Tirso de Molina. El Burlador de Sevilla/ The Trickster of Seville.
Tirso de Molina, pseudonym of Fray Gabriel Téllez (1581?-1648), was a prolific writer. Member of the religious Order of Mercy, Tirso ranks with Lope de Vega and Pedro Calderón de la Barca as the most outstanding dramatist of Spain’s Golden Age. He is widely recognised as the bridge between Lope’s lyrical spontaneity and Calderón’s highly structured artistry.
Tirso’s best known play, El burlador de Sevilla (The Trickster of Seville, ca. 1618-1630), is an anthology favourite and the main source of the myth of the iconic lover Don Juan. Some have questioned Tirso’s authorship, believing it to have been written by a contemporary playwright and actor, Andrés de Claramonte (c. 1580-1626). General consensus, however, remains in favour of Tirso.
El burlador de Sevilla is a fast moving play with several themes intertwined: the theological problems of grace, free will and predestination, good and evil, actions and consequences, honour, friendship, fame, corruption, disrespect for authority, order and disorder.
The play opens in the king’s palace in Naples in the 14th century. It’s nighttime. The duchess, Isabela, has invited her lover, Duke Octavio, to her room but the man with her is in fact Don Juan. When Isabela realises it’s not Don Octavio, she screams for help.
The king arrives, carrying a candlestick. Summing up the situation, he calls for the guards and orders “this man” (l. 26) to be arrested. The guards arrive accompanied by Don Pedro Tenorio, Spanish Ambassador to Naples and Don Juan’s uncle. The king, without ascertaining Don Juan’s identity, orders Don Pedro to punish the intruder and leaves. When Don Juan reveals that he is related to the Spanish ambassador, Don Pedro orders everyone else to leave (l. 46).
Alone with Don Pedro, Don Juan then discloses (l. 54) that he is his (i.e. Don Pedro’s) nephew. Angry, Don Pedro asks for explanations. Don Juan excuses himself saying that he is young, and that since his uncle was young once he should understand.
He then admits that he deceived and seduced Isabela by pretending to be Don Octavio (ll. 67-71). Don Pedro cuts him off, and in an aside reveals that this not the first time that Don Juan has deceived women and that his father had sent him from Castile for that reason.
However, instead of punishing Don Juan, Don Pedro lets him escape and advises him to head for Sicily or Milan. As he departs, Don Juan –in an aside— discloses that he is going to return to Spain.
A conversation follows between Don Pedro and the king (ll. 121-57), in which Don Pedro lies, saying that Don Juan escaped over a balcony, defending himself valiantly against the guards. He compounds the lie adding that the deceived woman was Isabela and that she was seduced by Duke Octavio (ll. 146-151).
The king sends for Isabela (l. 138) and accuses her of profaning the palace by her actions. He then orders her to be imprisoned without allowing her to explain or defend herself. At the same time he commands Don Octavio to be arrested.
Don Pedro arrives to apprehend Octavio (l. 250). He again lies, telling Octavio (ll. 292-94) that the king had seen Isabela in the arms of some man and that Isabela had confessed that it was he, Octavio, who had seduced her while promising to marry her.
The bewildered Octavio believes that Isabela has betrayed him but, with the connivance of Don Pedro, escapes and heads for Spain.
Lines 375-696. We move to the coast of Spain, near the town of Tarragona. Tisbea, a fisher girl, appears and in a long, lyrical soliloquy proudly boasts that she is free from the power of love. What’s more, she scorns (ll. 413, 431) the young men who pursue her. She enjoys making them unhappy, and laughs at the envy shown by other girls (because she has many suitors).
She identifies one particular suitor, Anfriso, and mocks his faithful attention despite her rejection. All the girls pine for him (l. 459), but she cruelly takes “pleasure in his suffering,” (l. 457) while guarding her honour “in straw/ like a tasty fruit” (ll. 423-24).
Her musings are cut short when she witnesses two men leap from a boat as it is about to sink (ll. 481-84). They are Don Juan and his servant Catalinón. Having saved Catalinón’s life, Don Juan falls unconscious (presumably in the shallow water) and Catalinón then carries him to the shore.
At Tisbea’s request, Catalinón goes for help. Left alone with Don Juan, Tisbea cradles him on her lap. When he comes to, he immediately starts to court her, and –captivated by his bravery and flattery— she falls in love with him. At the same time, she hopes that he is not lying (Plega a Dios que no mintáis: “I hope to God you are not lying” l. 612).
When Catalinón returns with some fishermen (including Anfriso), Tisbea orders them to carry Don Juan to her cottage (l. 673) where she will care for him. Don Juan calls Catalinón to his side and –unaware that Catalinón has already told Tisbea his name (ll. 577-78)— whispers to him not to let Tisbea know who he is because he intends to seduce her that night. The scene ends with Tisbea repeating for the fourth time “I hope to God you are not lying.”
Lines 697-877 take us to the royal court of the Spanish king, Alfonso XI, in Seville. One of the king’s ministers, Don Gonzalo, has just returned from Lisbon and launches into a long, anachronistic** praise of the city (ll. 721-85) that does not advance the plot. [** NB. Lisbon did not belong to Spain in the 14th century.]
The king is pleased with Don Gonzalo and decides to reward him by arranging a marriage between his (Don Gonzalo’s) daughter and Don Juan (ll. 867-73)!
In ll. 877-913, we return to Don Juan and Catalinón in Tarragona. During their conversation, Catalinón chides his master for violating Tisbea’s hospitality. In addition, he warns him for the first time that if he persists in seducing women, he will pay for it when he dies. Don Juan’s reply is dismissive, !Qué largo me lo fiáis! (roughly: “What a long time you are giving me” i.e. I’ve got plenty of time to repent).
Catalinón leaves and Tisbea appears. She tells Don Juan she’ll surrender to him provided he promises to marry her. Giving her his hand, he swears he will. Twice Tisbea warns him of God’s punishment if he is lying (ll. 943-44, 960) and twice he replies !Qué largo me lo fiáis!
The act ends with Tisbea’s cottage going up in flames, which she likens to the burning of her soul. She has been tricked, seduced and abandoned, and resolves to go to the king to seek vengeance.
The act returns us to the court of King Alfonso in Seville. A letter has arrived from Don Pedro in Naples informing Don Diego Tenorio, Don Juan’s father, of what happened in the court at Naples. Don Diego, in turn, informs King Alfonso who immediately decides that Don Juan must marry Isabela (ll. 1058-59), and in the meantime be exiled to the town of Lebrija (l. 1065; Lebrija: a town about 60 kilometres south of Seville).
This, of course, leaves the king with a problem since he had earlier arranged for Don Juan to marry Ana, daughter of Don Gonzalo (ll. 867-73). His decision will offend them, but the solution arrives conveniently in the form of Duke Octavio who has just arrived in search of justice (ll. 1094+).
Since he cannot marry Isabela (she is now betrothed to Don Juan), Octavio will marry Ana, and Don Gonzalo will be elevated to Comendador Mayor (Knight Commander) of Calatrava. Everyone is satisfied and the disorder created by Don Juan appears to have been resolved thanks to King Alfonso.
After the king and Don Diego depart, Don Juan and Catalinón appear. From Octavio and Don Juan’s conversation, it is evident that Octavio does not know that Don Juan betrayed their friendship when he seduced Isabela. Don Juan also lies when he tells Octavio that his speedy departure from Naples was in answer to a summons from King Alfonso (ll. 1157-63).
Octavio departs as the Marqués de la Mota, an old friend of Don Juan, arrives (l. 1199). Don Juan wants to catch up with the gossip about various Seville women, which is mostly unflattering (ll. 1213-49). After a brief comment on the latest burlas (“tricks” or deceptions), the Marqués confesses (ll. 1262+) that he is attracted to the recently arrived Doña Ana (from Lisbon).
He is aware that the king has arranged her marriage, but he doesn’t know to whom (ll. 1277-78). She appears to favour him and even writes to him, the Marqués adds. Don Juan encourages the Marqués to write in reply and deceive her (Escribidla y engañadla l. 1285). Duly encouraged, the Marqués leaves, followed by Catalinón.
At this point (l. 1297) a lady whispers to Don Juan through a window grille and, believing that he is a friend of the Marqués, hands him a letter. This immediately provides Don Juan with an opportunity for another “trick” (ll. 1315-18 “I’m known in Seville as The Trickster/ and my greatest pleasure / is to deceive a woman/ and leave her without honour,” he boasts).
He opens the letter. It is from Doña Ana. In it she blames her father for marrying her off secretly (actually it was the king), and suggests a rendezvous with the Marqués that evening at 11 p.m. Don Juan is delighted with the opportunity presented to him. “By God, I’ll have her! With the same cunning and stealth/ [that I used] on Isabela in Naples” “ll. 1347-40).
Catalinón returns and learning that Don Juan is planning another “trick” he disapproves, warning his master that he will have to pay for his sins (ll. 1352-1359). Don Juan dismisses the warning. When the Marqués returns, Don Juan conveys Ana’s message to him, but says that he should be at her door at midnight. The Marqués leaves happy with the news.
Don Diego appears and conveys the king’s order that Don Juan must leave Seville for Lebrija. At the same time, he reprimands his son’s behaviour, even calling him a traitor whom God will punish when he dies (ll. 1439-48). Don Juan again dismisses the warning with Tan largo me lo fiáis, there’s still plenty of time. After Don Diego departs, Don Juan prepares for the next “trick” (i.e. the seduction of Doña Ana), which will be really famous (l. 1477).
The conversation that follows between Don Juan and the Marqués (ll. 1491-1561), is rather complicated, but the gist is that the Marqués had another “trick” planned for that evening, but on learning that Doña Ana is expecting him at midnight, he gives Don Juan the opportunity to carry out the “trick.” To make matters easier for Don Juan, the Marqués gives him his cape, so that the lady in question will believe her visitor is the Marqués. This is perfect for Don Juan, who now heads for Ana’s house by 11.00 p.m. wearing the Marqués’s cape.
Don Juan succeeds in entering Doña Ana’s house but on discovering that her visitor is not the Marqués (ll. 1562-63), Ana screams. Don Gonzalo bursts in and confronts Don Juan. In the ensuing sword fight, Don Juan kills Don Gonzalo.
As Don Juan and Catalinón flee, the Marqués arrives. Don Juan returns his cape to the Marqués and leaves him implicated in the crime. The king orders the bewildered Marqués arrested while Doña Ana is under the protection of the Queen.
Lines 1680-1797. A country wedding in the village of Dos Hermanas is interrupted by Don Juan on his way to exile in Lebrija. The groom, Batricio, immediately expresses foreboding at Don Juan’s presence, especially when Don Juan seats himself next to the bride, Aminta (ll. 1761-62). “A noble at my wedding/[is a] bad omen!” he concludes.
The action moves rapidly in this act. It opens in Dos Hermanas with Batricio, alone, reaffirming that Don Juan’s presence is a bad omen. Don Juan interrupts Batricio’s thoughts, informing him that Aminta has sent him (Don Juan) a letter asking him to go and see her. He ends by threatening to kill Batricio if he objects (ll. 1875-77).
The letter is a lie, of course, but Batricio accepts Don Juan’s words without question, preferring to criticise women as bad for men’s honour when they become objects of gossip. He leaves Don Juan who anticipates seducing Aminta that night, and has prepared the way by talking to Aminta’s father, Gaseno.
In the meantime, a confused Aminta confides to her friend, Belisa, that she can’t understand why Batricio is so downcast (ll. 1921-22).
After successfully negotiating with Gaseno, Don Juan boasts to Catalinón that the seduction of Aminta will be the best yet (ll. 1957-58) and dismisses his servant’s warning. After all, his father, he adds, is the king’s favourite and in charge of administering justice (ll.1960-2), so there’s no need to worry. He has also decided that he will not go to Lebrija but return to Seville, thus disobeying the king’s command.
It is night when Don Juan enters Aminta’s room, declares his love for her and his determination to marry her, regardless of any objection his father or the king might raise. Aminta demurs, wondering if he lying. Don Juan takes her hand and swears upon it (ll. 2070-01). He further calls on God to have him killed by a “dead … man” if he betrays his word (but at the same time –in an aside– asks God not to let any “living man” kill him. ll. 2079-80). Aminta then surrenders herself to him.
Lines 2098 -2205. The next scene switches to Tarragona, where Isabela has landed en route to Seville to marry Don Juan, according to King Alfonso’s command (at beginning of Act II, ll. 1058-59). She and her servant, Fabio, catch sight of a weeping fisher girl. It is Tisbea, who discloses her seduction and abandonment by Don Juan. This news infuriates Isabela, who now seeks revenge on Don Juan rather than marriage. She invites Tisbea to accompany her to Seville (ll. 2203-04).
