Libertines Real and Fictional in Rochester, Shadwell, Wycherley, and Boswell Page: 55
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Through the struggle to obtain and keep power, especially apparent in Don John, The
Libertine provides a negative representation of the Cavaliers. Don John's automatic (rather than
perfunctory and pleasurable) devotion to instincts, senses, and nature, as well as his need to
destroy rather than just challenge social institutions ultimately serve as critiques of libertinism
itself and libertines. Additionally, the misinterpretation of Hobbesian philosophy articulated in
Leviathan leads Shadwell's Don John and his libertine contemporaries to modify the definition
of libertinism so that it will conform to their own agendas.3 H. James Jensen writes, "The
Libertine is essentially a story of Hobbesian assumptions run amok, with no real check on the
gratification of antisocial individual appetites and passions of powerful, amoral aristocrats"
(363). Shadwell, through Don John and his cohorts, satirizes libertinism, Hobbes's philosophical
tenets, and tragedy as a genre.
Similarly, Shadwell, a Whig, uses the theater, patronized and reopened by Charles II
upon his return, to criticize libertines and libertinism. In doing so, Shadwell is using an outlet in
which his external audience, many of who are libertines themselves, represents those he
criticizes and satirizes in The Libertine. Therefore, the external audience sees their
misinterpretations of Hobbes and their constant revisions of libertinism exposed.
3 Before examining libertinism and its manifestations in The Libertine, it is worth briefly noting some of the existing
criticism about the play. A significant amount of the criticism about The Libertine focuses on the influence of the
Don Juan legend in the play, the variants existing between the renditions of the story-dramatic and poetic-written
about the legendary Don Juan character, and the ways Shadwell conforms to and subverts the Don Juan legend.
Claude La Rose, Sieur de Rosimond's Le Nouveau Festin de Pierre, ou L 'Athee Foudroye, which is a blank verse
adaptation of Moliere's play Le Festin de Pierre, is a primary source for Shadwell's version of the Don Juan legend
(Alssid 107). Shadwell, though he preserves little of the original Don Juan legend itself, presents his own rendering
of the Don Juan figure in his own character, Don John. In fact, Michael Alssid argues that Shadwell "intensified
[Don Juan's] brutality, making him barbarous leader of a trio of iconoclasts for whom all social, natural, and
religious laws (as civilization has preserved them) are irrelevant" (107). In The Libertine, the Don Juan character
becomes Don John, an imperfectly radical libertine who gives orders to his fellow libertines and serves as the model
upon which they base their own lives. I will focus on the ramifications of endorsing libertine ideas and engaging in
Cavalier friendship within The Libertine and the ways in which Don John and his libertine counterparts imperfectly
subvert the dominant authority-social institutions.
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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/m1/61/?q=rochester: accessed February 17, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .