Read Figaro vedybos by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais Free Online
Book Title: Figaro vedybos|
The author of the book: Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
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Date of issue: 2011
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“Mon cavalier, répondrez-vous à mes questions?”
At the culmination of this brilliant play, written just a few years before the beginning of the French Revolution, the all-powerful Comte de Almaviva challenges Figaro to answer his questions. Figaro, superbly, retorts:
“Eh! Qui pourrait m’en exempter, Monseigneur? Vous commandez à tout ici, hors à vous-même.”
That is the perfect definition of a tyrant: being in command of everything, except for himself. The play, which celebrates esprit and cunning intrigues to out-manoeuvre the abuse of privilege and power, is probably more well-known in its opera adaptation by Mozart. But the original by Beaumarchais is well worth reading in its own right, displaying a more acid political focus, which has proven to be relevant as a societal mirror over time, - leading to its being forbidden by the Vichy régime in the 1940s for example. A late honour - chapeau Beaumarchais!
I remember the first time I read it in a literature class at university. My professor had a predilection for humorous enlightenment thinkers, and Figaro was a character he loved to quote.
"Noblesse, fortune, un rang, des places, tout cela rend si fier! Qu'avez-vous fait pour tant de biens? Vous vous êtes donné la peine de naître, et rien de plus.”
When he read those famous lines from Figaro’s soliloquy, they stuck in students’ minds. All the arrogance and ridicule of a privileged position were highlighted in the hilarious idea of “Vous vous êtes donné la peine de naître, et rien de plus”.
Reading the play again, with a different focus now, the character of Figaro is still fascinating, but his companion, the intelligent young woman Suzanne, is even more striking. She is threatened by the institutionalised rape culture of the privileged class, fearing the Comte de Almaviva’s “droit de seigneur”, which “allows” him to claim the first night with the bride, should she marry Figaro. Not willing to submit to that cruel tradition, the plot develops around the various steps to be taken in order to outwit the power of the Comte. Add some confusion over identities, parental relationships, adultery and tricks, and you have the perfect 18th century play in a nutshell.
Just like Leontes in The Winter's Tale, Almaviva is rehabilitated in the end, reconciled with his wife, not opposing Figaro and Suzanne anymore:
“J’ai voulu ruser avec eux; ils m’ont traité comme un enfant!”
Oh, the luxury of a dictator who is able to detect his own childlike foolishness! The cheerful ending does not weaken the serious arguments raised in the play, however, as they are repeated in a final song, sung by different characters taking turns. The ideas of injustice and power abuse are accentuated and discussed, reflecting on the topics in the preceding action. Beaumarchais’ Suzanne sings out loudly what Shakespeare’s women hinted at implicitly:
“Qu’un mari sa foi trahisse;
Il s’en vante et chacun rit:
Que sa femme ait un caprice,
S’il l’accuse on la punit.
De cette absurde injustice
Faut-il dire le pourquoi?
Les plus forts ont fait la loi.”
The inequality between men and women plainly called “cette absurde injustice”, Figaro’s monologue denouncing the privileges of the nobility, a side discourse on the role of the child born out of wedlock: all these themes show the groundbreaking modernity of Beaumarchais’ political vision put on stage for wide reception. In pre-social media times, the theatre held an important role in spreading ideas. With Figaro praising wit (“l’esprit”) as the way to change an unjust, unequal society, he sets the task for centuries to come:
“Par le sort de la naissance,
L’un est roi, l’autre est berger:
Le hasard fit leur distance;
L’esprit seul peut tout changer.
De vingt rois que l’en encense,
Le trépas brise l’autel,
Et Voltaire est immortel.”
As Figaro closes with Voltaire, I will join him with the philosopher’s famous quote against intolerance:
Celebrating l’esprit of 18th century Enlightenment thinkers, light spreads! Fiat lux!
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Read information about the authorPierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais was a French playwright, watchmaker, inventor, musician, diplomat, fugitive, spy, publisher, horticulturalist, arms dealer, satirist, financier, and revolutionary (both French and American).
Born a provincial watchmaker's son, Beaumarchais rose in French society and became influential in the court of Louis XV as an inventor and music teacher. He made a number of important business and social contacts, played various roles as a diplomat and spy, and had earned a considerable fortune before a series of costly court battles jeopardized his reputation.
An early French supporter of American independence, Beaumarchais lobbied the French government on behalf of the American rebels during the American War of Independence. Beaumarchais oversaw covert aid from the French and Spanish governments to supply arms and financial assistance to the rebels in the years before France's formal entry into the war in 1778. He later struggled to recover money he had personally invested in the scheme. Beaumarchais was also a participant in the early stages of the French Revolution. He is probably best known, however, for his theatrical works, especially the three Figaro plays.
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