Authors: Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French playwright

Author Works

Drama:

Eugénie, pr., pb. 1767 (The School of Rakes, 1795)

Les Deux Amis: Ou, Le Négociant de Lyon, pr., pb. 1770 (The Two Friends: Or, The Liverpool Merchant, 1800)

Le Barbier de Séville: Ou, La Précaution inutile, pr., pb. 1775 (The Barber of Seville: Or, The Useless Precaution, 1776)

La Folle Journée: Ou, Le Mariage de Figaro, wr. 1775-1778, pr. 1784 (The Marriage of Figaro, 1784)

Tarare, pr., pb. 1787 (libretto; music by Antonio Salieri)

L’Autre Tartuffe: Ou, La Mère Coupable, pr. 1792 (Frailty and Hypocrisy, 1804)

Théâtre, pb. 1966

Nonfiction:

Mémoires, 1773-1774

Biography

Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (kah-rohn duh boh-mahr-shay) is one of the few outstanding French writers of prose comedy during the eighteenth century. He is best known for his two great plays, The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro, which were set as operas by Gioacchino Rossini and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and for his action-filled career as watchmaker, businessman, secret agent, and financier of revolutions. Born to the bourgeois jeweler Charles Caron, Beaumarchais first learned his father’s trade before becoming the music teacher to one of the daughters of Louis XV. Having married advantageously, he became wealthy through careful speculations; these investments enabled him in 1761 to buy the title of royal secretary to Louis, who conferred noble rank upon him. After traveling throughout most of Europe on various official and private missions, he became embroiled in a series of lawsuits in Paris. His accounts of his trials, notably that involving Goezman, as told in his Mémoires, made his reputation as a caustic, effective, and popular writer.{$I[AN]9810000684}{$I[A]Beaumarchais, Pierre-Augustin Caron de}{$S[A]Caron, Pierre-Augustin;Beaumarchais, Pierre-Augustin Caron de}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Beaumarchais, Pierre-Augustin Caron de}{$I[tim]1732;Beaumarchais, Pierre-Augustin Caron de}

Beaumarchais’s literary career was as stormy as his personal life. The Barber of Seville, which was based on an unfortunate alliance between his sister and the Spanish writer José Clavijo, was prohibited in 1773, then received with great success two years later. This play, which seems to borrow situation and plot from an older Italian comedy and from Molière’s The School for Wives, ridicules the figure of the jealous guardian. The latter, in love with his young ward, finds himself at the mercy of the girl, her true lover, Count Almaviva, and several sly servants and persons of lower caste, including the barber Figaro. Despite the conventionality of plot and characters–the play abounds in conspiracies and disguises, quid pro quos, and the usual stock comic situations and types–The Barber of Seville comes alive through the dexterity and wit with which Beaumarchais matches his characters and infuses originality into his scenes. What distinguishes The Barber of Seville from other French eighteenth century comedies is the blend of wit and cynicism in what seems at first to be a very traditional sentimental comedy. In The Barber of Seville, Beaumarchais portrays Count Almaviva as a sympathetic suitor who treats Rosine with respect.

The Marriage of Figaro picks up the story after the passage of some years; the count, now married to Rosine, here is depicted as a cynical womanizer. In this comedy, the brilliant sallies of the barber take on political significance, and Figaro emerges as a strong individual and an even stronger symbol. He epitomizes the spirit of the French Revolution and thus, in a sense, the spirit of France. The Marriage of Figaro was forbidden to be played for several years, and its 1784 premiere met with unqualified success. In this work, Beaumarchais turns comedy into what has been called universal satire–diatribes and insinuations against lawyers, courtiers, and the privileged classes in general, who, says Figaro, are often inferior to their servants. Like The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro is an elaborate construction of intrigue and incident. The main plot concerns the outwitting of Count Almaviva, the romantic lead of The Barber of Seville now turned libertine, by Figaro and the women of the play, one of whom is Figaro’s own fiancé, whom the count is pursuing. The high point of the play is Figaro’s famous monologue of the last act, in which he sums up his protests against the prevailing social and political order in France. The Marriage of Figaro is much more than a social satire, however, for Beaumarchais also describes with sensitivity different images of love, from the innocence of teenagers to the mature love of the countess, who tricks her husband into confessing his infidelity and makes him promise to end his adulterous affairs. The Marriage of Figaro is the most remarkable dramatic production of the century, and, a mixture of all comic genres, it is a veritable portrait of the period in which it appeared.

The playwright’s last years were marked, typically, by unusual events. He published the first complete edition of the works of Voltaire (1785-1790), furnished arms to the American revolutionists, became a revolutionary official in France (he had been a secret agent for Louis XVI), and later fled his country as an émigré. He died in Paris three years after his return from exile.

BibliographyCox, Cynthia. The Real Figaro: The Extraordinary Career of Caron de Beaumarchais. New York: Coward-McCann, 1962. A reliable biography.Dunkley, John. Beaumarchais: “Le Barbier de Séville.” Critical Guides to French Texts 86. London: Grant and Cutler, 1991. A critical appraisal of Beaumarchais’s The Barber of Seville. Includes a bibliography.Grendel, Frédéric. Beaumarchais: The Man Who Was Figaro. New York: T. Y. Crowell, 1977. An examination of the life and work of Beaumarchais. Includes a bibliography and index.Howarth, W. D. Beaumarchais and the Theatre. New York: Routledge, 1995. Howarth examines six of Beaumarchais’s plays and their reception by audiences, placing them within the context of pre-revolutionary France. He traces the dramatist’s legacy in nineteenth century vaudeville and twentieth century comic drama. Includes a bibliography and index.Kite, Elizabeth S. Beaumarchais and the War of American Independence. 2 vols. Boston: R. G. Badger, 1918. Describes Beaumarchais’s contribution to the American Revolution. Includes a foreword by James M. Beck.Lever, Maurice. Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. Vol. 1. Paris: Fayard, 1999. In French. This volume, titled L’irrésistible ascension (1732-1774), covers Beaumarchais’s early years and his career leading up to The Barber of Seville.Niklaus, Robert. Beaumarchias: “Le Mariage de Figaro.” Critical Guides to French Texts 21. London: Grant and Cutler, 1995. Niklaus provides a critical examination of Beaumarchais’s The Marriage of Figaro. Includes a bibliographyRatermanis, J. B., and W. R. Irwin. The Comic Style of Beaumarchais. New York: Greenwood Press, 1969. Examines the literary style and technique of Beaumarchais.Sungolowsky, Joseph. Beaumarchais. New York: Twayne, 1974. Remains an excellent general introduction. Also contains an annotated bibliography of important critical studies.Thomas, Hugh. Beaumarchais in Seville: An Intermezzo. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006. A brief history of the time Beaumarchais spent in Madrid which influenced the creation of his most famous characters. Includes bibliography and index.
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