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(as I said) ( ©. ±)
(to a modest mind) (©. ±µ)
(I think) ( ©. ±)
“ how / Could you ask such a question? but we will / Continue. ( ©. )
Scenes of interrogation and critical scrutiny recur throughout the canto
as the shifts in the narrative necessitate a reappraisal of expectations.
We are invited to share the misery of Gulbeyaz™s jealousy to the extent
that her ˜catechism of questions™ (©. ±°°) and her ˜convulsion™ (stanzas
±°“±±) invoke a memory of Othello, while Baba™s behaviour offers a
further re¬‚ection of Iago™s temptation:

But there seemed something that he wished to hide,
Which hesitation more betrayed than masqued.
(©. ±°°)

By the time we reach this re¬guration of Othello, however, we realise that
Gulbeyaz™s enquiries about ˜where and how/ [ Juan] had passed the
night™ (©. ) re¬‚ect the reader™s own curiosity. The narrative process
¬gures not only Gulbeyaz, but also Byron™s contemporary audience as
creatures of ˜sensual phantasy™ (. ±). A self-torturing desire to have
the worst suspicions con¬rmed applies not only to Gulbeyaz, but also to
Byron™s feminine ˜arbiters of taste™ in ˜moral England, where the thing™s
a tax™ (©. ). Once again, the particularity of ˜the thing™ is designed to
discomfort systematised morality.
Queen Caroline™s trial for divorce showed how a salacious appetite for
sexual misdemeanour went to the heart of the English Establishment “
Castlereagh spent six years gathering sheets and rehearsing witnesses.
The political scandal is advertised as part of the fabric of canto © when
Byron invokes ˜“A strange coincidence,” to use a phrase / By which such
things are settled now-a-days™ (©. ·). This intrusion of contemporary
factual material disturbs the texture of Dudù™s dream explanation, and
±±
˜Don Juan™, digressive intertextuality and the risks of reception
the signalled quotation to the Caroline trial reminds readers how strange
it is that they allow themselves to be shocked by every trace of sexual
nuance in Don Juan. Like Iago, the English Tories at the Caroline trial
had gloated over the possibility of female lust and, like Othello, they were
threatened by signs that they themselves were induced to discover in Don
Juan.°
Although public reaction to his poem took the form of perpetual
affront, Byron insistently pointed out that his precursors had not pro-
voked similar moral outrage:

I say no more than has been said in Dante™s
Verse, and by Solomon and by Cervantes;

By Swift, by Machiavel, by Rochefoucault,
By Fenelon, by Luther, and by Plato;
By Tillotson, and Wesley, and Rousseau,
Who knew this life was not worth a potato.
(©©. “)

Byron™s use of Shakespeare in canto © of Don Juan allowed distant readers
in England, as well as readers in the intimate Pisan circle, to participate
in ˜things the turning of a hair or feather / May settle™. Once Juan and
Dudù stand before Gulbeyaz, Byron leaves the reader to guess their fate:
˜far be™t from me™, the narrator claims, ˜to anticipate / In what way
feminine Caprice may dissipate™ (©. ±±). It has been argued that by the
time he was writing canto ©, Byron no longer expected English women
to be among his readers. But this may be an overstatement. In ±
the production of Othello by the Pisan circle was ˜laid aside™ as Edward
Williams put it. Medwin was more explicit: ˜All at once a dif¬culty arose
about a Desdemona, and the Guiccioli put her Veto on our theatricals.™±
Byron had obtained permission from his Dictatress to continue Don Juan;
but the risks of ˜feminine Caprice™ offer greater not lesser in¬‚uence as
Byron™s epic digresses towards home.
In the siege cantos, the notion of risk itself is not merely a wayward
particular but becomes a part of the poem™s fabric. In these cantos, the va-
garies of chance double as the texture of reading. The reader of Don Juan
will recognise Shakespearean allusions as one of the poem™s most frequent
invitations to digress; there are, however, other trails of intertextuality
which run parallel with (or sometimes cross) every trace we elect to fol-
low. Canto ©©©, for example, contains signalled allusions to Wordsworth,
± Byron, Poetics and History
the prayer book burial service, popular song, military jargon, the Book
of Psalms, Shakespeare, Cowper and the Book of Daniel. It also sustains
a running dialogue with Castelnau. Whether the reader follows some or
all of this shadowy trail is open to chance and it is to the poem™s con¬g-
urations of chance and contingency that we turn in the next section of
this chapter.
It is unsurprising that Byron should have a more enhanced awareness
of the dynamics of risk than any other poet in the period. The work of
social and economic historians such as Anthony Giddens in our own
time has proposed that conscious engagement with risk is one of the de-
termining characteristics of modernity. Whereas William Wordsworth
deplored the accelerating unpredictabilities of the industrial age, and
looked for stability in timeless ¬gures of endurance like pedlars, shep-
herds or leech gatherers (mainly divested of the troublesome particular-
ity of merchandise, sheep or leeches), Byron inscribed the uncertainty of
the modern world and its fatalistic implications for authorship into the
texture of his poems.
On ± July ±± John Murray began a letter to Byron:
My Lord
La Sort est jett© “ Don Juan was published yesterday, and having ¬red the
Bomb “ here I am out of the way of its explosion “ its publication has excited
a very great degree of interest “ public <opinion be> expectation having risen
up like the surrounding boats on the Thames when a ¬rst rate is struck from its
Stocks “ as yet my Scouts and dispatches afford little idea to public opinion “ it
certainly does not appear to be what they had chosen to anticipate. ( MS., John
Murray Archive)

