The Barber of Seville & The Marriage of Figaro by Pierre Beaumarchais.

I decided a week or so ago I'd finally read Beaumarchais - I've had The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro on my TBR pile for quite some time! I really enjoyed The Barber of Seville, but not so much The Marriage of Figaro, which is why I've decided to review both plays in a single post: despite The Marriage of Figaro being quite possibly the longest play I've read I have surprisingly little to say about it!

Firstly, The Barber of Seville, or the Useless Precaution (Le Barbier de Séville ou la Précaution inutile). It's part of the 'Figaro Trilogy', and is followed by The Marriage of Figaro and The Guilty Mother, and was first performed 1775 after some rejection and legal problems. In this, Count Almaviva has fallen in love with Rosine. We first encounter him disguised as a poor student, wanting her to fall in love with him but ensuring it is not just for his wealth and status. As he is loitering outside Rosine's home he encounters Figaro, 'the barber of Seville', and the barber to Dr. Bartholo, Rosine's ward. Rosine drops a note down to the Count asking him to explain who he is and why he is following her, and to explain in a song. Figaro agrees to help the Count, and they plan to smuggle the Count into the house so he may talk to Rosine. However, the pair overhear Dr. Bartholo, who himself plans to marry Rosine . Nevertheless the Count sings his song (claiming he is a student called 'Lindor'), and Rosine sings back, clearly won over. From here a number of plots are hatched: Dr. Batholo suspects that Rosine is in love with the Count and so spreads lies about him, Figaro tries hard to facilitate visits between Rosine and the Count, there are bribes; all in all, it's almost farcical, but it's a great deal of fun. It reminded me almost of the Greek comedies, and Figaro is far and away the most vibrant character. It's a bright and colourful play, perhaps better remembered for Gioachino Rossini's 1816 opera; unfair I think, The Barber of Seville is well worth a read.


The Marriage of Figaro (La Folle Journée, ou Le Mariage de Figaro) is the second of the plays first performed in 1778. Partly owing to the success of The Barber of Seville, it was a very popular play from the start, some even say the theatre was so packed some people were crushed to death. It is, as I said, a very long play - five acts, but my edition had 110 pages (I'm getting used to the Greek plays, which are usually less than half that!).

In this play Figaro is to marry Suzanne, however his friend the Count has grown bored of Rosine and has his eye on Suzanne. At the start Suzanne tells Figaro she suspect the Count has chosen their particular bedroom because it is close to his own, and she tells him also the Count has tried to seduce her. Whilst Figaro tries to solve this, he also has another problem: he owes money to Marceline and has promised to marry her if he is unable to repay the debt. Then, the Count proposes to Rosine, but is overheard by Chérubin, a pageboy, and so he is sent to war. Suzanne tells Rosine, now of course a Countess, and she is heartbroken, whilst Figaro tries to distract the Count from seducing Suzanne again. It all gets very complicated, even without the added confusion of Figaro's trial! I do think it would be far better seen than read.

Nevertheless there is one noteworthy speech in the fifth act - Figaro addresses the Count in a monologue, in part of which he says,
No, my lord Count, you shan't have her... you shall not have her! Just because you are a great nobleman, you think you are a great genius... Nobility, fortune, rank, position! How proud they make a man feel! What have you done to deserve such advantages? Put yourself to the trouble of being born - nothing more. For the rest - a very ordinary man! Whereas I, lost among the obscure crowd, have had to deploy more knowledge, more calculation and skill merely to survive than has sufficed to rule all the provinces of Spain for a century!
For this, The Marriage of Figaro was rather revolutionary, and some believed it foreshadowed the French Revolution (1789 - 1799) in its denouncement of the aristocracy. It is an interesting play, but quite tiring! All the same I would like to see it performed, and I do want to read The Guilty Mother (if only to finish the trilogy).

Comments

  1. I love love love the 18th century in literature, no matter where it comes from. I've been enjoying your posts on drama of all sorts. It's sad to what extent novels reign over my reading, I think I should really read this.

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    1. I hope you do - I think you'll do a better job of a review! :)

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  2. absolutely love rossini, but modern versions of his operas are always played too fast; at slower tempi more can be heard and enjoyed more. that said, thanks for the post re the plays; as a former musician i've listened to the libretti numerous times, now i should expect myself to go to the source! yes, well....

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    1. I actually haven't head the whole of the Marriage by Rossini, but I do think my mother has it so I'll borrow it :)

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