The Muslim East in Byron's Don Juan

By Rishmawi, G. K. | Papers on Language & Literature, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

The Muslim East in Byron's Don Juan


Rishmawi, G. K., Papers on Language & Literature


The Eastern affinities which Byron developed while he was in Turkey and Greece, and which colored his Oriental Tales (Rishmawi 48-62), are still felt in his later poetry, particularly in his masterpiece. Yet it should be stated that although the East of the Tales is the same East of Don Juan, we notice important changes in Byron's attitude toward it. On the one hand, the East of the Tales offered Byron a perfect setting as well as a strong motive for his hero's involvement with eastern men and women, an involvement in which the Byronic hero indulges himself in violence and revenge, and suffers the subsequent feelings of guilt and remorse. On the other hand, the East of the Tales gave Byron an emotional by-pass which he so badly needed during his hectic years of fame and which prevented him from going mad. The East of Don Juan is of quite a different nature. Since Byron's memories of his Eastern experiences had almost faded by the time he wrote Don Juan, we notice that the material in it is not the result of first-hand experiences, but rather of Byron's readings and observations of Turkish history and manners. Thus, Byron's attitude toward the East in Don Juan is calculated, subtle, and satirical, a far cry from the passionate and obsessive attitude which we have seen in the Tales. Furthermore, Byron no longer needed to go to the East (in his imagination) in search of an emotional outlet, simply because in his later (and more mature) poetry Byron seems to have escaped from the feelings of guilt and remorse which, as Blackstone comments, "have dogged him from his pilgrimage years" (315). This shift in Byron's attitude toward the East coincides favorably with another shift in his poetical career, i.e., the shift from romances to satires in which, as Rutherford believes, Byron found his real voice as a poet (A Critical Study 142).

Having established the direction of Byron's approach toward the Eastern material in Don Juan, we move into the consideration and analysis of the Eastern elements in his longest poem, which are concentrated in the fifth and sixth cantos and referred to in the seventh and the eighth. One can say that Byron's involvement with the East in Don Juan is focused on the seraglio, the symbol of Eastern power and corruption and the most powerful aspect of the Muslim East in the western imagination. Byron's interest in the seraglio is two-fold: social and political. At the social level, Byron exposes the inhabitants of the seraglio-the Sultan, his favorite wife (Sultana Gulbeyaz), his maids and eunuch-and reveals the perverse patterns which characterize the relationships which exist among them, as well as those which they have with the outside world. This perversity is strongly felt in the dramatic encounter between Gulbeyaz and Juan, in the Sultan's attitude toward his wives and many maids, and in the harem, the most secretive wing of the seraglio. At the political level, Byron criticizes the reckless, indifferent, and lustful master of the seraglio, and partially blames him for the catastrophic siege of Ismail which resulted in the death of thousands of innocent people. Moreover, the seraglio helps Byron launch his severest attack against tyranny and tyrants (in this case the Sultan and Gulbeyaz)1 who abuse the power invested in them by their people. Yet one has to remember that Byron's relentless fight against Turkish tyrants does not prevent him from appreciating the courage and heroism of Turkish soldiers who die in the defense of their homes, and from making Juan, his hero, risk his life for the sake of saving Leila, the orphan Turkish child. In fact, Byron achieves a high level of moral impartiality 2 in his objective attitude toward the siege and the subsequent destruction of the Turkish city of Ismail. It serves as his strongest reason for condemning aimless wars and vain generals.

Before we discuss Byron's exposition of the intricate social life in the seraglio, and his realistic, serio-comic, and psychological analysis of the characters of its inhabitants, it is important to dwell upon the manner in which Juan, Byron's hero, actually enters the seraglio-a place reserved for people of royal background or connections, or to the Sultan's harem and eunchs. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Muslim East in Byron's Don Juan
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.