“He’s a Don Juan, yes he is!”

With Tinder hookups and casual canoodling on the dance floor, we are far from the 19th century near-universal condemnation of premarital physical affection. In José Zorilla’s “Don Juan Tenorio,” where we re-encounter the classic libertine, womanizer archetype of Don Juan, we are reminded of an era where physical affection defined eternal commitment, where marriage meant status, and society held only women accountable to this standard.

Although not all of us may have read this post-Enlightenment play, we are familiar with the concept of Don Juan — the suave, charismatic, man-whore who is both “criticized” and secretly admired for the number of women he has bedded. While he moves from woman to woman, he nonchalantly ruins their lives simply by taking their virginities. For 21st century young adults, however, touch has lost much of its power, and Don Juan highlights how this devaluation of touch has allowed love — at least in larger proportion than before — to slowly shift away from a giver-and-taker dynamic to an equal partnership.

“To conquer a woman,” means to take a woman to bed. As Zorilla demonstrates, the word “conquer” invokes sentiments of submission and objectification. In fact, the author compares Don Juan to Hernan Cortes, the infamous Spanish conquistador who conquered the Aztec Empire through bloody war, scheming and illness. Through this comparison, we immediately catch the implicit metaphor, relating women to a piece of ownable land. Readers can reckon that the power of touch can signify the power to steal — in this case a woman’s ownership of her body. However, this Valentine’s day, people may decide to spend their time, not with significant others, but rather with the casual friends with benefits they met in seminar. Physicality may be casual, transactional, but with the premise of mutual respect.

The debate about the “good” in these types of relationships may still be up in the air; however, the fact remains that purity, specifically for women, is no longer required for love — which is a wonderful development. Zorilla’s play criticizes the double standards of purity in love during the 1800s and before. When Don Luis and Don Juan bet on who can bed the most women, and Don Juan beds Don Luis’ fiancée by pretending to be Don Luis, Don Luis claims “I loved her, yes. But after what you have dared, neither of us can have her, now she’s abandoned,” even though Don Luis is the one abandoning his fiancée, because of her “loss in purity.” The double standard of purity further presents itself in his ex-fiancée’s complete acceptance of Don Luis’ extensive sexual escapades during their betrothal, simply because of their gender roles.

Though some men still have fantasies about an innocent and pure woman, Zorilla’s work contrasts with our modern-day category of “attractive qualities.” Through Don Juan’s love interest, Dona Ines, we realize that much of his unique attraction for this particular woman stems from her nun-like purity. In fact, he falls in love with her as he hears about how “she’s never conceived of pleasure, outside her poor dwelling’s measure, treated from infancy like a treasure, with careful strictness,” as if it were not only her physical but mental inexperience that makes her so attractive. With Don Juan’s enthusiastic reaction, Zorilla explains that love and attraction in the 1800s stemmed much from the “innocence” of a woman and the “experience” of a man. In this day, however, this type of inexperience is no longer a marker of attractiveness, a change that illustrates the development of what we find attractive.

Still, many societies around the world still prize the sort of innocence that Zorilla expounds as an attractive quality, yet, this expectation of purity is almost always a rule that applies only to women. However, in much of our immediate environment, though we may see the lingering effects of these previous stigmas, touch no longer holds its ruinous power. Love and attraction is slowly moving past the Don Juan era of masculine debauchery and feminine submission.

Allison Chen allison.chen@yale.edu