The Marriage of Figaro (play)


The Marriage of Figaro (play)
The Marriage of Figaro

Title page from the first edition of The Marriage of Figaro
Written by Pierre Beaumarchais
Characters Figaro
Count Almaviva
The Countess
Suzanne
Marceline
Cherubin
Antonio
Fanchette
Bartholo
Date premiered 1784
Original language French
Genre Romantic comedy
Setting The Count's palace near Seville

The Marriage of Figaro (French: La Folle Journée, ou Le Mariage de Figaro ('The Mad Day, or The Marriage of Figaro')) is a comedy in five acts, written in 1778 by Pierre Beaumarchais. This play is the second installment in the Figaro Trilogy, preceded by The Barber of Seville and followed by The Guilty Mother. The Barber begins the story with a simple love triangle in which the Count has fallen head-over-heels in love with Rosine. He disguises himself to ensure that she will love him back for his character, not his wallet. But, this is all foiled when Rosine’s guardian, Doctor Bartholo, puts her on “house arrest” so that he will have her hand in marriage. The Count runs into an ex-servant (now barber) of his, Figaro, and pressures him into setting up a meeting between the Count and Rosine. He succeeds and the love birds are married to end the first installment.

Beaumarchais said in his preface to the play that it was Louis François, Prince of Conti who requested that this sequel to The Barber of Seville be written. Its denouncement of aristocratic privilege has been characterised as foreshadowing the French Revolution.[1]

The entire trilogy is loosely based on commedia dell’arte structures, including the characters. Figaro is played as a Brighella-type, a zanni-stock character who, when played as a servant, either serves his master dutifully (as in Barber) or looks for every opportunity to make him out for a fool (as in Marriage). Figaro’s ingenuity served as a symbol of class action against the aristocracy.
Thanks to the great popularity of its predecessor, The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro opened to enormous success; it reportedly grossed 100,000 francs in the first twenty showings and the theatre was so packed that three people were crushed to death by the opening-night crowd.[2] The play formed the basis for an opera by Mozart, also called The Marriage of Figaro.

Contents

Summary

The Marriage of Figaro picks up three years following the end of The Barber of Seville as Figaro is engaged to be married to Suzanne; both characters are among the Count’s staff in his dwelling. In the three years since Figaro helped forge the marriage of the Count and Rosine, he has already grown bored with his marriage and is taking notice of Suzanne. The Count looks to re-engage the act of primae noctis, in which he would consummate the marriage with the bride-to-be prior to Figaro’s honeymoon.

Production History

The play was first performed officially at the Odéon on 27 April 1784, after having been censored for many years because of Beaumarchais' challenges to government, religion, every rank of society, good manners and virtue. For this he struggled with taking The Marriage of Figaro from portfolio to stage and went through several revisions at the request of King Louis XVI who prophetically suggested the Bastille would be torn down before putting on the play.

The play was directed by the seminal Russian theatre practitioner Constantin Stanislavski. His fast and free-flowing production opened on 28 April 1927 at the Moscow Art Theatre, having been rehearsed since the end of 1925.[3] He re-located its action in pre-Revolutionary France and trimmed its five-act structure to eleven scenes, employing a revolve to quicken scene-changes.[4] Aleksandr Golovin designed the production.[4] It was a great success, garnering ten curtain calls on opening night. Thanks to the cohesive unity and rhythmic qualities of the production, it is recognised as one of Stanislavski's major achievements.[5]


Beaumarchais' comedy was adapted into One Mad Day! a "screwball comedy" in Three Acts by author William James Royce. The play premiered at the Norton Clapp Theatre on October 24, 2008. To prepare the audience for this new adaptation, the theatre released the following press release: Would his Gypsy family actually miss The Marriage of Figaro? Not in William James Royce's “One Mad Day!” they wouldn’t!


On 26 December 2010, BBC Radio 3 broadcast a production adapted and directed by David Timson and produced by Nicolas Soames. The cast included:

  • Figaro ..... Rupert Degas
  • Count ..... Nicholas Rowe
  • Suzanne ..... Joannah Tincey
  • Countess ..... Clare Wille
  • Antonio/Double-Main ..... Sean Barrett
  • Marceline ..... Frances Jeater
  • Bazile/Pedrillo ..... Hugh Dickson
  • Brid'oison ..... Stephen Thorne
  • Bartholo ..... Anton Lesser
  • Fanchette ..... Gina Bramhill
  • Cherubin/Gripe-Soleil ..... Charlie Morton


