A Flea in Her Ear

by Georges Feydeau

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Georges Feydeau’s farce has become a theater classic because he deftly but affectionately captures the artifice of turn of the twentieth-century French society. The primary theme is that everyone is equally capable of hypocrisy, and closely related to this is the idea that no one is above blame. Among his characters, no one is entirely innocent in the constant double-dealings, but neither can anyone be considered evil. There is a slightly moralistic strain, however; an additional theme is that of responsibility, because on some level all those who misbehave must pay in some way. While Feydeau apparently posits two different levels of society, the respectable and the disreputable, it becomes evident that the two are different in degree rather than in kind.

Initially, it seems that Raymonde Chandibise is the injured party—an honest, serious woman—because her husband is almost certainly having an affair, and she is determined to find out the truth. But the audience soon learns that Raymonde, although she has not strayed yet, is planning to have an affair. Rather than having sex with the woman he was meeting in a hotel, her husband is actually experiencing impotence. Thus, the plot twist reveals the woman as the more reprehensible deceiver.

The reversals of conscience, morality, and honesty that abound throughout the play are manifested in the settings as well as figuring in the action and dialogue. Thus, not even the furniture is innocent, as shown by complex arrangements in the hotel where all the lovers meet: entire rooms revolve, and new beds replace the old ones with the lovers in them so they can avoid detection.

Although much of the miscommunication and outright falsity is played out in the rented rooms, the author does not present the respectable residential setting and the tawdry hotel as polar opposites. Rather, he shows that even in the most respectable home, people are completely capable of hatching wicked plots. Although Raymonde is ultimately guided by her better nature, it is her lack of trust in her husband that initiated all the miscommunication. To repair their marriage, she must in future adhere to the principles she had been prepared to abandon.

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