Fear of Fighting

A husband and wife return home from a party. She’s feeling rather satisfied. He’s feeling rather angry. Both feelings derive from the same cause: she spent the evening flirting with a young soldier. As she begins to undress, he scolds her and she mocks him. He writes a letter remonstrating with the soldier and she dares him to deliver it in person. He finally comes to realize that he just doesn’t have the courage to confront the philanderer and risk his reprisals. He suffers from… La Peur des Coups!

Georges Courteline’s sardonic playlet of that title has delighted French audiences since 1894. And one of its occasional delights arises from the moment when the nameless husband tells his equally nameless wife what he’d do if only she were ten years younger: he’d give her a spanking to remind her of what’s proper. It’s a reference that inspired this poster design for a 2016 production at Nogent sur Marne:


But theater posters can’t always be taken literally, unless of course you want to set yourself up for disappointment. The spanking is what the husband says he would like to do, but not necessarily what he actually does do: it’s a play about his essential timidity, so there’s every chance that his threat won’t be realized.

On the other hand, because Courteline’s writing concentrates on the smart dialog and is always frugal with stage directions, there’s also a fair chance that he will carry out his threat: he may be afraid to fight the soldier, but not to spank his wife.

And that is indeed what happened when La Peur des Coups was produced at Antibes as part of a Courteline anthology earlier in 2016. Here’s the scene as it was photographed for publicity purposes, with Jeff Buisson spanking Annabelle Charles:


(In the background on the left, incidentally, are Trielle and Valentine from La Paix Chez Soi, which was also included in the show – regrettably without an onstage spanking.)

In that publicity version, the couple have evidently just got back: she’s still fully dressed, and the reprisal is immediate. But of course it can’t be played that way because it would pre-empt the threat, so in the performance itself, the spanking has to come later on. And that means she’s already taken off her dress and shoes, and for protection only has her slip and (look carefully) her panties:


How splendid!

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