Serving Don Juan: Decorum in Tirso de Molina and Molière


Robert Bayliss


By revisiting the early modern concept of decorum, this comparative study of El burlador de Sevilla and Com Juan ou le Festin de Pierre reveals a divergence in strategy by the two dramatists that ultimately points to how each understands his social function as comic playwright. If, as a neoclassical precept of dramaturgy, decorum calls for a character’s speech to match his social class or position, it also serves as a social code prescribing appropriate conduct for members of society according to the moral and ideological parameters of the early modern absolutist state. These social and dramatic dimensions of decorum foster a dynamic discursive space in drama that the early modern public theater exploits for economic success: the aesthetics of this mode of comedy are based on ideological tensions such as those inherent to the Don Juan legend. A common starting point for Tirso and Molière is the representation of an upper-class, morally bankrupt protagonist and his servant, who is morally superior but socially (and hence discursively) inferior. Where the two plays diverge, however, is with the relationship that each servant forges with his master, and in turn with his seventeenth-century public audience. I argue that these differences owe less to ideological differences between playwrights than to aesthetic differences, both between the two dramatists and the audiences they serve.

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