Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
Don Juan
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Don Juan

by Molière

Translated by John Fowles

National Theatre

Cottesloe Theatre, 7 April 1981

Length: about two hours, including one twenty-minute interval

Molière (1622-1673)

Real name: ]ean-Baptiste Poquelin


  • L'Etourdi (1655)
  • Le Depit Amoureux (1656)
  • Les Precieuses Ridicules (1659)
  • Sganarelle ou le Cocu Imaginaire (1660)
  • Dam Carcie de Navarre ou le Prince Jaloux (1661)
  • L'Ecole des Maris (1661)
  • Les Facheux (1661)
  • L'Ecole des Femmes (1662)
  • La Critique de l'Ecole des Femmes (1663)
  • L'Impramptu de Versailles (1663)
  • Le Mariage Force (1664)
  • La Princesse d'Elide (1664)
  • Tartuffe (1664)
  • Dom Juan ou le Festin de Pierre (1665)
  • L'Amour Medecin (1665)
  • Le Misanthrope (1666)
  • Le Medecin Malgre Lui (1666)
  • Melicerte (1666)
  • Le Sicilien ou L'Amour Peintre (1667)
  • Amphitryon (1668)
  • Georges Dandin ou le Mari Confondu (1668)
  • L'Avare (1668)
  • Monsieur de Pourceaugnac (1669)
  • Les Amants Magnifiques (1670)
  • Le Bourgeois Centilhomme (1670)
  • Psyche (1671)
  • Les Fourberies de Scapin (1671)
  • La Comtesse d'Escarbagnas (1671)
  • Les Femmes Savantes (1672)
  • Le Malade Imaginaire (1673)


John Fowles b.1926


  • The Collector (1963)
  • The Aristos (1964)
  • The Magus (1964)
  • The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969)
  • The Ebony Tower (1974)
  • Daniel Martin (1977)

Other books:

  • Cinderella (1974) children's book
  • Shipwreck (1974) with old photographs
  • Islands (1978) photographs by Fay Godwin
  • The Tree (1979) photographs by Frank Horvat
  • Enigma of Stonehenge (1980) photographs by Barry Brukoff

A source of sedition

by John Fowles

Don Juan is Molière's strangest, and was for long his most scandalous play. Not a single performance of the original text is recorded between the first brief run in 1665 and 1841. Even in 1947 the Maison de Molière (better known as the Comedie Française) could list only a hundred performances against the 2,400 or so for Tartuffe. However, a major revaluation has happened since famous postwar productions in France by Jouvet and Vilar. Don Juan is no longer the Cinderella of the Molière canon.

France found itself politically and intellectually divided in the 1660s. On the right was the Counter-Renaissance — those who wanted a return to immutable Catholic tradition, including the Inquisition and Vatican control of French foreign policy. By its enemies this wing was nicknamed the Cabale des Devots, or Bigots' Conspiracy. They had strong support at Court from the Spanish queen-mother, Anne of Austria.

On the left were the libertines, with their belief in individual conscience and freedom of thought, and for whose chief philosopher, Gassendi, Molière had close sympathy. But by 1665 libertinage had in the eyes of authority become (a little like Marxism today) less a philosophy than a source of sedition. A number of noblemen — equivalents of the Earl of Rochester in England — had notoriously slipped from questioning traditional authority in scientific matters to denying all normal morality. In an increasingly conservative France this became dangerous, and many of these 'false libertines' hastily took cover behind the mask of religion.

The situation was complicated by the young and then very far from pious Louis XIV. Assuming full kingship on Mazarin's death in 1661, he was in no mood to be the Vatican's pawn or to seek alliance (and religious guidance) from Spain. Molière was a valuable mouthpiece for views he dared not publicly express himself, and accordingly received considerable — but not unlimited - protection.

The dramatist had returned to Paris in 1658 — he was then 36 years old - from his long apprenticeship in the provinces. After triumphs with Les Precieuses Ridicules and L'Ecole des Femmes, he became in 1662 the first actor ever to receive a royal pension. A year later came accusations of impiety against him (and implicitly, Louis), which the latter answered by standing godfather to Molière's first child. But in May, 1664, the 'servant by whom the king speaks' threw down a gauntlet to the Spanish party that left even his master helpless. Tartuffe, with its devastating attack on fake religiosity, was too much, and promptly banned.

Molière had more mundane worries by 1665. His company badly needed a new box-office success for their theatre, the Palais-Royal. A doubly tempting theme lay at hand. Recent versions of the original Don Juan play, Tirso de Molina's El Burlador de Sevilla, had proved very much to public taste; even better, the monstrously immoral hero came out of Holy Spain.

Molière's prose treatment thus had to serve two contradictory needs. The actor-manager had to deliver an audience-catching comedy; the angry humanist, a further scathing polemic against those who had stifled his beloved Tartuffe. The schizophrenic result, with its abrupt changes of mood and the classical unities thrown to the winds, is one main reason for the long cold shoulder shown by more orthodox French critics. English-speaking audiences, remembering their own greatest dramatist, should have fewer problems.

The play opened on 15 February 1665, and despite considerable cuts, was an immediate succes de scandale. It survived fifteen performances. Louis did allow Tartuffe to be restaged in 1669, but Don Juan was never pardoned. Yet there seems little doubt that he was privately on Molière's side. Only five months after Don Juan closed, the company was declared the King's Troupe, and handsomely pensioned.

It was not only Don Juan himself who shocked the bigots. They could not deny such rakes existed (the blasphemous pauper scene — soon cut in 1665 — was based on a well-known real incident); but to see their own beliefs foolishly expounded by a servant was the last straw. Their outrage cannot have been lessened by the fact that Molière himself played Sganarelle.

Just as he had a lifelong hatred of medicine for the way it abused the body, so did Molière have the sharpest ear in theatrical history for language that abuses the mind. One may suspect that what ultimately damns this Don Juan is quite as much his final use of empty rhetoric and pious jargon to hide his sins as the sins themselves.

No one knew better than his creator that double talk lies not only at the heart of all comedy, but of all social and political tyranny as well.

Sgnarelle, Servant to Don Juan Ron Pember
Gusman, Servant to Donna Elvira Leonard Fenton
Don Juan Nigel Terry
Donna Elvira Di Trevis
Charlotte Elizabeth Estensen
Peter David Troughton
Martha Holly de Jong
La Ramée, Don Juan's Servant Ewan Stewart
A Pauper Peter Sproule
Don Carlos, brother to Elvira Partick Drury
Don Alonso, brother to Elvira Robert Swann
The Commander Robert Flemyng
Ragotin, Don Juan's servant Paul Bradley
La Violette, Don Juan's servant Paul Bentall
Monsieur Dimanche, a merchant Leonard Fenton
Don Louis, Don Juan's father Michael Gough
Other parts played by The Company
Director Peter Gill
Designer Alison Chitty
Music George Fenton
Lighting Rory Dempster
Staff Director John Burgess
Production Manager Jason Barnes
Stage Manager John Caulfield
Deputy Stage Manager Frank Nealon
Assistant Stage Managers Cathie Coulson
Sarah Parkin
Wendy Pedley
Sound Rick Clarke
Assistant to the Lighting Designer Ian Williams
Assistant to the Production Manager Tom Dolby

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