Title: The Mad Day, or The Marriage of Figaro.
Author: Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais.
Genre: Literature, fiction, plays, humour, satire.
Publication Date: 1784.
Summary: It's been three years since Figaro, the clever barber, had helped Count Almaviva steal his beloved Rosine from her guardian. The count has become tired of his wife and has begun to pursue other attractive women, particularly Suzanne, his wife’s maid, who is betrothed to Figaro, leaving Figaro unsure whether he can trust either one of them. Meanwhile, Marceline, the count’s housekeeper, has Figaro’s note for a sum of money she had lent him; if he does not repay the money he will have to marry her. It takes all the clever resourcefulness of the women of the household to teach their men faith and faithfulness, and untangle the intrigue.
My rating: 8.5/10.
My review: This book is a worthwhile sequel to its companion, as it continues in the same vein of quality, humour, and ridiculous hijinks, but it gets significantly better because Beaumarchais decides to get both political and quite feminist. This play is well-known to have predicted the French Revolution and publicly renounced and dressed-down the aristocracy with brutal efficacy, which makes it, in context, a very important work of cultural history. In this play, you get how skilled Beaumarchais truly is, since he integrates the social commentary into his comedy so seamlessly that one gets the message but doesn't feel the weight of it in the process. It's far from ham-fisted, which is a balance very difficult to find, especially in a format of a play (and one sees a lot of modern playwrights fail spectacularly at achieving it). I enjoy the fact that you get to find out some of Figaro's life-story in this play, which paints him as an even more brilliant character than he appeared before because you realize how his resilience, perseverance, and refusal to give up has shaped his wit, wisdom and bravery. But even though it is Figaro that serves as the mouthpiece for a lot of political commentary, it's really the women that make the play for me. All the countess, Rosine, and Marceline are women that are trapped within the social constructs of their world and the whim and fancy of the very reactionary and distinctly childish men they are surrounded by, and its their sheer resourcefulness and cleverness that ultimately make them the master manipulators and course-setters of the whole intrigue. It's a little bit frustrating, when the point of the first play was for the count to woo his beloved to find him completely disenchanted and bored with her now, in the sequel, and I personally find it a little irksome that this particular conflict doesn't get resolved in any way but a spontaneous verbal agreement, but frivolity and flightiness of the characters is strongly pre-established in both plays, so I suppose I can't really complain. A fun, thought-provoking, lyrical and hilarious read!
♥ SUZANNE: Giving a reason for being right amounts to admitting I could be wrong.
♥ SUZANNE: How stupid clever men can be!
♥ FIGARO: You just have no idea how I love you.
SUZANNE: [disengaging herself]: When are you going to give up telling me so from morning to night, stupid?
FIGARO: When I can prove it from night until morning.
♥ MARCELINE: Our sex is ardent but timid. However much we are attracted to pleasure, the most venturesome of women hears a voice within her say, 'Be fair if you can, wise if you will, but be circumspect you must.'
♥ THE COUNTESS: Figaro! How can you treat so lightly a scheme which threatens the happiness of every one of us?
FIGARO: Who says I do so, Your Ladyship?
SUZANNE: Instead of taking our troubles to heart...
FIGARO: Isn't it sufficient that I take them in hand?
♥ THE COUNTESS: A man so jealous as...
FIGARO: So much the better: if you are to cope with such people what you need to do is to get them annoyed. How well women understand that! Once you get a mam thoroughly enraged, a little manoeuvring and you can do what you like with him - lead him into the Guadalquivir if you want to.
♥ FIGARO: Two, three, four threads at once - tangled and crossed into the bargain! I'm a courtier born....
SUZANNE: They say it's a difficult trade.
FIGARO: Receive, take, ask again - that's the secret in so many words.
♥ THE COUNT: We men think we know something about dissimulation, but we are only children. It's you, you, Madam, whom the King should be sending as his Ambassador to London. How women must study the art of controlling their demeanour to succeed in such a degree!
THE COUNTESS: You men drive us to it.
♥ THE COUNTESS: But why drink so much?