Back in Seville, Don Juan and Catalinón have entered a church. Catalinón informs him that Octavio and the Marques have found out about his deceptions, that Isabela is on her way, and that Aminta thinks that she is a noble (adding the title Doña to her name). The past is catching up with Don Juan.
In the church, Don Juan and Catalinón come upon the statue of Don Gonzalo. On the tomb are inscribed the words: “Here lies the most loyal/ knight of the Lord/ waiting to have revenge on a traitor.” Don Juan mocks the statue and invites it to dinner and to seek its revenge that night at the inn where he is staying ll. 2255-60).
At the inn, servants prepare a table for Don Juan. There is a knock at the door. A fearful Catalinón opens and the statue of Don Gonzalo enters. He has accepted Don Juan’s invitation to dine. Catalinón and the servants are terrified but Don Juan is unafraid. After the servants and Catalinón have left, Don Juan asks the statue what it wants. Whatever it is, he will fulfil on his word as a caballero (ll. 2432-40).
At the statue’s request, Don Juan gives it his hand and accepts its invitation to dine with it in the church next evening. As the statue disappears, Don Juan shudders with fear but then rationalises that it is all in his imagination and that he should not fear the dead (ll. 2473-76).
Meanwhile, the king and Don Diego discuss the latest complications regarding Don Juan. The king decrees that Isabela must marry Don Juan despite her objection. To appease her, Don Juan is to become count of Lebrija so that although she has lost a duke (Octavio), she has gained a count. Also the king has agreed to Doña Ana’s request to marry the Marqués rather than Octavio (as was the arrangement at the beginning of Act II). The loser is Octavio, who is now left without a bride.
At this moment, an angry Octavio arrives bent on a duel with Don Juan. Don Diego tries to intervene and even draws his sword, which is totally unacceptable in the presence of the king. The king defuses the situation reminding Don Diego that Don Juan is his (i.e. the king’s) chamberlain and therefore his responsibility. He and Don Diego depart, leaving Octavio with the promise that arrangements will be made on the next day for his marriage (ll. 2582—83; but without identifying the would-be bride!).
Gaseno and Aminta turn up so that Aminta and Don Juan can be officially married. Octavio, recognising that Don Juan has deceived Aminta, sees an opportunity to avenge himself on Don Juan.
On their way to the church with Catalinón (ll. 2635+), Don Juan confirms that he has seen the king and that he is to marry Isabela. But first he has to keep his word and dine with the statue of Don Gonzalo. The statue is surprised that Don Juan has come since he expected him to behave as he had done when carrying out his “tricks” (ll. 2687-89; i.e. not keep his word).
Dinner is ready. Plates of vipers and scorpions and glasses of bile and vinegar are served, after which the statue asks Don Juan to give it his hand. It then drags Don Juan into the tomb. Don Juan tries to stab the statue and realising that it is ineffectual calls out for confession and absolution (ll. 2765-66). But it is too late. As Don Juan is dragged under, the statue declares that what has been done is God’s justice, and that quien tal hace, que tal pague (ll. 2772-73; the meaning is “you reap what you sow“).
In the final scene, the king and Don Diego are joined by Don Juan’s victims each calling for justice. As each blames Don Juan, the king orders him arrested and killed, a punishment which his father, Don Diego, does not oppose. However, Catalinón arrives with the news that Don Juan has been killed at the hands of the statue of Don Gonzalo.
The king reaffirms that God’s justice has been carried out, and since the cause of all the chaos is now dead, marriage arrangements can be settled. Octavio is to marry Isabela, Ana is confirmed as the Marqués’s bride-to-be, and Batricio and Aminta are reunited. Only Tisbea remains unattached.
Bentley, Eric Life is a Dream and other Spanish Classics (includes Fuenteovejuna/ The Sheepwell and El burlador de Sevilla/The Trickster of Seville) New York 1985.
Edwards, Gwynne The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest Warminster 1985
Spanish Text used.
Martel, Alpern, Mades Diez comedias del Siglo de Oro 2nd. ed. New York, London 1968. Translations into English are mine.