Beaumarchais, Pierre Augustin Caron de

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Beaumarchais, Pierre Augustin Caron de

Beaumarchais, Pierre Augustin Caron de (pyĕr ōgüstăNˈ karôNˈ də bōmärshāˈ), 1732–99, French dramatist. Originally a watchmaker, he rose to wealth and position among the nobility. His two successful comedies were Le Barbier de Séville (1775), the basis of an opera by Rossini, and Le Mariage de Figaro (1784), the source of an opera by Mozart. Brilliant in their clever dialogue and intricate plots, they satirize the privileges and foibles of the upper class. Beaumarchais was a famous litigant, and the pamphlets he wrote about his cases were witty and effective. Beaumarchais's employment as a secret agent by the monarchy led to his involvement in the American Revolution as a supplier of arms. The expected payment was never forthcoming, and the claims of Beaumarchais against the Americans were settled only in 1835 through a grant by Congress to his heirs. Another costly venture was his 70-volume edition of Voltaire (1785–90; volumes dated 1784–89).


See biography by M. Lever (2008).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Beaumarchais, Pierre Augustin Caron de


Born Jan. 24, 1732, in Paris; died there May 18, 1799. French playwright.

Beaumarchais was born into a watchmaker’s family. In his first, so-called “petit-bourgeois dramas”— Eugenie (1767) and The Two Friends (1770)—Beaumarchais drew truthful pictures of social inequality. Beaumarchais’s Memoirs (1773–1774) consist of four pamphlets in which the customs of the legal procedures of his time are mercilessly exposed.

With the play The Barber of Seville (produced in 1775) began the most brilliant period in Beaumarchais’s creative life. He implanted the existing traits of contemporary life into the old comedy characters. Unlike his literary prototype, the clever and sly servant, Figaro—a gifted, lively, sensitive, and witty commoner—is not only the nerve center of the plot but its ideological center as well. Figaro is contrasted to the talentless Count Almaviva. In this comedy there is already the potential for the conflict which forms the basis of the second part of the trilogy on Figaro— the comedy The Marriage of Figaro (produced in 1784). Here are expressively outlined characters, sarcastic laughter, and manifestations of sentimentality—all penetrated by a sense of indignation and mockery directed against aristocratic privileges that have outlived their purpose. The liveliness of the characters, the swiftness of the action, the sparkling witticisms, and the brilliant dialogue are the distinguishing traits of Beaumarchais as a comedy writer. Subsequently, however, he departed from the type of comedy which had brought him world fame. In the third part of the trilogy, The Guilty Mother (produced in 1792), Figaro, who has become staid and lacks enthusiasm and brilliance, is concerned only with a happy ending for the family affairs of his former antagonist. A witty comedy with traits of satire is transformed into a melodrama.

Beaumarchais’s comedies were performed on the stages of the world’s theaters, including those of Russia. Based on the plots of these plays were the operas The Marriage of Figaro by W. A. Mozart (1786) and The Barber of Seville by G. Rossini (1816). In his ode “To a Great Lord,” A. S. Pushkin likened Beaumarchais to his “marvelous hero,” Figaro.


Oeuvres complètes. Paris, 1876.
Théâtre complet. Paris, 1956.
In Russian translation:
Trilogiia. Moscow, 1934.
Izbr. proizvedeniia. Moscow, 1954.


Istoriia frantsuzskoi literatury, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946. Pages 801–07.
Mokul’skii, S. Bomarshe. Moscow, 1957.
Finkel’shtein, E. Bomarshe. Leningrad-Moscow, 1957.
Bailly, A. Beaumarchais. Paris, 1945.
Pomeau, R. Beaumarchais: L’homme et I’oeuvre. Paris, 1956.
Cordier, H. Bibliographie des oeuvres de Beaumarchais. Paris, 1883.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.