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Juan, captured by Turkish pirates and sold into slavery is bought by a beautiful Princess as her toy-boy. Dressed as an odalisque, he is smuggled into the Sultan’s harem for a steamy assignation. Unbelievably, Byron’s publisher almost baulked at this feast of allusive irony, blasphemy (mild), calumny, scorn, lesse-majeste, cross-dressing, bestiality, assassination, circumcision and dwarf-tossing. This was the last Canto published by the stuffy John Murray (who had, however, made a tidy fortune on the earlier parts of the Epic). Although Byron’s mood starts, after this, to grow darker and his bitterness at English hypocrisy to grow sharper, his discursive comedy and precise and intriguing rhyme is rarely better than in Canto V.
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