Poster for 1994 film Don Juan DeMarco
Poster for 1994 film Don Juan DeMarco

Libertines and the art of seduction


I can’t remember now if I got a Faye Dunaway or a Johnny Depp collection box DVD. I would have happily bought either. What I do remember is that Don Juan DeMarco was one of the films. I can think of no better person to play a lead requiring the art of seduction than Johnny Depp.

He plays a mentally ill character who thinks he is Don Juan DeMarco. He sets about giving physical pleasure to women. Everything is fine. No one complains. And then, on his 21st birthday, he goes to a roof to commit suicide.

In steps the soon to retire psychiatrist, Marlon Brando, who, in the process of trying to heal his patient, learns more about life and love than he had in his entire life. As the true identity of Don Juan DeMarco comes to light, we are torn. Is it better to be trapped in the real world than lost in a magical one?

“There are only four questions of value in life, Don Octavio. What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same: only love. ” Don Juan DeMarco

I can unequivocally say that if Johnny Depp thought he was Don Juan DeMarco and came at me with that sexy Spanish accent wanting nothing but to please me, I would be totally up for it. I would not care if he was crazy. The problem would be that he would also want to please other women. And I mean as many other women as possible.

That is the legacy of the irresistible Don Juan.


Don Juan was a fictional character created by Tirso de Molina (nom de plume of Gabriel Téllez) for his play, El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra (The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest). It was set in the fourteenth century and published in Spain around 1630.

The play was a response to the death bed repentance that Tirso de Molina saw all around him. It was important to him to make sure that Don Juan paid for his sins and that in the end we are all equal in death. Many future versions of the character would focus on whatever the author’s purposes were, but some characteristics remained.

Don Juan was a libertine who spent most of his time seducing women.

His goal was to be able to seduce any woman regardless of age or social status. The rest of his time was spent fighting their husbands and families.

Many people compare Don Juan and Casanova. Unlike Don Juan, Casanova was a real person. He lived in Italy from 1725-1798. He hung out with royalty, popes, Goethe, Voltaire and Mozart. I wonder how much of Mozart’s Don Giovanni was Don Juan and how much was Casanova.

Many talk about the differences and similarities between Don Juan and Casanova. Of all the libertines that lived in the 300 years that it was popular, these two names remain synomous for being successful with the ladies in modern day culture.

Casanova drawn by his brother Francesco

Don Juan was attractive as well as effeminate. Tirso de Molina describes him in words that would be used for female characters in his day. His method of seduction was a passive one. He resisted the typical male role and forced women to be the pursuers.

Casanova, on the other hand, appealed to a woman’s intellect.

He wooed them with words by actually talking to them. He was an intellectual who was more known for his seduction of women than his writings. His quick wit and inquisitive nature served him well on his pursuits.

In Lord Byron’s poem, Don Juan, he turns the tables, saying Don Juan was not a womaniser. He just couldn’t resist the women who seduced him. It has not gone unnoticed that he was quite similar to Don Juan. It’s almost like his life was research for the poem, which he began in 1818 and continued to work on it until early 1823.

Lord Byron was notably attractive and his poses in paintings are those of women of his day. Though his hair was naturally curly, he curled it more. He was so afraid of becoming fat that he was likely anorexic and/or bulimic.

Lord Byron 1788-1824

Byron seems to me to have been the perfect mix of Don Juan and Casanova.

I like a man who is in touch with his feminine side and can carry on an intelligent conversation. Pure carnal pleasure, the ability to connect mentally and a beautiful face to look at. Heavenly! But there is that monogamy problem again. I’m very much a monogamist.

I saw a French poet in Berlin. I really wish I could remember her name now. The piece she did talked about her various lovers. They each had their own purposes; one for  sex, one for discussion, one for dancing, one for dining. She needed all of them to make the perfect combination. Would that be better? Is it ridiculous to think we’ll find everything we want in one person? Why should we have to give something up to find companionship?

Throughout time Don Juan has inspired discussion.

Albert Camus, Jane Austen, Kierkegaard and more have kept his legend alive. April 2016 marked the premiere at Leipzig Ballet of DON JUAN / MOZART À DEUX, by French choreographer Thierry Malandain.

I was very interested to see Malandain’s interpretation of the legend; perhaps influenced by Molière?

Don Juan / Mozart à Deux
Premiere 7 April 2017
© Kirsten Nijhof

Devoid of most moral or sexual restraints imposed by society, the philosophy of Libertinism gained popularity in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Who wants to settle for missionary when untold physical pleasures can be experienced through the senses? Libertinists you may have heard of include John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, and the Marquis de Sade.

Yes, the Maquis de Sade, father of Sadism, who wrote 120 Days of Sodom on a roll of toilet paper in 37 days in 1785 while he was imprisoned in the Bastille. But what of the other half of the S&M duo, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch? No, they didn’t know each other.

German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing introduced the terms “Sadism” and “Masochism”‘ into medical terminology in his work Neue Forschungen auf dem Gebiet der Psychopathia sexualis (“New research in the area of Psychopathology of Sex”) in 1890.

Sacher-Masoch was a writer who championed socialist and humanist ideals in his fictional and nonfictional works. His book Venus in furs, published in 1870, is his most known book. It drew heavily from his life.

The year before, he had signed a six month contract to be the slave of his mistress, Baroness Fanny Pistor. When he married in 1873, he forced his wife to live out the story in the book, much to her dislike. The marriage did not survive it.

Madlen Meyer and Peter Seaton-Clark of English Theatre Leipzig perform “Venus in Fur.” © 2017 Kapuczino & ETL

Also in spring 2017, David Ives’ play Venus in fur hit the stage here in Leipzig.

It is the story of a playwright, Thomas, looking to cast his version of the stage play of the book. He is fed up with the inexperienced and lack-luster actresses who turn up for the audition. And then, as the lightening strikes, Vanda walks in.

This is also a story of seduction. You may think it’s about whips and chains. You may ask if it is he or she who does the seducing, like Byron brought up about Don Juan. You may wonder if it’s animal lust or mental manipulation like that of Casanova.

In my opinion, Vanda seduces Thomas through his passion. I don’t mean physical passion. I mean his passion for his art. She brings the words on the page to life. She forces him to get out of his mind and to actually embody the characters that fascinate him enough to want to create.

Vanda allows him to abandon the disconnect between his writing and real life. It may be only acting, but he’s never done it before. It’s new. It’s exciting. It’s dangerous.

Madlen Meyer (Vanda) and Peter Seaton-Clark (Thomas) switch back and forth between multiple versions of themselves as easily as children who have been brought up in bi-lingual homes switch mother tongues. Power play, role reversal, submission and dominance tango throughout.

I remember talking about tango with someone. I said I could never do it because I am not used to being led. He said, once you know the steps and allow yourself to become one with your partner, the woman is actually the one in control.

Artist, curator and writer: maeshelle west-davies gleans her varied life experiences to expose a personal perspective through a multitude of mediums.

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