Beaumarchais, Pierre Augustin Caron de [key], 1732–99, French dramatist. Originally a watchmaker, he rose to wealth and position among the nobility. His two successful comedies were Le Barbier de Séville (1775), the basis of an opera by Rossini, and Le Mariage de Figaro (1784), the source of an opera by Mozart. Brilliant in their clever dialogue and intricate plots, they satirize the privileges and foibles of the upper class. Beaumarchais was a famous litigant, and the pamphlets he wrote about his cases were witty and effective. Beaumarchais's employment as a secret agent by the monarchy led to his involvement in the American Revolution as a supplier of arms. The expected payment was never forthcoming, and the claims of Beaumarchais against the Americans were settled only in 1835 through a grant by Congress to his heirs. Another costly venture was his 70-volume edition of Voltaire (1785–90; volumes dated 1784–89).
See biography by M. Lever (2008).
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