Biography of Pierre Beaumarchais

Pierre Beaumarchais was a French playwright, musician, inventor, watchmaker, spy, horticulturist, arms dealer, and revolutionary in both America and France. He rose to prominence in the court of Louis XV, inventing new technology and teaching music. He was also an active revolutionary who advocated on behalf of American independence to the French government. As a writer, he is most famous for writing the three "Figaro" plays.

Beaumarchais was born in Paris in 1732 to a watchmaker, a Huguenot (Protestant) who converted to Catholicism after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. At the age of 12, Beaumarchais became an apprentice to his father, making watches, and in the process, invented an improvement for the pocket watch to make it more practical; at the time, the pocket watch was more of an ornamental accessory rather than something that could accurately tell the time.

After marrying a widow named Madeleine-Catherine Aubertin, Beamarchais earned a post in the court of Louis XV, teaching the king's four daughters how to play the harp. After a trip to Madrid, Beaumarchais began writing plays, eventually coming into the public eye with a play, Eugenie, in 1767. His most famous plays are the Figaro Plays: La Barbier de Seville, Le Mariage de Figaro, and La Mere coupable. The plays are seen historically as reflecting the cultural change that took place during the French Revolution, and include thinly veiled critiques of the aristocracy and government.

Le Barbier de Seville premiered in 1775, and Le Mariage de Figaro in 1781s, until it was banned by Louis XVI. While Marie-Antoinette enjoyed the play, her husband thought it was offensive to the government, and Beaumarchais endeavored to revise it, until Louis lifted the ban in 1784. Two years later, it was turned into an opera in Vienna, written by Mozart, Le Nozze di Figaro.

Beaumarchais played many other professional roles throughout his life. He delivered French munitions and supplies to the American army, and became a spy for Louis XV. After acquiring nobility, he had a confused and ambivalent relationship to the revolution taking place in his own country, moving into a fancy home near where the Bastille once stood. Once the new republic was established, he proclaimed his loyalty. After being exiled for two and a half years, he returned to Paris, where he died in 1799.

Study Guides on Works by Pierre Beaumarchais