The topic of this guest column is Beaumarchais's endeavor, as a dramatist, to overcome the irreconcilable polarities of high and low, spirit and body, noble and base, tragedy and comedy that are essential to French classical theater by adapting traditional comedy to the less rigid, more pragmatic and optimistic outlook of the Enlightenment and a new middle class and by experimenting with “bourgeois drama,” notably in the third play of the Figaro trilogy. The bourgeois drama—and the trilogy itself, as it moves the same cast of characters from The Barber of Seville through The Marriage of Figaro to The Guilty Mother—is seen as an attempt to bypass not only the conventional opposition of comedy and tragedy but also the even more fundamental polarity of epic and dramatic through the infusion of elements of the new bourgeois novel into works for the theater. Roles and situations in Beaumarchais are not fixed and eternal but evolve in historical time. Figaro himself emerges as a characteristically modern figure, neither noble nor base but mixed, many-sided, energetic, and enterprising, an individual rather than a type, and thus a more realistic representative of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment humanity than the Scapinos and Frontinos of traditional comedy.
Lionel Gossman; FIGARO'S CHILDREN. Common Knowledge 1 April 2017; 23 (2): 207–224. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-3815784
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