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1) A short extract from Act 1 of The Marriage of Figaro (from the duet near the beginning in which Figaro and Susanna exchange their thoughts and fears about the consequences of being 'rung for' by... their master and mistress) leads into a reminder of how in Tom Jones and Dangerous Acquaintances ringing for the servant is a pretty basic activity. 2) What is the role of the servants in these texts? Often they are simply agents obeying their master's or mistress's everyday instructions and playing minimal role in the plots. But sometimes they are much more important than that. 3) e.g. in Dangerous Acquaintances Valmont's servant Azolan becomes quite deeply involved in his master's intrigues. He becomes his master's accomplice partly because they are both men with a common interest in hunting women. Servants like Azolan become absorbed into the lives and values of the gentlemen they serve. 4) But there is another sort of eighteenth-century servant who is much less servile and brings experiences and values of his own into the texts he appears in. These servants come from outside the social milieu of the great house. Don Quixote's Sancho Panza, Candide's Cacambo, even Torn Jones's Partridge are examples. They have trades and lives of their own and as a result acquire an independence which allows thein to play a critical and sometimes even a subversive role. 5) Figaro is perhaps the outstanding example. He, a servant, is able with the help of his allies Susanna and the Countess - to win a significant victory over the Count his master. In Beaumarchais' play the full political significance of this victory is stressed: Figaro is a part of the Third Estate which was within a few years, to come into its own with the French Revolution. Mozart's Figaro is less explicitly revolutionary and this is partly because his 'sexism' or 'machismo' (cf. Azolan) leads him at a critical moment in the last Act to direct his attack on women (the aria 'Aprit' un pog li occhi') as the cause of all his troubles and this diverts him for a moment from his real enemy, the Count. But though less overtly revolutionary than Beaumarchais' play. Mozart's opera is in its total effect a deeply realist, radical, political work of art and perhaps tells us more than any other single work of the period about the social ramifications of the Enlightenment.
Metadata describing this Open University audio programme
Module code and title: A204, The Enlightenment
Item code: A204; 33
Recording date: 1979-11-15
First transmission date: 07-10-1980
Published: 1980
Rights Statement: Rights owned or controlled by The Open University
Restrictions on use: This material can be used in accordance with The Open University conditions of use. A link to the conditions can be found at the bottom of all OUDA web pages.
Duration: 00:18:37
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Producer: Helen Rapp
Contributor: Arnold Kettle
Publisher: BBC Open University
Keyword(s): 18th century servants
Master spool number: TLN46950H944
Production number: TLN46950H944
Available to public: no