The story of Beaumarchais’s life reads like the plot of an improbable picaresque novel.1 From humble beginnings as the son of a watchmaker in Paris, Beaumarchais used his wits and his artistic talents to advance himself in the glittering but ruthless court world of the Bourbon kings. Having elbowed his way into the nobility, Beaumarchais made and lost a fortune as a speculator, pursued a successful career as a man of letters, fought numerous protracted legal battles, worked as a secret agent for the king, spent several short spells in prison, almost lost his life during the reign of terror, but finally was permitted to die in peace in his own home in Paris in 1799.
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