From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (January 24, 1732 – May 17-18, 1799) was a watch-maker, inventor, musician, politician, invalid, fugitive, spy, publisher, arms-dealer, and revolutionary (both French and American). He was best known, however, for his theatrical works, especially the three Figaro plays.
The Figaro plays
Beaumarchais's Figaro plays comprise Le Barbier de Séville, Le Mariage de Figaro, and La Mère coupable. Figaro and Count Almaviva, the two characters Beaumarchais most likely conceived in his travels in Spain, were (with Rosine, later the Countess Almaviva) the only ones present in all three plays. They are indicative of the change in social attitudes before, during, and after the French Revolution. Figaro and Almaviva first appeared in Le Sacristain, which he wrote around 1765 and dubbed "an interlude, imitating the Spanish style." His fame began, however, with his first dramatic play (drame bourgeois), Eugénie, which premiered at the Comédie Française in 1767. This was followed in 1770 by another drama, Les Deux amis.
To a lesser degree, the Figaro plays are semi-autobiographical. Don Guzman Brid'oison (Le Mariage) and Bégearss (La Mère) were caricatures of two of Beaumarchais's real-life adversaries, Goezman and Bergasse. The page Chérubin (Le Mariage) resembled the youthful Beaumarchais, who did contemplate suicide when his love was to marry another. Suzanne, the heroine of Le Mariage and La Mère, was modelled after Beaumarchais's third wife, Marie-Thérèse de Willer-Mawlaz. Meanwhile, some of the Count monologues reflect on the playwright's remorse of his numerous sexual exploits.
Le Barbier premiered in 1775. Its sequel Le Mariage was initially passed by the censor in 1781, but was soon banned from performance by Louis XVI after a private reading. Queen Marie-Antoinette lamented the ban, as did various influential members of her entourage. Nonetheless, the King was unhappy with the play's satire on the aristocracy and over-ruled the Queen's entreaties to allow its performance. Over the next three years Beaumarchais gave many private readings of the play, as well as making revisions to try to pass the censor. The King finally relented and lifted the ban in 1784. The play premiered that year and was enormously popular even with aristocratic audiences. Mozart's opera premiered just two years later. Beaumarchais's final play, La mère was premiered in 1792 in Paris. To pay homage to the great French playwright Molière, who wrote the original title play, Beaumarchais also dubbed La Mère "The Other Tartuffe". All three Figaro plays enjoyed great success, and they are still frequently performed today in theatres and opera houses.