ANTONIO: That's all that distinguishes us from the beasts, Madam - drinking when we aren't thirsty and making love whenever we feel like it.
♥ THE COUNT: The truth is that when one lets one's temper run away with one even the best-regulated imagination may become disordered.
♥ FIGARO: I've been changing.
THE COUNT: Does that take an hour?
FIGARO: It takes a while.
THE COUNT: The servants in this house take longer to dress than their masters.
FIGARO: Because they have no servants to assist them.
♥ THE COUNT: In the first place you don't know any English.
FIGARO: I can say 'God damn!'
THE COUNT: I don't understand.
FIGARO: I said I can say 'God damn!'
THE COUNT: Well? And what about it?
FIGARO: Why! English is a devilish fine language. You can get along with so little of it. If you can say 'God damn!' you needn't want for anything anywhere in England. Suppose you fancy a nice chicken, you go into a tavern and just do like this to the waiter [imitating a spit]. 'God damn!' They bring you a round of salt beef and no bread. It's amazing! You feel like a bottle of good burgundy or claret, then you just do so [gesture of drawing a cork]. 'God damn!' In they come with a foaming tankard of beer. It's marvellous! Perhaps you meet some pretty wench coming mincing along, eyes on the ground, elbows well back, hips lightly swinging - you give her a friendly chuck under the chin. 'God damn!' She lands you one that makes you wonder what hit you! Which shows that she understands perfectly well. It's true that the English put in a few other words here and there in conversation but obviously 'God damn!' is the basis of the language.
♥ THE COUNT: I anticipate her every wish. I heap gifts upon her.
FIGARO: You give her presents, but you are unfaithful to her. Are we ever grateful for superfluities from those who deprive us of necessities?
♥ THE COUNT: But with your brains and character you could hope for advancement in the service.
FIGARO: Brains a means to advancement! Your Highness is pleased to make fun of me. Mediocrity and subservience - those are the qualities one needs. Given them a man can get anywhere.
THE COUNT: You only need to study the art of politics a little under my direction.
FIGARO: I know it already.
THE COUNT: Like English, eh? ... the basis of the language?
FIGARO: Yes - if it's anything to be proud of. To pretend not to know what one does know and know what one doesn't, to hear what one doesn't understand and not hear what one does, above all to promise beyond one's abilities; to make a great secret of hiding what isn't there; to withdraw to one's privacy and employ it in sharpening pens, appearing profound when one is really empty and dull, to play a part well or badly, to encourage spies and reward traitors, to tamper with seals, intercept letters, and endeavour to compensate for poverty of means by exaggerating the importance of one's ends - that's all there is in politics or I'm sadly mistaken.
THE COUNT: Oh, but what you are defining is intrigue.
FIGARO: Policy, intrigue - as you will! To my mind they are pretty much of a muchness.
♥ THE COUNT [handing her the phial]: Keep then for yourself. No doubt you'll soon find them useful.
SUZANNE: Do you imagine that women of my class have the vapours? It's a genteel malady. They only catch it in drawing-rooms.
♥ MARCELINE: What! Are you going to try the case?
BRID'OISON: What do you think I purchased the office for?
MARCELINE [sighing]: It's a great abuse - the sale of offices.
BRID'OISON: Yes, it would be better if we could get them for nothing.
♥ BRID'OISON: Oh, yes, I'm a judge. But if you owe money and won't pay...
FIGARO: Then you see, Sir, it's just as if it never was owing.
♥ DOUBLEMAIN: Figaro - baptismal name not given.
BRID'OISON: A-a-anonymous. Which patron saint is that?
♥ FIGARO [quickly]: Besides, if a man marries can he be held to repay his spouse?
BARTHOLO: Yes. We marry but keep separate properties.
FIGARO: We keep separate persons if marriage doesn't make us quits.
♥ MARCELINE: I won't attempt to deny my faults - they have been fully exposed today! But it's hard to have to expiate them after thirty years of decent living. I was by nature good and so remained as long as I was allowed to do so, but just at the age when we are beset by illusions, inexperience, and necessity, when seducers besiege us and want stabs us in the back, what can a young girl do against the serried ranks of her enemies? The very man who judges us so severely now has probably compassed the ruin of a dozen such unfortunates himself!
