In order to grasp the full meaning of Lord Byrons Don Juan, the style, the speaker, the listener, and the literal and underlying meaning of the poem must be analyzed. Don Juan is a mock epic that vividly narrates the exploits of the infamous character of the title. This poem is considered Lord Byrons (a. k. a George Gordon) masterpiece and placed Byron on the list of one of the great poets of the Romantic Period. Byrons style is different of that of any other nineteenth century poets.
In Don Juan, Byron evolves a form that best fits his subject. The style used in Don Juan is personal and subjective, but the themes are universal (Boyd 109). Byron uses language that expresses a full range of emotions which lends to Don Juans amazing tone and tremendous energy. This tone and the energy also come from Byrons complete understanding of the spoken language (Bottrall 108).
In his poetry, especially in Don Juan, Lord Byron demonstrates the rhythmic ideals of colloquial English through the devices he employs. The huddled speed of question and answer, parenthesis, court gossip, innuendo, thrust, and repartee, is breath-taking (Bottrall 109). Byron sticks with a common ABABA BCC rhyme scheme throughout Don Juan along with the normal word-order, and yet the rhythms of everyday speech are also introduced and meshed with all of the intricate stanza work. This produces a frantic energy in the poem that alleviates the potency of the story. The way that Lord Byron fits form to subject in Don Juan adds immensely to the enjoyment of the poem an many levels. Don Juan is told from the perspective of the main character, Don Juan.
He is a classic Byronic hero, characterized by his moods passion, and dark sexual allure (Keith 87). Don Juan is considered by most to be autobiographical, though none of the love scene are strictly so. Byron approaches many subjects through Don Juans exploits and handles them all playfully on the surface, but with an underlying seriousness (Boyd 109). Through his main character, Lord Byron explains the confusion and loss of reputation in his life brought on by love affairs (Boyd 112). He also condemns the hypocrisy of society's and individuals ideals of love and especially marriage. In accordance with his beliefs on these ideals, Byron proceeds to make Juan out to be a hero in every respect of his life except in his relations with women, giving the listener a peephole in which Byron is revealing a bit of himself.
Byron explains or excuses the behavior in his own life by writing about Don Juan. He says, This is how the human being is evolved whom the world ignorantly dubs a Don Juan. Hypocrisy, violence, and vicious self-indulgence in individuals combine with an unnatural civilization to ruin the pristine beauty and purity of the human heart (Boyd 112). In most literature containing references to Don Juan he is portrayed as deceitful and immoral, but in Byrons Don Juan he is shown to be an innocent, beautiful, and charming young man whose way with women leads to many sticky situations. The ingenuity of this poem is the lapses in the story in which Lord Byron has interjected his own reflections on the subject. In this way Byron both separates himself from Juan and simply displays their similarities.
Lord Byron wrote Don Juan in a period of literary history when conservatism ruled. Public tastes were controlled by groups such as the Society for Suppression of Vice, and many writers and publishers feared prosecution for immoral material. In fact the first two cantos of Don Juan were in jeopardy of being edited out of the poem because of their content. In this atmosphere, Byron wrote his most risqu poems in response to and possibly because of the increasing conservatism. Don Juan is a satire of the political and social problems during the Romantic Age and clearly is a release from the prudish, censored works of the time. It is a direct plea to an audience of readers to discern the truth of his words and statements on life in his mixture of sexual and adventure themes.
The literal and underlying meaning of Don Juan are, in instances, both clearly stated and ambiguously interchanged. Though Byrons preoccupation is with all things romantic, he writes of politics, religion, metaphysics, history, and nature. He uses a plethora of themes to reiterate his main theme of Nature vs. Civilization. The best summary of the themes of Don Juan is found at the end of Canto VII, Love - Tempest - Travel - War (Byron 109). Byron wrote a poem with deep literal meaning in the form of a light-hearted, adventuresome, sex-laden tale to attract an audience whose ignorance overrode their ability to grasp the severity of the problems in their lives. In this sense, Lord Byron succeeds in capturing the truth in human nature and was left with a poem that has been enjoyed through the ages.