Sunday, October 24, 2021

Another Holiday Tradition

This poster advertising a theatrical production is a reminder of another tradition that is a part of Day of the Dead in both Spain and Mexico.

Because its final scene takes place in a cemetery, the 19th century drama, "Don Juan Tenorio" by the Spanish writer José Zorrilla, has become a staple of this season.

The story of the legendary libertine Don Juan was first dramatized in the 1600s by the  dramatist Tirso de Molina.  In that version, Don Juan deflowers the young noblewoman Doña Ana.  When her father, Don Gonzalo, comes to her aid, Don Juan draws his sword and kills  him.  Later, Don Juan visits the cemetery where the father is buried.  There, the statue of Gonzalo grabs Don Juan and hurls him down to hell. 

However, in Zorrilla's romanticized version, Don Juan at last finds true love with Doña Inés.  When Juan begs her father (also named Gonzalo) to allow them to marry, he refuses.  Juan then shoots Gonzalo and flees the country.  Doña Inés later dies of a broken heart.  Years later, Don Juan returns to the cemetery where Gonzalo and Inés are buried.  The statue of Gonzalo grabs Juan by the arm to drag him to hell.   But Juan looks to heaven for mercy.  Doña Inés appears, redeems him, and the two of them go to heaven together.

The original version is considered a far superior work of literature, but Zorrilla's sappy ending pulls on the heartstrings of the audience.  Women see themselves as the redeeming Doña Inés, and men identify with the womanizing Don Juan who in spite of his sins achieves salvation.  

And so, more than 170 years after its premiere, "Don Juan Tenorio" continues to be performed.

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