FIGARO: Those who are most blameworthy are the least generous themselves. That's always the way!
MARCELINE: You men, lost to all sense of obligation, who stigmatize with your contempt the playthings of your passions - your unfortunate victims! It's you who ought to be punished for the errors of our youth - you and your magistrates so vain in their right to judge us, you who by your culpable negligence allow us to be deprived of all honest means of existence. What is there for these unhappy girls to do? They had a natural right to make all feminine apparel and yet they let thousands of men be trained to it.
FIGARO [furiously]: They even set soldiers to embroidery!
MARCELINE [carried away by her own eloquence]: Even in the more exalted walks of life you accord us women no more than a derisory consideration. In a state of servitude behind the alluring pretences of respect, treated as children where our possessions are concerned we are punished as responsible adults where our faults are in question! Ah! Whatever way one looks at it your conduct towards us must provoke horror or compassion!
FIGARO: She's right!
THE COUNT [aside]: All too much so.
BRID'OISON: My God! How right she is!
MARCELINE: But what if an unjust man denies us justice, my son? Think no more about whence you came but whither you are bound. That is all that matters to any of us. Within a few months your fiancée will be her own mistress: she'll accept you: that I'll answer for. Live, then, henceforward in company of a loving wife and mother who will be rivals only in affection for you. Be indulgent towards them and rejoice in your happiness, my son; be gay, free, open-hearted with all the world: your mother will seek no other happiness.
FIGARO: You speak wonderfully persuasively, Mother, but I hold to my own opinion. What fools we are indeed! Here the world's been turning for thousands and thousands of years, and in face of that ocean of time, from which I've chanced to snatch some miserable thirty years or so that will never come again, I'm tormenting myself over the question of whom I owe them to. So much the worse for those who bother about such things! Spending one's life on such trivial worries means pulling against the collar with never a break, like the miserable horses on the tow-paths of our rivers: even when they come to a halt they still keep on pulling. We'll take what comes to us.
♥ ANTONIO: Am I going to give my own sister's daughter to a fellow who's nobody's child?
BRID'OISON: How can that be, you fool? We are all somebody's children.
♥ SUZANNE: All the same, my boy, not one of the things you had planned, and we were expecting, has come true.
FIGARO: Chance has done better than any of us could, my dear. That's the way things are: one works, one schemes, one arranges things in one way: fortune determines them otherwise: from the insatiable conqueror who would gobble up the whole earth to the poor harmless blind creature who lets himself be led by his god, we are all at the mercy of fortune's caprices: what's more, the blind man with his dog is often better guided, less deceived in his purposes than the other blind man with his train of dependants.
♥ FIGARO: My truth is the truth.
SUZANNE: Fie! You rascal! Is there more than one sort?
FIGARO: Why yes! Of course! Ever since someone first noticed that in the course of time old follies become wisdom and little seeds of falsehood blossom from modest beginnings into great truths there have been a thousand varieties. There are the truths one knows but dare not divulge - for not all truths can be spoken; those one subscribes to without really believing - for not all truths are acceptable; lovers' vows mothers' threats, statements made in drink, promises of men in high position, the final word of our merchants - there's no end to them. There's only one truth worth relying on - that's my love for Suzie.
FANCHETTE: No. No, I'm not - they say it's naughty to listen.
FIGARO: True, but it's useful: people don't always realize that.
♥ MARCELINE [recalling his words]: Jealousy! Oh, 'I'm philosophic on that score! Should Suzanne ever deceive me I pardon her...'
FIGARO: Oh mother! We talk as our feelings dictate. Put the coolest of judges to pleas his own cause and see him expound the law!
♥ MARCELINE: Ah! How we poor downtrodden women are drawn to run to each other's help against these proud and terrible simpletons - men - when personal interest doesn't set us against each other!
