The Play (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
The play opens in the comfortable apartment of Chandebise and his wife, Raymonde. Two servants, Étienne and his wife, Antoinette, and Chandebise’s nephew, Camille, live with them. Because Camille has a cleft palate, he can pronounce only vowels; household members sometimes understand him, but others cannot.
Raymonde suspects that Chandebise is having an affair: The title of the play derives from her nagging suspicions. He has not been ardent recently, and a pair of suspenders has been sent to him from Hôtel Minet-Galant (the gallant pussycat hotel), a meeting place for adulterers. Even though she is considering having an affair with Tournel, Raymonde is outraged. The audience soon learns she is wrong. Chandebise is temporarily impotent; the suspenders were left at the hotel by Camille when he went there with Antoinette.
Raymonde devises a plot to trap her husband. She will send him a letter from an unknown admirer inviting him to meet her at the hotel. Because Chandebise would recognize her handwriting, Raymonde gets Lucienne to write the letter. Chandebise is flattered by the letter, but because he is a faithful husband, he forwards the assignation to Tournel. When Lucienne’s husband, the fierce South American Don Carlos Homénidès de Histangua, sees the letter, he recognizes his wife’s handwriting, goes berserk, threatens to shoot everyone, and leaves for the hotel. Camille attempts to warn Tournel but cannot find an artificial palate that makes him understandable. After Tournel leaves, Camille finds the device, inserts it, and speaks comprehensibly.
The second act takes place in the Hôtel Minet-Galant’s central hall. The hotel has several staircases and doors leading to many bedrooms, the most visible of which has a special bed. When a button is pushed, the bed and the wall behind it revolve, and an identical bed appears. If a jealous spouse arrives, the lovers need only push a button and their bed is replaced by another bed containing someone else.
Many “Chandebises” appear throughout the act: Camille (whose family name is...
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Dramatic Devices (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Like most farces, A Flea in Her Ear moves at a breakneck speed and provides slapstick humor, often violent slapstick. The hotel manager beats his wife and his servant. The servant eventually jumps out a second-story window. Don Carlos roves about violently, threatens to shoot people (and even fires his revolver), and must be physically restrained. All this action occurs in the context of mistaken identities, deceptions, and other confusions. The bewilderment and surprise these confusions cause the characters are humorous, and the audience (who knows the secrets) is delighted by all the dramatic ironies.
Farce depends on stock characters. For example, in this play, the vixen wife and the impotent husband, the ardent lover and the reluctant beloved, the sadistic master, the stage Spaniard (a stereotype), and the stage Englishman (another stereotype) are all present. Georges Feydeau produces some variations on these stock characters. In this play it is the wife (rather than the husband) who has a double sexual standard, although she seems to think being a mistress does not involve sex. Feydeau invents new kinds of characters as well: Camille may be the only character in drama to suffer a cleft palate for a comic effect.
Two additional dramatic devices serve this play well. The revolving bed in act 2 provides for much hilarity, especially when Tournel jumps in it expecting to find the woman he desires but instead embraces an old man....
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Achard, Marcel. “Georges Feydeau.” In “Let’s Get a Divorce!” and Other Plays, edited by Eric Bentley. New York: Hill and Wang, 1958.
Baker, Stuart E. George Feydeau and the Aesthetics of Farce. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Research Press, 1981.
Esteban, Manuel A. Georges Feydeau. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1983.
Feydeau, Georges. Four Farces by Georges Feydeau. Translated by Norman R. Shapiro. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.
Pronko, Leonard C. Georges Feydeau. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1975.