In its early days, Murray and Byron continually referred to the publica-
tion of Don Juan in terms of a shared military campaign against public
opinion: Murray is here using a French version of ˜the die is cast™ “ words
Plutarch attributes to Caesar on crossing the Rubicon. The roll of the
dice and meditations on ˜Chance, Providence, or Fate™ (©©. ·) seem to
have preoccupied Byron during a period of fraught ¬nancial dealing in
±°. Between April and July ±°, Murray delayed the publication of
cantos ©©© and © unsure of how they would affect his reputation. Mean-
while, Byron was preoccupied with mortgage funds and insurance and
was subject to con¬‚icting advice from Kinnaird and Hanson:
Between the devil and deep Sea,
Between the Lawyer and Trustee? “
±
˜Don Juan™, digressive intertextuality and the risks of reception
. . . I am at my wits™ end betwixt your contrary opinions . . . I prefer higher
Interest for my Money (like everyone else I believe) and shall be glad to make
as much as I can at the least risk possible. (BLJ, ©©, p. )
In a subsequent piece of correspondence on the same ¬nancial dilemma,
Byron substituted for his epigram on indecision a quotation from Gay™s
Beggar™s Opera:
˜Or this way, or that way, or which way I will “
Whate™er I decide, t™other bride will take ill. “™.
(BLJ, ©©, p. ·)
Byron™s ¬nances were bound up in a marriage settlement with Lady
Byron, so it is perhaps unsurprising that the ¬‚uctuations of funds and
rates of interest slide into references to sexual mutability. In June Byron
decided that he would ˜make no further limitation about the price of
Stocks “ and must take [his] chance™ (BLJ, ©©, p. ±±), and these ¬nan-
cial arrangements ran into those for the of¬cial separation of Teresa
Guiccioli from her husband (˜committing [herself ], forever™(BLJ, ©©,
p. ±±°)). The mixed scenario of ¬nancial and sexual uncertainty with
the accompanying dynamics of risk and return, can be traced in Byron™s
writing during these months. In Marino Faliero, the Doge recurrently links
his fortune with the roll of the dice.
¤§. The die is cast. (©. . l. µ)
¤§. I have set my little left
Of life upon this cast: the die was thrown.
(©©©. ±. ll. µ“µ)
¤§. The die is thrown . . .
I am settled and bound up, and being so,
The very effort which it cost me to
Resolve to cleanse this commonwealth with ¬re,
Now leaves my mind more steady.
(©. . ll. ; ·“)
Part of the material included by Byron in his appendix for Marino Faliero
dealt with the history of casinos in Venice:
It was a strange sight to see persons of either sex masked, or grave in their
magisterial robes, round a table, invoking chance, and giving way at one instant
to the agonies of despair, at the next to the illusion of hope, and that without
uttering a single word. (CPW, ©, ll. µ± “)
The dramatic potential of such a scene is evident, but it would also
have appealed to Byron as an exploration of the contingencies which
± Byron, Poetics and History
shaped his own career and which were particularly pressing at this mo-
ment. Marino Faliero was written during a period of suspension in the
composition of Don Juan since Murray was delaying over publication of
cantos ©©© and ©. Canto  was written between October and December
±° and, as we have seen, ± has been established as a turning-point
in the history of Don Juan. In cantos ©© and ©©© we can see a heightened
frequency of images of risk and ¬nancial calculation as Byron counted
the cost of an impending divorce from his publisher and from a portion
of his readership.
Augmented images of gaming and hazard work along with an in-
creased frequency of marked parenthesis and allusion, to expose the
poem still further to the chanciness of readerly participation. If we exa-
mine the relationship between the signalled allusions and the fainter
echoes, we become more aware of the intricate unreliability of litera-
ture itself. As Peter Cochran has shown , Byron™s free use of Castelnau,
his ˜instinct to depart from his authenticating source whenever artistic
whim dictates™, suggests that Don Juan™s concern with ˜facts™ is inextricably
bound up with an acceptance of the risk that truth may be ˜translate[d]™.
Whereas in the war cantos this perception becomes the basis for baiting
Byron™s English readers, the English cantos, as we shall see, explore the
possibility of a shared experience of the arbitrary.
Canto ©© is framed by evocations of uncertainty: in stanza ± Byron
invokes ˜Love™ and ˜Glory™:
we lift on high
Our eyes in search of either lovely light.
And in the ¬nal stanza ·, we pass through a critical moment, ˜that
awful pause, dividing life from death™, when we are alerted to ˜the shouts
of either faith / Hurrah! and Allah!™ The use of the word ˜either™ with
its hint of arbitrary human circumstances, the literary duplication of a
physical shrug, is continued in the image of Suwarrow as a ˜dancing
Light, / Which all who saw it followed, wrong or right™ (©©. ).µ The
narration at this point refuses to endorse any single course of action, and
its digressions persistently draw attention to the risks and liabilities of
warfare. The text weaves the stock phrases of Homeric battle with the
vocabulary of gaming and ¬nancial dealing, so that the ˜heroic action™
at Ismail is inextricably bound up with the speculative economic base of
Regency England:
The second object was to pro¬t by
The moment of the general consternation,
±µ
˜Don Juan™, digressive intertextuality and the risks of reception
To attack the Turk™s ¬‚otilla, which lay nigh
Extremely tranquil, anchored at its station:
But a third motive was as probably
To frighten them into capitulation;
A phantasy which sometimes seizes warriors,
Unless they are game as Bull-dogs and Fox-terriers.
(©©. )
The ¬rst line was suggested by Castelnau™s ˜ Le second objet ©tait de
pro¬ter™, but Byron emphasised the chanciness of gaming by using
˜probably™ for ˜le plus plausible™ and by introducing the image of the
gaming ring. Byron™s insertion of a market frame of reference around
the battle scene suggests a double sense of ˜heavy losses™. The phrase ˜A
sad miscalculation™ (©©. ) uses a politely professional register to account
for a huge military blunder in the same way that the phrase ˜collateral
damage™ became notorious in the ±°s as shorthand for expendable
civilian casualties. By intermittently picking up the thread of sporting or
gaming vocabulary, Byron maximises the reader™s sense of incongruity
and also alerts us to different ways of counting the cost. Suwarrow, we are
told, ˜calculated life as so much dross™ (©©. ··) and he is ordered to take
Ismail ˜“at whatever price”™ (©©. °). The auctioneering and sporting
echoes can suggest the insouciance of the of¬cer class (whose insolent
behaviour was a source of great irritation and several speeches in the
House of Lords by Byron™s friend, the Earl of Essex):
Whether it was their engineer™s stupidity,
Their haste, or waste, I neither know nor care,
Or some contractor™s personal cupidity,
Saving his soul by cheating in the ware
Of homicide, but there was no solidity
In the new batteries erected there;
They either missed, or they were never missed,
And added greatly to the missing list.
(©©. ·)
In Hell, as W.H. Auden tells us, ˜inhabitants are identi¬ed not by name
but by number. They do not have numbers, they are numbers.™ The
word-play on ˜missed / missing™ mixes the luck of a shoot with the idea
of being shot at. The casino of institutional ¬nance recurs in stanza 
when Byron describes a cannonade ˜which was returned with interest™;
Suwarrow, we are told, ˜could afford to squander / His time™ (©©. µ).
This frequency of allusion to the hit-or-miss of market forces sug-
gests that as well as investing the war cantos with literary reference,
Byron has inscribed his narration with those ¬‚uctuating funds whose
± Byron, Poetics and History
degrees of risk so preoccupied him in ±°. By drawing attention to
the economic basis for ¬ghting or writing, Don Juan insists on the link
between systems of combat, commerce and the consumer-led literary
market:
The statesman, hero, harlot, lawyer “ ward
Off each attack, when people are in quest
Of their designs, by saying they meant well;
™Tis pity ˜that such meaning should pave Hell.™

I almost lately have begun to doubt
Whether Hell™s pavement “ if it be so paved “
Must not have latterly been quite worn out,
Not by the numbers Good Intent hath saved,
But by the mass who go below without
Those ancient good intentions, which once shaved
And smoothed the brimstone of that street of Hell
Which bears the greatest likeness to Pall Mall.
(©©©. µ“)

As McGann points out, ˜hell™, is slang for a gambling club; Byron had
already used this term in Hints from Horace (l. ; CPW, , p. ·) and
throughout July ± Galignani™s Messenger, the newspaper he read while
in Italy, reported that ˜prodigious sums have been lost in the H-lls™.· In
the stanza immediately following the ones on ˜Hell™ we encounter the
˜strange chance™ of Juan™s being separated from the rest of his side. Byron
alluded to an accident from his own career when he likened this to ˜one
of those odd turns of Fortune™s tides™ such as the division of ˜chastest
wives from constant husbands™ sides / Just at the close of the ¬rst bridal
year™ (©©©. ·), an allusion which hazards personal involvement.
The narrator™s own interest in the workings of ˜Chance, Providence,
or Fate™ (©©. ·) is foregrounded in his discussion of the unpredictable
˜roll of Fame™ (©©. ):
Renown™s all hit or miss;

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