Libertines Real and Fictional in Rochester, Shadwell, Wycherley, and Boswell Page: 56
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The Unrepentant Libertine
Shadwell's libertines both conform to and stray from standard libertine philosophy.
Samuel Mintz defines "libertinism" in the following: "the disregard of moral restraint, especially
in relations between the sexes" (Mintz 134). Mintz adds, "Hobbes was a 'libertine' because he
denied religion; the courtiers and wits were 'libertines' because they led dissolute, immoral
lives" and that "Hobbes's critics tried to show that the immoral conduct of the courtiers was
inspired by the free-thinking opinions of Hobbes" (134). Shadwell's characters, Don John, Don
Octavio, and Don Lopez, are upper class young gentlemen who lead "dissolute, immoral lives"
and reject social institutions, especially marriage, family, the Church, and government (134). In
terms of love, libertines adopted a "naturalistic concept of love between the sexes as only
physical appetite, the revolt against the custom of marriage as well as against the traditional
conventions and attitudes of courtly love" (Underwood 14). Similarly, libertines are
"antirationalist, denying the power of man through reason to conceive reality...the libertine
considered human laws and institutions as mere customs varying with the variations of societies
and characteristically at odds with Nature as, of course, with 'right reason'" (13-14).
While Restoration and eighteenth-century libertines may choose to defy institutions, they
do not attempt to overthrow them. Instead, they simply protest these authorities. Shadwell's
Don John and his libertine contemporaries, however, change the definition of libertinism so that
it includes an endorsement of destroying social institutions. This form of libertinism conforms to
the figure Andrew Williams identifies as the "unrepentant libertine" (95). According to
Williams, the "unrepentant libertine" possesses "a voracious sexual appetite, a permanent state of
skepticism, and a code of personal conduct... in which the pursuit of pleasure and power
remained paramount to the establishment and maintenance of his masculine identity" (Williams
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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/m1/62/?q=rochester: accessed November 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .