Georges Feydeau

A Flea in Her Ear

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A Flea in Her Ear Summary

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A Flea in Her Ear is a 1907 play written by the French playwright Georges Feydeau. Set in Paris at the turn of the twentieth century, the play is a sex-themed farce involving mistaken identity and absurd misunderstandings. Over the past century, A Flea in Her Ear has been performed countless times on stage, television, and film, including a 1968 movie adaptation starring Rex Harrison and Rosemary Harris.

One day, Raymonde Chandebise, a beautiful and much-desired woman, notices that her husband, Victor Emmanuel, appears to have lost interest in her sexually. She mistakenly assumes that Victor must be having an affair. In truth, Victor merely suffers from a nervous condition that has effectively destroyed his libido. Intent on exposing Victor’s supposed infidelity, Raymonde enlists the help of her best friend, Lucienne. Together, they compose a fake letter addressed to Victor from a secret admirer, requesting that they meet at a local disreputable establishment known as the Hotel Coq d’Or (“The Golden Cock” in English). Raymonde drafts the letter and then Lucienne recopies in her handwriting. The two depart for the Hotel Coq d’Or, eager to confront Victor once he arrives for the secret rendezvous.

However, Victor—whose sexual disinterest in his wife is the result of nervousness, not adultery—is no more eager to copulate with an anonymous admirer than he is with his wife. In fact, he mistakenly assumes the letter is intended for his best friend and business partner, Romain Tournel who, unlike Victor, is a handsome and rather lascivious bachelor who jumps at the chance to meet a random stranger for a sexual tryst. Complicating matters further is the fact that Tournel is in love with Raymonde and has been trying for some time to lure her away from Victor. Tournel makes a speedy exit to the Hotel Coq d’Or where he hopes to meet the mysterious stranger, even though the “stranger” is Raymonde, expecting to call out her cheating husband.

Meanwhile, Victor’s nephew Camille is also headed to the Hotel Coq d’Or. Having just received a silver palate that corrects his speech impediment, Camille is eager to flex his newfound confidence by wooing Antoinette, the family cook, whom he invites to accompany him to the hotel. However, Antoinette is already married to Etienne, the nosy and jealous household butler. Angry and suspicious that his wife may cheat on him, Etienne follows Camille and Antoinette to the hotel. Even Dr. Finache, the family friend and business associate who helped Camille with his speech impediment, is headed for the hotel. He does so not for any particular reason, but simply because he is a frequent client at the Hotel Coq d’Or.

Amused by the letter, Victor shows it to his colleague, Carlos Homenides de Histangua, who happens to be Lucienne’s husband. Furthermore, Carlos frequently totes a gun and is given to bouts of violent, jealous rage. Recognizing the letter’s handwriting as his wife’s, Carlos storms off to the Hotel, intent on killing Lucienne for supposedly proposing a sexual tryst with Victor. Humiliated and guilt-stricken over sharing the letter, Victor chases after Carlos in the hope of preventing the death of Lucienne and anyone else in Carlos’ way.

Around the same time, all of the characters arrive at the Hotel Coq d’Or with vastly different motivations and understandings of the situation at hand: Raymonde wants to catch Victor in an act of attempted adultery. Tournel wants a random sexual encounter with a stranger but will be delighted to find Raymonde, the real object of his desire. Etienne wants to halt a potential affair between Antoinette and Camille. Carlos wants to kill his wife, Lucienne, for writing the letter. Victor wants to stop Carlos from going on a murderous rampage. Finally, Dr. Finache is a disreputable guy, therefore, needing no special reason to be at the Hotel Coq d’Or.

The situation predictably erupts in a chaotic scene, one made all the more confusing by Victor’s striking resemblance to an alcoholic porter at the hotel named Poche. As bullets and recriminations fly, Tournel badgers Raymonde, hoping his feelings for her will be reciprocated. Though Raymonde rebuffs Tournel’s advances, Victor misunderstands the situation, believing that Raymonde wrote the letter and intended it for Tournel. Etienne confronts Antoinette and her potential paramour, Camille, who has already lost his silver palate and now struggles to be understood by anybody, owing to his speech impediment.

To help settle the situation, everybody convenes at Victor’s house. There, Carlos discovers the original letter written in Raymonde’s handwriting, leaving him satisfied that his wife isn’t having an affair. Even still, nobody can tell Victor and Poche apart, owing to their strikingly similar appearances. Finally, the owner of the hotel, Feraillon, arrives and successfully distinguishes Poche from Victor, dragging the alcoholic porter back to the Hotel Coq d’Or. Finally, Victor explains to Raymonde the real reason for his lack of sexual energy toward her, adding that the evening has cured him of his nervous affliction.

A Flea in Her Ear is a bawdy and theatrical romp that illustrates the energy and atmosphere of the Belle Epoque era in which it was written.