanish Romanticism with the Romanticism of continental Europe and America.