Though poorly received at first, Beaumarchais worked some fast editing of the script, turning the play into a roaring success after three days. The play's title might be a pun on Tirso de Molina's earlier play El Burlador de Sevilla (The Trickster of Seville). Mozart wrote some variations on one of its songs, "Je suis Lindor."
The story follows a traditional Commedia dell'Arte structure, with many characters seemingly based on famous stock characters. The plot involves a Spanish count, called simply The Count although "Almaviva" appears as an additional name (whether it's a given name or a surname is not clear), who has fallen in love at first sight with a girl called Rosine. To ensure that she really loves him and not just his money, the Count disguises himself as a poor college student named Lindor, and attempts to woo her. His plans are foiled by Rosine's guardian Doctor Bartholo, who keeps her locked up in his house and intends to marry her himself. The Count's luck changes, however, after a chance reunion with an ex-servant of his, Figaro, who is currently working as a barber and therefore has access to the Doctor's home. After being promised money, and afraid the Count will seek revenge on him if he refuses, Figaro devises a variety of ways for the Count and Rosine to meet and talk. The story culminates in the marriage of the Count and Rosine.
The scene is on the street in front of Dr. Bartholo's home in Seville. The Count, disguised as a poor college student, waits outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of Rosine, whom he met in Madrid and has followed to Seville, though up till now they have never spoken directly. Figaro happens to come down the street, singing a song ("Bannissons le chagrin") and he and the Count recognize each other. While talking outside, Dr. Bartholo and Rosine come to a window of the house and Rosine pretends to drop a piece of sheet music out her window by mistake. While the doctor is coming down the stairs to retrieve it, Rosine instructs the Count to take it. He does, and finds a note from Rosine hidden inside it, in which she asks that he explain who he is, and why he has followed her to Seville, by way of singing his answer to the tune of the song. Figaro then informs the Count that Rosine is the ward of Dr. Bartholo; and also that since he is the doctor's barber and apothecary, he goes in and out of the house all the time. He devises a plan to smuggle the Count into the house by disguising him as a drunken soldier in need of lodging.
The two are interrupted when they overhear Dr. Bartholo making plans to secretly marry Rosine during the night, before he leaves to see his friend Bazile who is to make the arrangements. Afterwards, the Count sings to Rosine ("Vous l'ordonnez, je me ferai connaître... Je suis Lindor") claiming to be a poor man named Lindor who is in love with her. From inside the house, Rosine sings back a verse to the tune of Maître en droit, requiting his affections, before she is caught by someone else inside and is forced to retreat. At this point Figaro and the Count split ways to meet again once their plan is underway.
Rosine writes another note to the Count under his assumed name of Lindor, and when Figaro comes into the house she gives it to him asking if he will deliver it. Figaro agrees. When he leaves, Dr. Bartholo comes in, complaining that Figaro has given incapacitating medical treatments to all the servants in the house; when he looks at Rosine he can see by the inkstains on her fingers that she has been writing, and demands to know what she wrote. When she continues to deny writing anything, he accuses Figaro of having seduced her. Rosine leaves, and it is then revealed to the audience that Figaro is hiding in a cabinet, and he listens as Bartholo and Bazile discuss the fact that they know Count Almaviva has been inquiring all over town about her, and they form a plan to spread malicious gossip about the Count so that if he ever should find Rosine, she will be too disgusted with him to ever want to form a relationship.
They leave, and Figaro goes to Rosine and warns her that Bartholo is planning to force her to marry him before morning. At this point the Count enters in his disguise of an inebriated soldier, and sings a song to the tune of Vive le vin He presents a forged lodging billet, but the doctor points out he is exempt from the law that requires people to lodge soldiers. When he goes to produce the paper proving this, the Count smuggles another note to Rosine. When the doctor returns he sends the Count away and then sees Rosine with the note and demands she show it to him, but she is able to switch it with an innocent letter, putting out Bartholo's fears. Rosine reads the actual note, which contains instructions for her to start a fight with Bartholo.
