In The Marriage of Figaro, Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais takes Figaro through more intrigues and adventures. Again the shrewd barber matches wits with those who would oppress him, again young lovers must overcome obstacles planted by their more powerful enemies, and the high good humor and clever wit of Figaro triumph. Critics have interpreted The Marriage of Figaro as everything from a giddy sensual romp to the first rumblings of the French Revolution. Certainly aspects of this delightful play can be used to support a number of interpretations. Beaumarchais claimed about this work, as he did about all his writings, that it was his intention both to entertain and to reform society.
Although Beaumarchais’s comic style was often copied by other writers of his day, it was never surpassed. With charm and gaiety, The Marriage of Figaro examines love in its many forms and the mad things people do in pursuit of love. Nevertheless, Beaumarchais allows everything to come right in the end: In spite of the lustful lord and predatory spinster, Suzanne and Figaro let nothing keep them from their love match; the estranged count and countess rediscover what had first drawn them together and reconcile under the moonlit chestnut trees; Marceline, who seemed ridiculous in her pursuit of the unwilling Figaro, blooms when she learns she can now love him as her long-lost son—she even gets Bartholo to marry her, albeit thirty years late.
Beaumarchais’s meticulous stage directions contribute to the breathless fun. The play teems with examples of the split-second timing and mistaken identities that are so necessary to farce: Chérubin slips behind and then into a chair, only to be discovered as the count mimes finding him; Suzanne and Chérubin switch places in the countess’s dressing room; Suzanne loses her composure when she sees Figaro kissing Marceline. The continuing small confusions climax in the total confusion of the last act.
The play revels in a sunny sensuality. Much of the action involves the trappings of feminine apparel; Suzanne and the countess take delight in exchanging clothes and in dressing Chérubin up as a girl (especially droll since Chérubin is usually played by a woman). The dialogue repeatedly refers to soft fabrics, flowers, ribbons, and smooth skin, a subtle reminder that virtually all the characters are thinking about sex.
The play also deals with the social tensions and injustices that would...
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