Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
Figaro's Act V speech
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The Marriage of Figaro

Figaro's Act V speech

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 ... Could anything be stranger than a fate like mine?  Son of goodness knows whom, stolen by bandits, brought up to their way of life I become disgusted with it and yearn for an honest profession — only to find myself repulsed everywhere. I study Chemistry, Pharmacy, Surgery, and all the prestige of a great nobleman can barely secure me the handling of a horse-doctor's probe! Weary of making sick animals worse and determined to do something different, I throw myself heading into the theatre. Alas, I might as well have put a stone round my neck! I fudge up a play about the manners of the Seraglio: a Spanish author, I imagined, could attack Mahomet without scruple, but, immediately, some envoy from goodness-knows-where complains that some of the lines offend the Sublime Porte. Persia. . . Behold my play scuppered to please a set of' Mohammedan princes — not one of whom I believe can read. . . I wrote a treatise on the Theory of Value and its relation to the net product of national wealth. Whereupon I found myself looking from the depths of a hired carnage at the drawbridge of a castle, lowered for my reception, and abandoned all hope of liberty. (Rises) How I would like to have hold of one of those Jacks in office ... 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 criticise, praise has no value, and that only trivial minds are apprehensive of trivial scribbling ... I announce a new periodical which, not wishing to tread on anyone else's toes, I call the Good for Nothing Journal. Phew! A thousand miserable scribblers are immediately up in arms against me: my paper is suppressed and there I am out of work once again! I was on the point of giving up in despair when it occurred to someone to offer me a job. Unfortunately I had some qualification for it — it needed a knowledge of figures — but it was a dancer who got it! Nothing was left to me but stealing, so I set up as a banker at Faro. 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. A great nobleman comes to Seville and he recognises me. I get him safely married, and as a reward for my trouble in helping him to a wife he now wants to intercept mine! ... who is this 'me' that I'm worrying about: a formless aggregation on of unidentified parts, then a puny stupid being, a frisky little animal, a young man ardent in the pursuits of pleasure with every taste for 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.

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