Summary and Analysis Canto VI



Canto VI is a continuation of the story of Juan in the harem. Since there is no bed available for Juan at the moment, the "Mother of the Maids," who is in charge of the harem, decides that "Juanna" will have to share the bed of Dudji, a pretty odalisque of seventeen. In the middle of the night, when all the harem is asleep, Dudji screams so loudly that she awakens all her companions, who hurry to see what is wrong. Dudji, with some embarrassment, explains that she dreamt that she was walking in a wood and came to a tree on which hung a golden apple. After she had tried in vain to get the apple, it fell down of its own accord at her feet. When she picked it up to bite into it, a bee flew out of it and stung her. At this point in her strange dream she awoke with a loud scream. Dudji is extremely apologetic for the disturbance she has caused, and the harem finally settles down to sleep again.

When the sultana awakes the following morning, she sends for Baba to find out what disposition has been made of Juan. Baba tries to keep the truth from her, but her close questioning forces him to confess that Juan has shared the couch of Dudji. When the sultana learns this, she is infuriated and commands Baba to summon the two and to prepare to dispose of them in the usual way: tie them in sacks and drop them into the sea. Baba tries to get her to change her mind, but he soon sees that she is inflexible.


Canto VI is considerably less interesting than the preceding cantos. The story element is small, and the random comments on love and women slow down the pace to a crawl. That is not to say that the canto is dull. There is interest of some kind in every stanza that helps to make up for the dearth of narrative material. If the hundreds of stanzas of Don Juan may be compared to diamonds, there are none of them that do not have at least one good facet, a thought, a pun, a well expressed phrase or line, or an ingenious rhyme. The reader is entertained by Byron's skill in expressing himself, by what he has to say, and by the cleverness shown in finishing off a stanza with a witticism.

Byron's inventiveness seems to have failed him once he had decided to let Juan spend a night in the harem. His problem was to get him out of the harem and into the war episode he had promised his readers in Canto I, Stanza 200. An attack on war must have been part of his design in bringing Juan to Turkey, which had been at war with its neighbors off and on since the establishment of the Turkish Empire. It was too soon to have Juan involved in a third love affair, and so Byron used the convenient arrival of the sultan to break off his Gulbeyaz-Juan scene just when Juan was on the point of succumbing to the appeal to tears on the part of the sultana.

The dream sequence in Canto VI is innuendo of a not very subtle kind, and Dudu's dream of a golden apple out of which flies a bee that stings her is scarcely absorbing. Byron's Pegasus has slowed down to a walk. His customary cleverness has failed him in this instance, and Dudji's dream, while it may serve to wake up a harem, doesn't capture the reader's interest. It serves Byron's purpose, however, which is to get Juan out of the seraglio in a plausible way. Had Dudji not screamed, Gulbeyaz would have had no reason for getting rid of Juan. It got Byron off the hook. The question may be raised whether Gulbeyaz, who was in intention unfaithful to her fifty-nine-year-old husband and who had to share him with some fifteen hundred other women, would have condemned Juan to death on the suspicion that he was unfaithful to her when she had no claim on his affections. She had merely bought his person, not his fidelity or loyalty.

The answer to this question may lie in the kind of character and personality Byron gives Gulbeyaz. She is a creature of whims and emotion who makes almost no use of her reason. She bought Juan to satisfy her lust; she condemns him to death to satisfy her craving for vengeance. It might not even occur to such a woman that a live Juan would serve her purposes even though he had fallen under suspicion of philandering.

In Canto VI Byron sacrificed an excellent opportunity to satirize the human phenomenon of polygamy. In Don Juan he satirizes any number of human failings, but in the case of the institution of the harem he confines himself to remarking that

Polygamy may well be held in dread,
Not only as a sin, but as a bore:
Most wise men with one moderate woman wed,
Will scarcely find philosophy for more;
And all (except Mahometans) forbear
To make the nuptial couch a "Bed of Ware." (St. 12)

Instead of satirizing he sentimentalizes over his vision of fifteen hundred imprisoned beauties longing for love. (In Canto V the number is a thousand; in Canto VI Byron raised it to fifteen hundred.)