The Honor of the Brossarbourgs

Georges Courteline’s playlet L’Honneur des Brossarbourg was first published in a Parisian journal in 1894, and later appeared in book form as part of his 1904 collection, Boubouroche. The action begins with the Baroness de Brossarbourg approaching her husband to make a confession. How will it end? Sometimes, with luck, something like this:

brossarbourg-3

Something has happened that will compromise the honor of his family, involving her and a man. The trouble is, she doesn’t know who the man was. During a hunting party at the chateau with six guests, she was changing her clothes, and had got to the point when her chemise was over her head, when suddenly an unseen hand patted her on the bare bottom and a male voice declared appreciatively that her skin was like satin. Here’s how it was visualized in two early illustrated editions of Courteline’s works:

honneur-des-brossarbourgbrossarbourg-illustration

Determined to discover the identity of the foul miscreant who blotted the family scutcheon, the Baroness slept with the house guests in turn and used all her feminine charms in an effort to extract a confession, but to no avail. Now she’s worried that the mystery bottom-patter must have been one of the servants. The disgrace!

Her husband has news for her: her adulterous investigations were all for nothing… because it was him all the time!

2015 production with Eric Juan and Anastasia Cassandra

2015 production with Eric Juan and Anastasia Cassandra

She’s relieved that it wasn’t a servant, or worse. But whether it’s an unqualified happy ending for her depends on the production. The actors can just leave it at that – Courteline gives no closing stage direction – but many directors feel the sketch needs a payoff in the form of some final reaction from the Baron. Sometimes he chases her vengefully off the stage, but in 2013 at Vandoeuvre-les-Nancy, near Strasbourg, the Theatre de l’Etoile troupe had a different idea…

The Baron resumes the role of bottom-smacker, only this time not incognito… and the Baroness’ reaction seems to exemplify the maxim that certain naughty girls won’t ask for a spanking, just misbehave enough to make sure that they get one!

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