♥ FIGARO: No, My Lord Count, you shan't have her, you shall not have her! Because you are a great nobleman you think you are a great genius.... Nobility, fortune, rank, position! How proud they make a man feel! What have you done to deserve such advantages? Put yourself to the trouble of being born - nothing more! For the rest - a very ordinary man! Whereas I, lost among the obscure crowd, have had to deploy more knowledge, more calculation and skill merely to survive than has sufficed to rule all the provinces of Spain for a century! Yet you would measure yourself against me.
♥ FIGARO: How I would like to have hold of one of those Jacks in office - so indifferent to the evils that they cause - when disaster had extinguished his pride! I'd tell him that stupidities that appear in print acquire importance only in so far as their circulation is restricted, that unless there is liberty to criticize, praise has no value, and that only trivial minds are apprehensive of trivial scribbling.
♥ FIGARO: Nothing was left to me but stealing, so I set up as a banker at Faro. Now notice what happens! I dine out in style, and so-called fashionable people throw open their houses to me - keeping three-quarters of the profits for themselves. I could well have restored my fortunes: I even began to understand that in making money savoir-faire is more important than true knowledge. But since everybody was involved in some form of swindle and at the same time demanding honesty from me, I inevitably went under again. This time I renounced the world, and twenty fathoms of water might have divided me from it when a beneficent Providence recalled me to my original estate. I picked up my bundle and my leather strop and, leaving illusions to the fools who can live by them and my pride in the middle of the road as too heavy a burden for a pedestrian, I set out with my razor from town to town, and lived henceforward carefree.
♥ FIGARO: Obliged to follow a road I set out on, all unknowing, and one I shall come to the end of, willy nilly, I have strewn it with such flowers as my high spirits have permitted: I say my high spirits without knowing whether they are any more mine than the rest or who is this 'me' that I'm worrying about: a formless aggregation of unidentified parts, then a puny stupid being, a frisky little animal, a young man ardent in the pursuits of pleasure with every taste of enjoyment, plying all sorts of trades in order to live - now master, now servant, as fortune pleases, ambitious from vanity, industrious from necessity, but lazy from inclination! Orator in emergency, poet for relaxation, musician when occasion demands, in love by mad fits and starts. I've seen everything, done everything, been everything.
♥ CHÈRUBIN: Oh, I dare all right! You take her place with the Count. I take his with you - the one most taken in is Figaro.
FIGARO [aside]: Scoundrel!
SUZANNE [aside]: Cheeky as only a page can be!
[CHÈRUBIN attempts to kiss the Countess, the COUNT puts himself between them and receives the kiss.]
♥ THE COUNTESS [counterfeiting Suzanne's voice]: Is this how love...
THE COUNT: Love is no more than the story of one's heart; pleasure is the reality that brings me to your feet...
♥ FIGARO: Though love may not be visible, it may well be concealed under the cloak of deference.
♥ SUZANNE: That where anger and love are concerned...
FIGARO: He who hesitates is lost.
♥ THE COUNT [furious]: Silence! [To Figaro in an icy tone] Now, Sir, answer my questions!
FIGARO [coolly]: How could I do otherwise, My Lord! You command everything here - except yourself.
♥ BRID'OISON: What's my opinion, Your Lordship? All I can say it - I don't know what to think!
ALL: A very sensible verdict!
♥ BAZILE [sings]: Triple dowry, charming wife,
What a start for married life.
A noble Lord - a beardless boy!
Such rivals only fools annoy.
The clever man for all they say
In the end will get his way.
FIGARO: I know. [Sings] Let those who are well born rejoice.
BAZILE: No. [Sings] Let those who are well found rejoice.
SUZANNE: Let a husband break his vows
It's just a joke the world allows -
But should a wife like freedom take
The world will punish her mistake.
The strong it is for all they say
Who in the end will have their way.
FIGARO: Many a man who takes a wife
Thinks to lead a quiet life.
He keeps a watchdog - silly man
To guard his house - as if he can.
For woman's love - for all they say
Finds the means to fly away.
BRID'OISON: [sings] G-gentlemen, you've seen our play
What it's worth you best can say.
In one respect it's true to life
All the fuss, the hubbub - strife,
In the end - for all they say
Are but follies of a day.