Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Farce is a much maligned form of drama: Most criticism denigrates it due to its lack of seriousness. Many argue it is only theatrical entertainment, not true literature. Even if this were true, the capacity of the theater to delight is important, and it is undeniable that farce delights. While the thematic vision of farce may be hazy at times, farces arguably have a vision of the world turned upside-down, a world in which civilization is stripped away and the chaos of the ego is revealed.

Georges Feydeau wrote thirty-seven plays, some of them only one act long. Of his full-length plays, most are artfully constructed, fast-paced farces whose plots revolve around marital discord and deception. Their construction puts them in the tradition of seventeenth century French playwright Molière and the “well-made play” (or pièce bien faít) devised by nineteenth century playwright Eugène Scribe. The appeal of farces lies more in the hilarity of their action than in the depth of their characters. A Flea in Her Ear was one of Feydeau’s later works. It was a success when it opened in Paris in 1907 and has been his most popular play in England and the United States. Feydeau’s other notable farces include L’Hôtel du Libre-Change (pr. 1894, pb. 1928; Hotel Paradiso, 1957), La Dame de chez Maxim (pr. 1899, pb. 1914; The Lady from Maxim’s, 1899), and Occupe-toi d’Amélie (pr. 1908, pb. 1911; Keep an Eye on Amélie, 1958).

Though Feydeau was perhaps the leading writer of farce in the era centering on the belle époque, he was not the only one. Farces by such writers as Eugène Labiche, Jacques Prévert, and Victorien Sardou can be read and seen with pleasure today. Feydeau’s influence has been great. His plays, though often in an altered form, continue to be performed. His influence has been lasting and can be seen in the works of absurdist dramatists Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco.