Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 359
A Flea in Her Ear is 1907 play written by French playwright Georges Feydeau. Some analysts argue that a more accurate translation of the title would be A Bee in her Bonnet . Because of its overly humoristic and fast paced narrative, the play is considered to be a farce....
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- Critical Essays
A Flea in Her Ear is 1907 play written by French playwright Georges Feydeau. Some analysts argue that a more accurate translation of the title would be A Bee in her Bonnet. Because of its overly humoristic and fast paced narrative, the play is considered to be a farce. Thus, many people compare it to Moliere’s Don Juan, and even Wilde’s and Shakespeare’s comedies. A Flea in Her Ear was written in the Belle Époque, which was one of the most memorable periods in European history, mainly because of the numerous artistic, cultural, political, and scientific achievements.
The play tells the story of Victor Emmanuel and Raymonde Chandebise—a happily married couple from Paris. However, they have recently begun to doubt their marital bliss. Raymonde begins to suspect that her husband is having an affair with someone else, as he can no longer sleep with her. She devises a plan in which she tells her close friend, Lucienne, to write Victor Emmanuel a letter from a “secret admirer” and invite him on a date, in order to see his reaction and “catch him in the act.”
However, once he receives the letter, Victor Emmanuel immediately assumes that it was intended for his friend Tournel, as he has no interest in anyone else other than his wife. Tournel, on the other hand, is in love with Raymonde, and Carlos—Lucienne’s husband—recognizes his wife’s handwriting. Thus, chaos ensues.
Feydeau focuses on the interplay between the plot and the characters, which is why his writing style has often been described as mechanic, technical, and very precise, but also very natural and spontaneous. He incorporates a myriad of social themes like love, marriage, class, status, identity, violence, codependency, infidelity, and the bourgeois society and lifestyle. Because of this, many critics and readers see A Flea in Her Ear as a play of misunderstandings, miscommunication, mistaken identity, wit, and hilarity.
The play has gained many positive reviews, and it has had numerous stage productions all over the world. It has also received various film and TV adaptations, with the most famous one being the 1976 BBC production starring Anthony Hopkins.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 861
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 Chandebise), Tournel (who pretends to be Chandebise), and Chandebise himself. Moreover, because Poche, the hotel’s drunken porter, is played by the same actor who plays Chandebise, he looks like Chandebise. Throughout the act, a libidinous Englishman named Rugby drags women into his room.
Raymonde arrives to confirm her suspicions, but when she goes to “M. Chandebise’s room,” she finds Tournel. When Tournel presses Raymonde to submit to his desires, Raymonde rings for help by pushing the button. When Tournel turns his back, the revolving bed sends Raymonde out and the old Baptistin in. Tournel jumps into bed and is horrified to discover whom he has embraced. Soon Raymonde reappears, and when they press the button again, the bed brings in Poche. Thinking he is Chandebise, both Raymonde and Tournel beg his pardon. Poche hits the button, and Baptistin appears. They all flee into different rooms.
Camille and Antoinette panic when they meet the Chandebise-like Poche. Antoinette jumps into Rugby’s room, and Camille enters the back room with the revolving bed. Raymonde and Tournel return to their original bedroom and order Baptistin out. When they hit the button by mistake, the bed produces Camille, though they do not recognize him because he speaks clearly. Camille finds Antoinette in Rugby’s room, and Rugby hits him in the mouth. The artificial palate falls out, and Camille can speak only vowels again.
Étienne arrives. Antoinette, half undressed, breaks out of Rugby’s room, sees her husband, and flees. Rugby beats Étienne, who then runs away to find Antoinette. Lucienne arrives. The real Chandebise finally appears and commiserates with Lucienne for loving him and for angering her husband, who is coming to kill her.
Don Carlos arrives brandishing a revolver and roams about the hotel. Everyone panics. Chandebise returns and runs into his wife and Tournel; she flees. Chandebise is about to strangle Tournel when the hotel manager returns to beat him. Tournel and Chandebise exit quickly. Don Carlos appears. Camille hides in the revolving bedroom. Lucienne runs into Rugby’s room and then back out again, Rugby in pursuit. She appeals to Poche for help, thinking he is Chandebise, and they hide. Don Carlos forces his way into the revolving bedroom, finds Camille, shoots wildly, and hits the button. The revolving bed brings in Lucienne and Poche, who Don Carlos thinks is Chandebise, into the room. They flee. Don Carlos shoots again as other characters restrain him.
Act 3 returns to Chandebise’s apartment. Raymonde, Tournel, and Lucienne discuss their adventures. Poche arrives dressed as Chandebise, and they think he is crazy. Camille arrives, but nobody understands him. Then Chandebise himself returns home (dressed as Poche) and berates Raymonde and Tournel. The hotel manager, Ferraillon, arrives with Camille’s lost palate and tries to drag Chandebise away. Don Carlos bursts in and challenges Chandebise to a duel. Chandebise escapes, but Poche reappears. When Don Carlos threatens him, he jumps out the window. Raymonde and Lucienne explain to Don Carlos how innocent everything really is. Chandebise returns, and Ferraillon, who found Poche outside, comes back and matters are sorted out. Raymonde and Chandebise are reconciled.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 436
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. Another device is to have one actor play two parts, Chandebise and Poche. The two devices collide when the bed revolves again to confront Raymonde and Tournel with Poche, whom they take to be Chandebise. Only in act 3 is this confusion explained: The characters realize that Poche is not Chandebise. Yet, because the audience members know the two roles are played by the same actor, they can enjoy his lightning-fast change of costume and his dramatic skill in presenting two very different characters throughout the play. The audience thus enjoys a rare form of dramatic irony: They know a secret that no character can ever know.
The dramatic development of A Flea in Her Ear is carefully contrived. Act 1 sets up the basic deception and the characters. In act 2, the pace accelerates. The action moves to a different place where the consequences of the deception will result in the climax of the play. One basic device of farce is to bring together people who should normally be kept apart. For example, here Chandebise and Raymonde eventually meet at the hotel, and the titillating discoveries begin. Act 3 provides a lengthy denouement. More discoveries are made, and most of the characters are reconciled.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 77
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.