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Beaumarchais lived a marvelous, enriched life, arguably one of the most intriguing of the eighteenth century. His was a career that began in the most obscure of bourgeois existence (Perla 32). He was born in a lower-class Protestant family, gaining his titles through hard work rather than winning them by birth alone. He noted in the preface to Tarare that not all men are advantageously placed to carry out great things: we are born who we are and we become what we can be (24). This theme, which he echoed through his whole life, is found in many of his written works.
He was a genius with immeasurable vigor and ambition, having held several positions of distinction in his life. Over his sixty seven years he was an accomplished musician and songwriter, a master clock maker, a jurist, a businessman, an editor, a tradesman, a ship owner, a secret agent, diplomat, architect, an engineer- but he was first and foremost a thinker, and a great intellectual to emerge at Frances Enlightenment. He was a man of intense profound thought- he was a true philosophe. Beaumarchais was a well known pamphleteer, essayist and literary scholar, coveting the power of the literature and its ability to change society. It is interesting to note that John Wood affirms playwright ing, this papers focus, to have been only a protean activity for Beaumarchais, but still an essential expression of his personality (2).
This is not to say that Beaumarchais thought lightly of writing for the theatre. One could not take lightly an art form of such power and influence that it always met with violent opposition from the establishment. Beaumarchais knew the theatre to be the most potent realm to present his platform. He defiantly brought ideas to France that challenged those in power without apology.
Louis XVI, showing he was no great fool, recognized the danger of the poets words and enforced everything in his power from censorship to imprisonment to keep Beaumarchais works from being presented for the public. The American Revolution became a cause for Beaumarchais, where he could serve France and the great notion of liberty, in the spirit of the Enlightenment. His commitment to Americas cause was true and just. It is his influence with the French Revolution that we question. Although his writing reflected the sentiment of the American Revolution and the famous Tennis Court Oath, it is questionable whether Beaumarchais consciously contributed to Republican sentiment. This paper will question the role of Beaumarchais in the French Revolution.
It will explore Beaumarchais as a champion of ideas rather than people. Peoples, as we shall see, are wont to corrupt the lofty notion of ideas and Beaumarchais often put himself in a dangerous position in asserting that. This paper will show how Beaumarchais used Tarare, one of his controversial final works, as an example of how he practiced political self-preservation at the hilt of the Terror. This paper will show that Beaumarchais, although a champion of freedom in his early writing and involvement with the War of Independence, was a political vacillator who, at the time of the French Revolution, held fast to his own ideals rather than acting as a true revolutionary and would compromise for expediency. It will show that he did not intend for his writing to serve as a catalyst to the anarchy. Beaumarchais theories on literature were influenced by the innovations of thought that embodied Frances Enlightenment.
His was the sort of bourgeois drama that was popular at the time. He and his dramatic contemporaries insisted on plays written in prose and containing moral and civic instruction for the masses (Lloyd 167). He believed in the happiness of all by use of reason and the possible improvement of society through literature. With his plays he sought to provoke thought among the population and make them aware of the undesirable situation. From 1716 to 1750, the pit, containing bourgeois, artisans, students and the occasional aristocrat, accounted for the larger part of the audience (Lloyd 170).
Theatres in France were experiencing a disparity in upper and lower class patron. Beaumarchais bourgeois drama was well suited to this new and he was very well received by this often unruly, inattentive crowd. He played to the vigorous nature of this audience, manipulating it to be hungry for his plays. When the King declared that the Bastille would have to fall before Figaro could be given, Beaumarchais quickly retorted. Lemaitre quotes Beaumarchais as announcing in public: The King does not want Le Mariage de Figaro to be played -- therefore, it shall be played.
Lemaitre calls this statement a true prelude to the revolution (275). Of course, Beaumarchais was not encouraging revolution, for he was a rebel against privilege... [but] that is not to say that he was a full blown revolutionary of the type so soon to become familiar (Cox 144). This declaration was simply ingenious publicity that ensured Figaro would enjoy a hungry audience, therefore serving France with his wit. His first aim, of course, was not to preach but to amuse and enlighten (144). He proceeded to do readings of Figaro in private homes, circulated rumors and created a scandal in France- so great that it turned members of the royal family against one another (Carlson 4).
His machinations proved successful, for on the afternoon of April 27, 1784, thousands upon thousands of commoners, valets and aristocrats gathered to see the performance of this controversial play so suited to their sympathies (4). The competition for tickets was the keenest that had ever been known (Rivers 235). Even the nations proudest aristocracy had been reduced to begging for tickets for this play. Beaumarchais had formed an immense scandal and intrigue, allowing Figaro's ideals to be delivered to the masses. Figaro's themes applied to all of society and the larger the audience, the better for Beaumarchais platform. Beaumarchais commitment to the American War of Independence followed the sentiment of the enlightenment and theory.
It concerned championing freedom as he did in his plays. The sentiment of Figaro and The Barber were carried in the dreams of the people of the colonies, and Beaumarchais became a key player and is often championed as a great fighter in the war of independence. He saw the rebellion of the colonies to be a struggle of the underdog, a fight of the servant against the intolerant master. America was his Figaro, and Britain was his Almaviva. He did a double service, both to his philosophy and to his nation. In aiding America, he was hurting England, who had shamed France in the Seven Years War (Cox 103).
Working as a secret agent and a master of manipulation, he was able to collect two hundred cannon, twenty-five thousand guns, thirty brass mortars, two-hundred thousand pounds of gunpowder and enough clothing and tents for twenty-five thousand men (113). He incurred serious debts which were only partially repaid after his death in 1799 (Cox 122). His commitment to liberty was great and his self-sacrifice was key in the victory of the colonies. Tarare was first presented in 1787, immediately following the successful production of Figaro in Vienna. It was based on a Persian tale called Speak and Kalasrade.
Tarare, the he...
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