The Count arrives at the house again, disguised this time as a teacher and tells Bartholo that Bazile is sick and has sent him as a substitute to give Rosine her music lesson for the day. Rosine enters pretending to be very angry, having chosen the music lesson as an excuse to pick a fight with Bartholo. She however recognizes the Count (Lindor) again, and quiets down. A comic scene ensues in which the Count accompanies Rosine on the piano while she sings ("Quand, dans la plaine") and Bartholo keeps falling asleep; the Count begins kissing Rosine, causing the music to stop and the Doctor to wake up each time, forcing Rosine and the Count to scurry back into place, and the lazzo repeats. After the lesson, the doctor sings his own song to Rosine ("Veux-tu, ma Rosinette") at which point Figaro comes in and tries to distract Dr. Bartholo by shaving him so that Rosine and the Count will be alone together, but Bartholo catches on, especially when Bazile arrives to give Rosine her music lesson. The Count discreetly hands Bazile a bag of money, bribing him to play along, and they are able to settle the doctor's fears once more. The Count tells Rosine he will be back at night to visit.
The stage is dark and music representing a lightning storm is played. Bazile admits to Bartholo what had happened earlier in the day, and speculates that the man in the house before may have been the Count. He advises against Bartholo's plan to force a marriage to Rosine, but Bartholo takes no heed. Rosine then comes out, looking for the Count; Bartholo goes to her and tells her that the man in the house was working for a notorious womanizing count named Almaviva, and that this count is planning to kidnap her. Rosine believes this story and becomes outraged. She agrees to marry Bartholo, and he goes out to find a judge to perform the marriage ceremony. Rosine runs to lock herself in Marceline's room to avoid what she thinks is the impending kidnap. Figaro and the Count break into the house, discussing the Count's plan to propose marriage to Rosine, and worrying about how to break the news that he is really a Count. Rosine comes back out to yell at him, and tell him she knows all about his horrible scheme to kidnap her: however, she notices that Figaro keeps addressing him as "my lord" and inquires as to the reason. The Count then reveals his true identity, and Rosine forgives him. The Judge then enters, and the Count takes him and has him draw up a marriage contract between himself and Rosine. Bartholo comes in just a moment after it is signed, and after making some futile arguments against the contract's validity, resigns himself. As a consolation he is given Rosine's dowry money to keep.
Figaro is inspired by the Commedia dell'Arte character of Brighella, and like his predecessor he is a clever liar; moral and yet unscrupulous; good humored, helpful and brave, though somewhat embittered and cynical. As he says in The Barber of Seville: "I must force myself to laugh at everything lest I be obliged to weep." Though he is normally calm, collected and intelligent, he can be irrational when angered. The name 'Figaro' was invented by Beaumarchais for this character, and it has been theorized by Frederic Grendel that it is made from a phoenetic transcription of the words "fils Caron" (Caron having been the given surname of the playwright.)
The role was created in The Barber of Seville by Beaumarchais's friend Preville. However, when The Marriage of Figaro went into production almost a decade later, he felt himself too old to repeat the part and turned it over to fellow actor Jean Dazincourt.
According to the information Figaro gives at various points throughout the plays, his life story appears to be thus: he was the illegitimate son of Dr. Bartholo and his maid Marceline, and presumably therefore given his mother's family name, was born Emmanuel de Verte-Allure. He was kidnapped as a baby and raised by gypsies, who are probably the ones that re-named him Figaro. After he grew "disgusted with their ways" he left to become a surgeon, and apparently took up a short-term job in the household of Count Almaviva during this time to support himself. Though the Count referred to him as a "rather bad servant," he was pleased enough with Figaro to write him a recommendation to the Bureau in Madrid, where he was given a job as an assistant veterinary surgeon, much to his disappointment. While working there, he began dabbling in a literary career, apparently with great success. He was fired from the Bureau but stayed on in Madrid for a time trying to work as a publisher and playwright. He angered the censors with several of his works, and was briefly imprisoned. Eventually he gave up writing, and set himself up as a barber-surgeon. After "pensively proceeding through the two Castilles, la Mancha, Extremadura, the Sierra Morenas, and Andalusia" he set up shop in Seville, where he became reacquainted with Count Almaviva, and after assisting him with some romantic troubles, was hired as the Count's personal valet. He evidently retains this position for the remainder of his life.
It is after he returns to work for the Count that he marries Suzanne, though at what point he met her is unclear. In The Barber of Seville, Rosine claims that Figaro has a daughter, but since this is never mentioned again by any other characters or in the other plays, and since it comes up during a lie Rosine tells to conceal her relationship with the Count, it is probable that she made this up. Given that Suzanne's uncle Antonio works for the Count, it seems likely she was hired on his recommendation when the Countess moved into the palace and a maid was needed for her, in which case she and Figaro would have met after the events of The Barber of Seville.
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