Sunday, March 16, 2014

That Ol' Lothario

People sometimes refer to a seductive and sexually promiscuous man as a "Lothario," but where did our culture get this name?

Cervantes seems to have been the first writer to have a character named Lothario who was a seducer. On the English stage, however, there was another famous Lothario who appeared as the villain in Nicholas Rowe's play The Fair Penitent.

Rowe based his 1703 drama on The Fatal Dowry by Philip Massinger and Nathan Field, but he renamed the scoundrel character Lothario when he changed the setting from Dijon to Genoa. Though the character is amusing, he certainly is a cad. In the first act of the play, he brags to a friend how he snuck into the chamber of Calista and seduced her into giving up her virginity:

The yielding fair one gave me perfect happiness.
Ev'n all the livelong night we passed in bliss,
In ecstasies too fierce to last forever;
At length the morn and cold indifference came;
When fully sated with the luscious banquet,
I hastily took leave and left the nymph
To think on what was past, and sigh alone.

Lothario claims he loved Calista once, but he is open about the fact he seduced her mainly to shame her betrothed, Altamont. Calista begs him to marry her, but he refuses, offering instead only nights of passion when she can sneak away from her soon-to-be-husband.

Later, Lothario expresses his desire that his conquest "should be as public / As the noonday sun." Lothario is such a bald-faced villain, it's hard not to like him. He revels unapologetically in his sensuality. Even after he falls to Altamont in a duel, he continues to brag of his sexual prowess:

I conquered in my turn; in love I triumphed;
Those joys are lodged beyond the reach of fate;
That sweet revenge comes smiling to my thoughts,
Adorns my fall, and cheers my heart in dying.

The ending of The Fair Penitent is full of moralizing, but the character of Lothario looms larger than the play itself. It should come as no wonder that his name has become a byword for any seducer today.