Abbildungen der Seite
PDF

achieved in two coups de maître, which were also his coups d'es· sai. Le Barbier de Séville and Le Mariage de Figaro were carried at once, by popular acclamation, to the front rank of comic literature : Il y a quelque chose de plus fou que ma pièce, writes Beaumarchais on the morrow of the production of Le Mariage, c'est son succès. These comedies have not the deeper significance of those of Molière. They do not hold up to ridicule the eternal foibles of mankind ; their laughter leaves manners as unchastened as it finds them. They live for a totally different reason. They live because they are endowed in the highest degree with that paramount requisite of all dramatic works : interest. In Dr. Johnson's words, ** they have wit enough to keep them sweet." From the first line to the last, they are instinct with life and movement. While the plots, simple enough in their main outline, are so ingeniously complicated in detail as to become masterpieces of constructive skill, the dialogue, brilliant and incisive, further speeds the play with its own vivacity. Lines abound that have remained in the language as proverbs, being the fittest expression of the thought they convey : %e me hâte de rire de tout, de peur d'être obligé d'en pleurer. La difficulté de réussir ne fait qu'ajouter à la nécessité d'entreprendre. Qui est-ce donc qu'on trompe ici ? etc. And throughout the plays, pervading them with a rare freshness and originality, the unique creation of Figaro himself, ever light-hearted and ready, witty and impertinent, always to the rescue wherever there is peril, and always managing, like a merry diabolus ex machinâ, to extricate his friends from the worst toils by the sheer force of his boldness and ingenuity. No other character in fiction, perhaps, has handed down to the present day so living a patronymic. Great musicians, Mozart, Rossini, have turned to him for their inspiration. In addition to their excellence of construction and form, Le Barbier de Séville and Le Mariage de Figaro, the latter more especially, offer a peculiar interest for the signs of their times that can be read in them. The burning questions of the day are placed upon the stage, the privileged castes and professions, the noblesse, the law, the diplomatic service, are arraigned at the bar of ridicule ; and that temper of the nation is faithfully reflected which in a few years will produce the great French Revolution. This gives the comedies of Beaumarchais a distinctive characteristic, which the French stage had unlearnt since the days of the sotie of the 16th century, and one scarcely to be found again before the fierce satire upon revolutionary democracy of Sardou's Rabagas (1871). A last, marked characteristic of both Le Barbier de Séville and Le Mariage de Figaro is the strong, twofold impress they bear of their author's personality. On the one hand, the events of Beaumarchais' life are transparently alluded to in many places —a novelty on the French stage : —his experiences as a watchmaker, musical instructor, game-warden, diplomatic envoy, playwright, contractor, etc., are mirrored in those of his hero, loué par ceux-ci, blâmé par ceux-là . . .. partout supérieur aux événements. On the other hand, throughout the comedies appears that consummate skill which won him in real life his many successes ; just as the absence of any characters on which genuine sympathy or sincere admiration can be bestowed, betrays in their author the lack of those higher qualities that alone command the warm and lasting regard of mankind. Here, in the broadest sense of the word, le style, c'est l'homme. Atalienne, Beaumarchais transformed it into a five-act prosecomedy, which was acted for the first time at the Théâtre Français on Friday, Feb. 23, 1775. The first performance was a distinct failure. But, with characteristic promptness and energy, Beaumarchais at once remodelled his play, cut out such passages as had given offence and condensed the five acts into four, with the result that • • he converted the failure of Friday into a triumph on Sunday." The peculiar merit of the plot of Le Barbier de Séville lies in the skill with which the duel is conducted between Bartholo and his adversaries. It takes all Figaro's cunning and invention, at the back of Almaviva's dash, to get the better of Rosine's guardian. Bartholo is acuteness itself : nous serons bien heureux, remarks Figaro who knows him well, s'il ne vous reconnait pas, vous qu'il n'a jamais vu ! Not a move is made against him but he divines its motive and foils it at once. And in the end if he is overcome, we feel it is rather because he is on the wrong side of the fight than because he is over-matched. Hence the interest aroused by so equal a contest is not disappointed in its issue, and the final impression left by the play is eminently satisfactory. The many scenes of delightful humor need not be enumerated here, but we may single out that in which Rosine so ingenuously betrays, in spite of herself, the interest with which her unknown suitor has inspired her, or that other, so often quoted, in which Bartholo, who has fallen asleep during the music lesson, is waked by the cessation of the music when the feelings of the singers get the better of their notes. And nowhere does Beaumarchais'skill as a playwright appear to better advantage than in the third Act, where, after the Count has passed himself Off as the messenger and ally of Bazile, who should come in but Bazile himself ? and exposure is seemingly inevitable. Had Beaumarchais never written anything but the ensuing scene, in

III. LE BARBIER DE SEVILLE.

In its original form, Le Barbier de Séville was a comic opera, of which the music as well as the words had been written by Beaumarchais. This opera having been refused by the Comédie

[merged small][graphic][graphic]
[ocr errors][graphic]
« ZurückWeiter »