The Marriage Of Figaro, by Pierre Agustin Caron de Beaumarchais, translated and adapted by Bernard Sahlins
The sequel to Beaumarchais’ excellent The Barber Of Seville , this play takes place after Figaro’s efforts to assist Count Almaviva in winning the hand of his wife, where Figaro himself looks to wed the passionate Suzanna. Yet there are obstacles in the behavior of the Count and in the machinations of others. Again, as before, Beaumarchais has created a compelling and uproarious drama out of the problems of people in finding suitable wives, a problem I am very familiar with personally, and the delays of what should be a fairly obvious and straightforward process make this play a particularly worthwhile one, even if it hits a bit close to home as Figaro is a particularly Nathanish character in his wit, impecunious state, and general fondness for trouble, a quality shared with the turbulent playwright. As is the case in many plays , one’s enjoyment of this play depends a lot on how one sympathizes with the characters, as the plot is fairly madcap and a great deal of stress is placed on the nature of the different characters involved in this romantic comedy.
Like its predecessor, this play is a five act comedy that fulfills the expectation among cultured audiences for unity, as the action takes place in the same place over the course of a day. The action of the play consists on various interactions where there are people pretending to be others for bed tricks, where there is a joke about the custom of droit de seigneur, which was abolished as part of the promises made to the Countess (Rosine from the previous play) by the previously besotted count, who is now an unfaithful husband who has lost any interest in his wife now that they are married. In the end, as expected, true love prevails, but as one might also expect, there is a lot of unsettling business that is dealt with here, and the play thoughtfully explores the problems of double standards and the use of wit and subterfuge as the means of resistance on the part of those who lack formal power, such as Figaro, the entertaining and longsuffering page Cherubin, and the females of the plot. There are some unexpected twists, which is not too surprising, and as long as you don’t think too hard about the play you are likely to find it an enjoyable farce.
For those who do take the time to think a bit about the action of the play, there is a disturbingly relevant set of thorny issues that make this play less enjoyable than it ought to be. For one, there is a strong tension in the play between the way that marriage is viewed in a strongly negative fashion while also being something that is sought after by the characters involved. The tendency to hope against hope that the marriage of Figaro will be different from the many unhappy marriages and potential marriages portrayed is undercut by the consistency of the misery of so many characters. Likewise, the play deals with the reality of the crushing burdens of debt as well as the injustice of the justice system in ways that would likely not comfort many contemporary audiences with similar concerns. This is the sort of play that one laughs at, but if one thinks about it even a little bit deeper from the surface level, one feels a great sense of unease about the level of trouble and difficulty and unhappiness at all levels of a society. Just as this play was a subtle warning about coming trouble to ancien regime France, so too this play portends the sort of trouble our own society is in. Will we be able to avoid the flood that swept over France not long after this play premiered?
 See, for example: