Don Juan by Lord Byron

Don Juan is a satiric poem written by Lord Byron, based on the story of Don Juan. Byron reverses the legend, portraying Don Juan not as a womanizer but as someone easily seduced by women. The poem is written following the scheme of the ottava rima and is composed of a dedication and sixteen cantos, with an unfinished seventeenth canto that Byron couldn’t complete before his death in 1824.

The protagonist, Don Juan, can be seen more as a plot device than as a character, as the narrator is included into Byron himself. Byron becomes more central to the poem than the young hero. The adventures of Don Juan take inspiration from Byron’s own experiences and troubled relationships with the women in his life.

Lord Byron

“Lord Byron in Albanian dress” by Thomas Phillips 1813

Don Juan is a mock epic in that its protagonist is naïve and his adventures the result of accident.  The tone of the poem is comic. Byron himself called it an “Epic Satire”. In Canto I, Byron satirize the classical epics when he notes that “Most epic poets plunge in medias res”, and then states “This is the usual method, but not mine”.

Always self-conscious of his literary reputation, Byron includes literary and cultural criticism in his comedic epic. His dedication to Southey, Coleridge, and Wordsworth seems to be a distancing of his own low efforts from these poets’ great accomplishments, but even a superficial reading reveals his incisive critique of their discursive and verbose styles of writing.


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