At age twenty-three, Pierre-Augustin Caron abandoned the clockmaking trade to take up a minor office he had purchased in the court of French king Louis XV. He rapidly became a favorite of the royal princesses, rose to the position of secretary to the king, and added “Beaumarchais” to his name. During the 1760’s, Beaumarchais acquainted himself with classical and French literature and began writing plays. His Eugénie, an attack on social privilege, was licensed in 1767, after its setting was changed from Paris to London; and his Two Friends, a melodrama about a silk-merchant and a tax-collector, had its first performance in January, 1770. Neither play was a commercial success, however.
In January, 1773, Beaumarchais finished a preliminary version of his first major work, The Barber of Seville. The play was passed by the government censor in February, 1773, but the license to stage the play was withdrawn when the sentence of blâme, which entailed a deprivation of all civil rights, was pronounced against Beaumarchais for his part in a brawl. Beaumarchais’ defense of his case in four pamphlets won him wide sympathy, including Voltaire’s, but failed to reverse the official judgment against him: by order of the Parliament of Paris, the pamphlets were burned in March, 1774. In the hope of rehabilitating himself, Beaumarchais traveled under the name of “Le Chevalier de Ronac” to London in the king’s service in...
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