Places Discussed

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*Seville. Though a real Spanish city, Seville is never portrayed as a real place. However, it provides a pretext for Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais to mention stereotypical Spanish customs, such as singing to the accompaniment of a guitar, an instrument regarded as exotic in France in the 1770’s, and to include spurious supporting color by naming other real places in Spain, such as Madrid, the provinces of Extremadura and Andalucía, and the mountains of Sierra Morena.

Bartholo’s house

Bartholo’s house. Street scene set outside Bartholo’s house enables Beaumarchais to have the count and Figaro meet by chance and to have the count’s hat pulled down low because of the rain, so that he is not immediately recognized. The street decor emphasizes Rosina’s window, later to be seen from inside, through which a note is thrown and through which the conspirators, having stolen the key, will enter.

Rosina’s apartment

Rosina’s apartment. With its locked window, this is where Bartholo keeps his ward away from outside contacts, athough Figaro and the count gain access to the apartment. Bartholo’s removal of the ladder from outside the window constitutes the useless precaution which, by preventing the count’s escape, ironically ensures his triumph by trapping him in the apartment with Rosina, the notary, and enough witnesses to have their marriage legally registered.


*Madrid. Spain’s capital city is mentioned several times, partly to emphasize that the action is not taking place in France and partly because it is here that the count first glimpses Rosina. Seville is far from Madrid, and the count’s determination to pursue her so far emphasizes the strength of his passion.


*France. France merits a single ironic mention, when Bartholo contrasts French courtesy toward women, unfavorably as he sees it, with less liberal social attitudes in Spain.

Historical Context

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France on the Brink of Revolution
Though France was the largest and most powerful nation in Europe during the 1700s, it experienced serious domestic discord by the middle of the century. French society had long been stratified. French people belonged to one of three legal, social, and political classes, called estates. The First Estate consisted of members of the Roman Catholic clergy, who made up less than one percent of the population. The Second Estate consisted of members of French nobility, who made up less than two percent of the population. People were born into the Second Estate, but they also could purchase titles, as did Beaumarchais. The Third Estate consisted of everyone else in France, from the peasants to the bourgeoisie, and constituted about ninety-seven percent of the French population. Neither the First nor the Second Estate paid any significant taxes, thrusting France’s growing financial burden upon those who could least afford it.

In the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), France was left with huge debts. King Louis XV, who ruled France from 1715 to 1774, raised taxes, borrowed money from bankers, and refused to economize. Under his successor, Louis XVI, France’s debts continued to rise as the country aided the colonists in the American Revolution. While Louis’s financial advisers advocated taxing the First and Second Estates, the nobles protested, refused to cooperate, and even rioted when such taxes were proposed.

Throughout this period, France’s Third Estate also experienced growing discontent. Peasants were forced to pay higher rents, and laborers’ wages did not match the rising cost of food. The bourgeoisie— the urban middle-class—wanted a rise in their status equal to their economic strength. They wanted greater...

(The entire section contains 2671 words.)

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