Characters

  • Count Almaviva, Governor of Andalusia
  • Countess Rosine, his wife
  • Figaro, the Count's valet and majordomo ; engaged to Suzanne
  • Suzanne, the Countess' maid; engaged to Figaro
  • Marceline, the housekeeper; in love with Figaro, unknowingly Figaro's mother
  • Antonio, gardener of the castle; uncle of Suzanne, father of Fanchette
  • Fanchette, daughter of Antonio, girlfriend to many
  • Cherubin, the Count's page, the Countess’ godson; in love with every woman
  • Bartholo, a doctor from Seville; unknowingly Figaro's father
  • Bazile, music master to the Countess
  • Don Guzman Brid'Oison, a judge.*
  • Doublemain, clerk to Don Guzman Brid'Oison
  • Grippe-Soleil, a shepherd lad
  • Pedrillo, the Count's huntsman
  • An usher
  • A shepherdess
  • An alguazil
  • A magistrate
  • Servants, valets, peasants, and huntsmen

The ridiculous character of Don Guzman was a jab at Beaumarchais's famous enemy Goëzman. Beaumarchais gained public acclaim as he had directly challenged the judge among other legal disputes with a series of pamphlets titled Mémories Contre Goezman. Beaumarchais was hailed as a hero of the people with the public embarrassment he brought upon Judge Goezman. The aftermath of these events lead into a big courthouse scuffle which would strip Beaumarchais of his French Civil Rights. He did eventually regain them through pledging allegiance to Louis XV and Louis XVI by running secret missions for the French government acting as an agent.

The role of Chérubin is traditionally played as a trouser role by a woman. Beaumarchais said that in the original company, there were no boys available who were both the right age and who could understand all the "subtleties" of the role, as most of the character's comic traits come from the view of an adult looking back on puberty with amusement.

Fanchette is only around 12 years old. At the time, the age of consent throughout most of Europe was around that same age; hence, the revelation that she and the adult Count are sleeping together was not meant to be quite as shocking as it is often perceived these days.


Act I

The play begins in a room in the Count's palace—the new bedroom to be shared by Figaro and Suzanne after their wedding, which is set to occur later that day. Suzanne reveals to Figaro her suspicion that the Count gave them this particular room because it is so close to his own, and that the Count has been pressuring her to begin an affair with him. Figaro at once goes to work trying to find a solution to this problem. Then Dr. Bartholo and Marceline pass through, discussing a lawsuit they are to file against Figaro, who owes Marceline a good deal of money and has promised to marry her if he fails to repay the sum; his marriage to Suzanne will potentially void the contract. Bartholo relishes the news that Rosine is unhappy in her marriage, and they discuss the expectation that the Count will take Figaro's side in the lawsuit if Suzanne should submit to his advances. Marceline herself is in love with Figaro, and hopes to discourage Suzanne from this.

After a brief confrontation between Marceline and Suzanne, a young boy named Chérubin comes to inform Suzanne that he's just been fired for being caught hiding in the bedroom of Fanchette. The conversation is interrupted by the entrance of the Count, and since Suzanne and Chérubin don't want to be caught alone in a bedroom together, Chérubin is forced to hide behind an armchair. When the Count enters, he propositions Suzanne (who continues to refuse to sleep with him). They are then interrupted by Bazile's entrance. Again not wanting to be caught alone in a bedroom together, the Count hides behind the armchair. Chérubin is forced to throw himself on top of the armchair so the Count won't find him and Suzanne covers him with a dress so Bazile can't see him. Bazile stands in the doorway and begins to tell Suzanne all the latest gossip. When he mentions a rumor that there is a relationship between the Countess and Chérubin, the Count becomes outraged and stands up, revealing himself. The Count justifies his firing Chérubin to Bazile and the horrified Suzanne (now worried that Bazile will believe that she and the Count are having sex). The Count re-enacts finding Chérubin behind the door in Fanchette's room by lifting the dress covering Chérubin, accidentally uncovering Chérubin's hiding spot for the second time. The Count is afraid that Chérubin will reveal the earlier conversation in which he was propositioning Suzanne, and so decides to send him away at once as a soldier. Figaro then enters with the Countess, who is still oblivious to her husband's plans. A troupe of wedding guests enters with him, intending to begin the wedding ceremony immediately. The Count is able to convince them to hold it back a few more hours, giving himself more time to enact his plans.

Act II

Set in the Countess's bedroom, Suzanne has just broken the news of the Count's action to the Countess, who is now distraught. Figaro comes in and informs them that he has just set in motion a new plan to distract the Count from his intentions toward Suzanne by starting a false rumor that the Countess is having an affair and that her lover will appear at the wedding, which he hopes will motivate the Count to let the wedding happen. Suzanne and the Countess have doubts about the effectiveness of the plot, though, and they decide to tell the Count that Suzanne has agreed to his proposal, and then to embarrass him by sending out Chérubin dressed in Suzanne's gown to meet him. They stop Chérubin from leaving and begin to dress him, but just when Suzanne steps out of the room, the Count comes in. Chérubin hides, half dressed, in a closet, while the Count grows increasingly suspicious, especially after having just heard Figaro's rumor of the Countess's affair. He leaves to get a mallet to break down the closet door, giving Chérubin enough time to escape out the window and Suzanne time to enter the closet; when the Count opens the door, it appears that Suzanne was inside there all along. Just when it seems he calms down, the gardener Antonio runs in screaming that a half-dressed man just jumped from the Countess's window. The Count's fears are settled again once Figaro takes credit to being the jumper, claiming that he started the rumor of the Countess having an affair as a prank and that while he was waiting for Suzanne he became frightened of the Count's wrath, jumping out the window in terror. Just then Marceline, Bartholo and the judge Brid'Oison come to inform Figaro that his trial is starting.

Act III

Figaro and the Count exchange a few words, until Suzanne, at the insistence of the Countess, goes to the Count and tells him that she has decided that she will begin an affair with him, and asks he meet her after the wedding. The Countess has actually promised to appear at the assignation in Suzanne's place. The Count is glad to hear that Suzanne has seemingly decided to go along with his advances, but his mood sours again once he hears her talking to Figaro and saying it was only done so they might win the case.

Court is then held, and after a few minor cases, Figaro's trial occurs. Much is made of the fact that Figaro has no middle or last name, and he explains that it is because he was kidnapped as a baby and doesn't know his real name. The Count rules in Marceline's favor, effectively forcing Figaro to marry her, when Marceline suddenly recognizes a birthmark (or scar or tattoo; the text is unclear) on Figaro's arm -- he is her son, and Dr. Bartholo is his father. Just then Suzanne runs in with enough money to repay Marceline, given to her by the Countess. At this, the Count storms off in outrage.

Figaro is thrilled to have rediscovered his parents, but Suzanne's uncle, Antonio, insists that Suzanne cannot marry Figaro now, because he is illegitimate.

Act IV

Figaro and Suzanne talk before the wedding, and Figaro tells Suzanne that if the Count still thinks she is going to meet him in the garden later, she should just let him stand there waiting all night. Suzanne promises, but the Countess grows upset when she hears this news, thinking that Suzanne is in the Count's pocket and is wishing she had kept their rendez-vous a secret. As she leaves, Suzanne falls to her knees, and agrees to go through with the plan to trick the Count. Together they write a note to him entitled "A New Song on the Breeze" (a reference to the Countess's old habit of communicating with the Count through sheet music dropped from her window), which tells him that she will meet him under the chestnut trees. The Countess lends Suzanne a pin from her dress to seal the letter, but as she does so, the ribbon from Cherubin falls out of the top of her dress. At that moment, Fanchette enters with Cherubin disguised as a girl, a shepherdess, and girls from the town to give the Countess flowers. As thanks, the Countess kisses Cherubin on the forehead. Antonio and the Count enter - Antonio knows Cherubin is disguised because they dressed him at his daughter's (Fanchette's) house. The Countess admits to hiding Cherubin in her room earlier and the Count is about to punish him. Fanchette suddenly admits that she and the Count have been having an affair, and that, since he has promised he will give her anything she desires, he must not punish Cherubin but give him to her as a husband. Later, the wedding is interrupted by Bazile, who had wished to marry Marceline himself; but once he learns that Figaro is her son he is so horrified that he abandons his plans. Later, Figaro witnesses the Count opening the letter from Suzanne, but thinks nothing of it. After the ceremony, he notices Fanchette looking upset, and discovers that the cause is her having lost the pin that was used to seal the letter, which the Count had told her to give back to Suzanne. Figaro nearly faints at the news, believing Suzanne's secret communication means that she has been unfaithful and, restraining tears, he announces to Marceline that he is going to seek vengeance on both the Count and Suzanne.

Act V

In the palace gardens beneath a grove of chestnut trees, Figaro has called together a group of men and instructs them to call together every person they can find: he intends to have them all walk in on the Count and Suzanne in flagrante delicto, humiliating the pair and also ensuring ease of obtaining a divorce. After a tirade against the aristocracy and the unhappy state of his life, Figaro hides nearby. The Countess and Suzanne then enter, each dressed in the other's clothes. They are aware that Figaro is watching, and Suzanne is upset that her husband would doubt her so much as to think she would ever really mean to cheat on him. Soon afterward the Count comes, and the disguised Countess goes off with him. Figaro is outraged, and goes to the woman he thinks is the Countess to complain; he nevertheless realizes that he is talking to his own wife Suzanne, who scolds him for his lack of confidence in her. Figaro agrees that he was being stupid, and they are quickly reconciled. Just then the Count comes out and sees what he thinks is his own wife kissing Figaro, and races to stop the scene. At this point, all the people who had been instructed to come on Figaro's orders arrive, and the real Countess reveals herself. The Count falls to his knees and begs her for forgiveness, which she grants. After all other loose ends are tied up, the cast breaks into song before the curtain falls.

Figaro's Speech

One of the defining moments of the play is Figaro's rather lengthy fifth-act, in which he directly challenges the Count: monologue. Excerpts:

No, my lord Count, you won’t have her... you won’t have her. Just because you’re a great nobleman, you think you’re a great genius! Nobility, riches, a title, high positions, that all makes a man so proud! What have you done for such fortune? You went to the trouble of being born, and nothing else. Otherwise, a rather ordinary man; while I, good grief! lost in the obscure crowd, I had to use more skill and planning just to survive than has been put into governing all of Spain for the last hundred years.

I throw myself full-force into the theater; would that I’d put a stone around my neck! I dash off a comedy about life in a harem. As a Spanish author, I believe I can jeer at Mohammed without qualms; at that instant an envoy from... I don’t know where complains that my lines are offensive to the Sublime Porte, Persia, part of the peninsula of India, all of Egypt, the kingdoms of Barca, Tripoli, Tunisia, Algiers and Morocco: and there's my comedy roasted to please Muslim princes, none of whom, I believe, can read, and who bruise our scapulas while calling us “Christian dogs”!—Unable to debase my spirit, they avenge themselves by abusing it.—My cheeks hollowed; my time seemed to be up. I could see the dreaded bill collector arriving in the distance with a quill stuck in his wig.

I’d tell him... stupid things in print have no importance except where people hold them back; without the right to criticize, there’s no such thing as flattering praise; and it’s only little men that are afraid of little writings.


Controversy

Beaumarchais was no stranger to revolution both through his support to the American rebels, to whom he had organized shipments of munitions and other supplies during the American Revolution, and again later as the French Revolution was taking place. For the French rebels he had attempted to acquire weaponry, but was unable to follow through. By the stroke of his pen, his words were just as revolutionary as noticed when Napoleon Bonaparte hailed The Marriage of Figaro “a revolution in action.” Through this story, and the rebellious nature of Figaro, the theatergoers of France were able to peer within themselves and see a Figaro, and with such a mindset they began to take the proper steps into priming the minds of the people for revolutionary actions.

The events surrounding the production help set the tone for the path the country was about to head. Bread prices were on the rise as the grain production took a huge blow after years of bad harvests, which directly led into malnutrition and widespread hunger. Outlying areas were difficult to reach with the already scarce foods because of poorly maintained roads. The aristocracy took little concern to the problems of the lower classes, fueling the rising resentment of the peasants and towns people of the noble class. The aristocrats and previous kings, including King Louis XIV, were not stress-free by any means; previous engagements in war and with supplying the American Revolution meant the French economy was crippled, which was reflected as the country sailed further and further into debt. All these factors combined with the “Figaro mindset” to take the French to a bloody revolution.

Notes

  1. ^ Fehér, Ferenc. The French Revolution and the birth of modernity. 1990, page 40
  2. ^ See A Sourcebook of Theatrical History by Alois Maria Nagle and The Marriage of Figaro/Le Nozze di Figaro (Opera Guide), published in association with the English National Opera and The Royal Opera, page 11. ISBN 0714537713.
  3. ^ Benedetti (1999, 306-8).
  4. ^ a b Benedetti (1999, 308).
  5. ^ Benedetti (1999, 309).

Sources

  • Beaumarchais, Pierre. “The Preface to The Marriage of Figaro” The Tulane Drama Review 2.2 (1958): 3-27. The MIT Press.Web. 4 Mar. 2011.
  • Benedetti, Jean. 1999. Stanislavski: His Life and Art. Revised edition. Original edition published in 1988. London: Methuen. ISBN 0413525201.
  • Fisher, Burton D. "Introduction." Introduction.The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart) Opera Classics Library. Baton Rouge, FL: Opera Journeys, 2003. 25. Print.
  • Holden, Joan. The Marriage of Figaro. New York: Dramatists Play Service, 2006. Print.
  • Wilson, Edwin and Goldfarb, Alvin.Living Theatre: History of the Theatre. Boston, Mass: McGraw-Hill, 2008. 298, 299, Print.
  • Wood, John. "Introduction."Introduction.The Barber of Seville ; And, The Marriage of Figaro. By John Wood. London: Penguin, 1964. 2-18. eBook.

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