When we last left Don Juan, he’d been sold into slavery and taken to Constantinople to be the plaything of the Sultan’s wife, Gulbeyaz. But right when she’s about to insist he sleep with her, her husband The Sultan arrives.
The Sultan is in his fifties and Gulbeyaz is in her twenties, much like Don Alfonso and Donna Julia in Canto 1. Also like that pair, the younger wife is looking for a younger lover in the form of Don Juan. However, in this case, Juan does not reciprocate her feelings. Another difference is the fact The Sultan has other wives and over a thousand concubines, so you’d think he wouldn’t be that jealous.
Gulbeyaz was the fourth, and (as I said)
The favourite; but what’s favour amongst four?
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.”
-Canto VI, Stanza 12
So, Gulbeyaz retires for the night with her husband while Don Juan, still impersonating a maid, retires with the other damsels and tries not to ogle them too much. They’re lead by a woman in charge of keeping them in line called the Mother of the Maids and guarded by eunuchs.
Since there are no men around, Byron compares the harem to “an Italian convent/Where all the passions have, alas! but one vent./ And what is that? Devotion, doubtless – how/Could you ask such a question?” (Canto VI, Stanzas 32-33) Hmm. I wonder what he’s implying here.
Anyway, the other damsels think Juan is an uncommonly beautiful woman and all take a liking to him. He tells them his name is Juanna and that he’s from Spain. They don’t know where Spain is, but they all fight over who gets to sleep with “her”. (You see, there’s not enough beds for “Juanna” to get “her” own.) The honor ends up falling to Dudu, who is the silent type. Byron then describes the chamber.
It was a spacious chamber (Oda is
The Turkish title), and ranged round the wall
Were couches, toilets – and much more than this
I might describe, as I have seen it all,
But it suffices – little was amiss;
‘Twas on the whole a nobly furnish’d hall,
With all the things ladies want, save one or two,
And even those were nearer than they knew.
-Canto VI, Stanza 51
By the way, Byron continues to break the fourth wall in this canto. For example, after an extremely long parenthetical statement about gold, Byron apologizes: “Kind reader! pass/This long parenthesis: I could not shut/It sooner for the soul of me” (Canto VI, Stanza 56).
Anyhow, “Juanna” and Dudu retire to bed. Later in the night, Dudu cries out and all rush to see what’s going on. When they get there, Dudu says she just had a bad dream in which she was about to eat a golden apple, but then got stung by a bee. I’m sure that’s all it was. Just a bad dream. Surely Lord Byron doesn’t mean to imply anything else was going on in Juan and Dudu’s bed that night. I mean, Juan refused to sleep with Gulbeyaz in the last canto because he was still mourning the loss of Haidee, right?
In an aside, we learn “about the Russians,/Whose victories had recently increased,/In Catherine’s reign, whom glory still adores/As greatest of all sovereigns and w—-s.” (Canto VI, Stanza 92) Hmm. I wonder what that missing word is that rhymes with “adores” and starts with W. I guess we’ll never know. Could it be…? Whoa. Not cool, Byron. Not cool.
The next morning, Gulbeyaz finds out that Juan and Dudu shared a bed and decides to kill them (and she didn’t even hear about the screams in the night). Her eunuch Baba tells her that killing Juan won’t make her feel better, to which she replies,
“What does thou know of love or feeling? – wretch!
Begone!” she cried, with kindling eyes, “and do
My bidding!” Baba vanish’d; for to stretch
His own remonstrance further, he well knew,
Might end in acting as his own “Jack Ketch;”
And, though he wish’d extremely to get through
This awkward business without harm to others,
He still preferr’d his own neck to another’s.
-Canto VI, Stanza 116
And that brings us to the end of Canto Six. Will our hero Juan be sent to heaven? Find out the next time in Canto Seven.