Libertines Real and Fictional in Rochester, Shadwell, Wycherley, and Boswell Page: 54
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DON JOHN, HIS FELLOW LIBERTINES, AND THEIR MISINTERPRETATIONS
OF LIBERTINISM AND HOBBESIAN PHILOSOPHY IN THOMAS
SHADWELL' S THE LIBERTINE
"Pleasure and power," writes Michel Foucault, "do not cancel or turn back against one
another; they seek out, overlap, and reinforce one another. They are linked together by complex
mechanisms and devices of excitation and incitement" (48). In The History of Sexuality.: An
Introduction (1978), Foucault argues that basic power structures-that is, social institutions
cannot function successfully without their subjects or those whom they seek to control.'
Similarly, the subjects cannot subvert social institutions or completely eradicate them.
Foucault's argument states that the relationship between power and sexuality (the pursuit of
pleasure) is symbiotic and the two are not mutually exclusive entities. Institutions cannot exist
without the presence and obedience of their opposition.
Foucault's theories about sexuality, social institutions, and power apply to Restoration
and eighteenth-century libertinism, more specifically to the libertine (and Cavalier) characters in
Thomas Shadwell's The Libertine.2 Shadwell satirizes cavalier friendship and libertinism,
especially in terms of the lengths to which cavaliers and libertines will go to compete with each
other for power-a power they cannot enjoy without the authority imposed upon them by social
institutions. His protagonist, Don John, has an anarchic need to overthrow social institutions
(rather than subverting them within the parameters set by them) and become the leader. This
makes Shadwell's portrayal of Don John a satire on libertinism in that Don John advocates
rebellion against the followers of all schools of thought that prevent him from fulfilling his goals.
'See Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Pantheon,
2 I will use the terms "libertine" and "Cavalier" interchangeably except when a distinction is deemed necessary.
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Smith, Victoria. Libertines Real and Fictional in Rochester, Shadwell, Wycherley, and Boswell, dissertation, May 2008; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc6051/m1/60/?q=rochester: accessed April 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .