Pierre de Marivaux’ comedy Le Jeu de L’Amour et du Hasard deals with an arranged marriage. The headstrong Silvia is distressed that she has been betrothed to a young man she has never met, Dorante. Her father is not entirely unsympathetic to her difficulties and agrees to her suggestion that, when Dorante comes to call that day, she should exchange places with her maid Lisette, so that she can see what he is really like. As it turns out, there’s one thing complicating her plan: Dorante has had exactly the same idea, and arrives in the clothes and identity of his own servant, Harlequin. And so the game of love and chance is played out, until Silvia and Dorante are successfully paired off – as indeed are Lisette and Harlequin. It’s a fine piece of comic plotting, even though the resolution is achieved without the need to resort to a spanking for either Silvia or Lisette, the only female characters.
The play premiered in Paris in 1730 and is still frequently produced all over the French-speaking world and beyond. Like almost every classic, it is sometimes adapted and updated, as in this 2016 production at the Lucernaire theater in Paris, with Salome Villiers as Silvia:
And occasionally the process entails the introduction of new stage business that’s of some interest to us. Take this 2009 Swiss production, in which Silvia the ‘maid’ (Alexandre Tiedemann) talks back to Lisette the ‘mistress’ (Dominique Gubser), outraging Harlequin the ‘master’ with her lack of proper servility. Lisette deals with the breach of discipline by the smart application of her fan to Silvia’s bottom:
The scene also made the cover of an edition of the play published in 2011 – even though the incident depicted doesn’t actually happen in the script!
It’s a relatively minor moment, all things considered, especially when compared with what happened when the play was performed at Orleans on June 8, 1783, in which Lisette (and sometimes Silvia) would have been dressed something like this:
The names of the cast have not come down to us, but we do know that some young gentlemen in the audience thought the two actresses gave very poor performances. So poor that, at the end of the play, the noble youths didn’t just use catcalls to express their disapproval: they came onto the stage, put the girls over their knees and gave them a public spanking!