Lothario is a male given name that came to suggest an unscrupulous seducer of women, based upon a character in The Impertinent Curious Man, a story within a story in Miguel de Cervantes' 1605 novel, Don Quixote.
Don Quixote, Part One contains stories that do not directly involve the two main characters, but which are narrated by some of the picaresque figures encountered by Quixote and Sancho during their travels. The longest and best known story is, El Curioso Impertinente (The Impertinently Curious Man), in Part One, Book Four, chapters 33-35. It is a story-within-a-story that is read to a group of travellers at an inn, about a Florentine nobleman, Anselmo, who becomes obsessed with testing his wife's fidelity and talks his close friend, Lothario, into attempting to seduce her.
In Part Two, the author acknowledges criticism of his digressions in Part One and promises to concentrate the narrative on the central characters. At one point he laments, however, that his narrative muse has been constrained by the change in the writing style.
The story within the story relates that for no particular reason, Anselmo decides to test the fidelity of his wife, Camilla, and asks his friend, Lothario, to seduce her. Thinking that to be madness, Lothario reluctantly agrees, and soon reports to Anselmo that Camilla is a faithful wife. Anselmo learns that Lothario has lied and attempted no seduction. He makes Lothario promise to try in earnest and leaves town to make this easier. Lothario tries and Camilla writes letters to her husband telling him of the attempts by Lothario and asking him to return. Anselmo makes no reply and does not return. Lothario then falls in love with Camilla, who eventually reciprocates, an affair between them ensues, but is not disclosed to Anselmo, and their affair continues after Anselmo returns.
One day, Lothario sees a man leaving Camilla's house and jealously presumes she has taken another lover. He tells Anselmo that, at last, he has been successful and arranges a time and place for Anselmo to see the seduction. Before this rendezvous, however, Lothario learns that the man was the lover of Camilla's maid. He and Camilla then contrive to deceive Anselmo further: when Anselmo watches them, she refuses Lothario, protests her love for her husband, and stabs herself lightly in the breast. Anselmo is reassured of her fidelity. The affair restarts with Anselmo none the wiser.
Later, the maid's lover is discovered by Anselmo. Fearing that Anselmo will kill her, the maid says she will tell Anselmo a secret the next day. Anselmo tells Camilla that this is to happen and Camilla expects that her affair is to be revealed. Lothario and Camilla flee that night. The maid flees the next day. Anselmo searches for them in vain before learning from a stranger of his wife's affair. He starts to write the story, but dies of grief before he can finish.
"Lothario" is also a character in Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (1795-96) and also in the play, The Fair Penitent (1703), by Nicholas Rowe, based on the earlier seventeenth-century play, The Fatal Dowry (which drew on Cervantes). In Rowe's play, Lothario is a libertine who seduces and betrays "Calista"; and its success is arguably the source for the proverbial nature of his name in subsequent English culture--as when Anthony Trollope wrote a century later of "the elegant fluency of a practised Lothario".
An allusion is made to "Lothario" in William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! when referring to Charles Bon, the proclaimed ladies-man and woman-seducer who is about to marry a woman while already being married.
In the opera Mignon by Ambroise Thomas, "Lothario" is the elderly father of the heroine and in no way a seducer.
The Bart Howard song, famously performed by Frank Sinatra, "Man in the Looking Glass", contains these lines: "Where's our young Romeo, the lad who used to sigh? / Who's the middle-aged Lothario with a twinkle in his eye?"; and Lorenz Hart achieves a typically smart yet wistful and poignant triple-rhyme on the name in "Where's That Rainbow?" The middle eight bars run: "In each scenario/ You can depend on the end where the lovers agree/ Where's that Lothario?/ Where does he roam with his dome Vaselined as can be?" In the song "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan," by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz, the singer laments, "My boiling point is far too low/For me to try to be a fly Lothario." The song "Who's That Woman" in Stephen Sondheim's ''Follies'', contains the lines: "Who's been riding for a fall?/Whose Lothario let her down?"
"Lothario" is mentioned in passing in the second chapter of Colson Whitehead's memoir The Noble Hustle.