Oscar Wilde. OSCAR WILDE Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900)...
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OSCAR WILDE •Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde
•(16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900)
•An Irish writer, poet and Aesthete (One who cultivates an unusually
high sensitivity to beauty, as in art or nature.)
Background• Parents were successful Dublin intellectuals, Sir William Wilde and Jane
• Wilde’s father also had three children out of wedlock prior to his marriage.
• He was the second of three children.
• From an early age he was tutored at home up until he was nine.
• Became fluent in French and German.
• He was formally educated from the age of nine at Portora Royal School.
Post-school years...• He received a royal scholarship to read classics at
Trinity College, Dublin from 1871-4.
• He read Greats from 1874-78 at Magdalen College, Oxford.
• Travelled across USA in 1881 giving lectures about the ‘new English Renaissance’ (aesthetic theories – ‘art for art’s sake.’ This theory spurned art with a moral lesson and instead claimed that art was simply an end in itself; if it is beautiful, that is all that matters.)
• Returned to Dublin and married Constance Lloyd in 1884.
• They had two children: Cyril in 1885 and Vyvyan in 1886.
• With a family to support Wilde accepted a job revitalising the Woman's World magazine, from 1887-1889.
• The next six years were the pinnacle of his achievements and creativity.
• He published two collections of children's stories, “The Happy Prince and Other Tales” (1888), and “The House of Pomegranates” (1892).
• Wrote in different forms throughout the 1880s.
• One of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890.
• Best known for his mannered theatrical comedies.
• His only novel is The Picture of Dorian Gray.
The Wilde-r years...• Since 1891 he had been in a relationship with Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’
• Douglas’ father, the Marquis of Queensbury was furious. He was going to make a scene at the opening of ‘Earnest’ but Wilde knew in advance and ejected him.
• When the Marquis left him a calling card referring to him as a ‘Somdomite (sic)’ Wilde had him arrested for libel.
• Not a good idea if what the Marquis is saying is true!
• Was tried and imprisoned for two years for ‘gross indecency between males.’
• He was released in 1897, but was bankrupt and a social and literary outsider.
• He exiled himself to Paris where he died in a hotel room, apparently pronouncing on his deathbed ‘Either the wallpaper goes or I do.’
The Importance of Being Earnest
• Considered a masterpiece.
• written in 1895.
Themes, values and ideas...
Themes - class
• Three classes represented
• Wilde’s play = a satire on ‘society.’ Society was structured around social rituals and strict etiquette, especially about birth, coming-of-age, marriage and death.
• Industrial Revolution meant wealth was not just for the aristocracy.
Ideas - Fin de siecle• ‘End of the century’
• Loss of confidence and sense of impending doom, result of threats to British imperialism, economic competition from abroad, political turmoil at home and social upheaval – class and gender conventions challenged.
• ‘Tea scene’ = Cecily taunts Gwendolen with the spectre of ‘agricultural depression,’ noting ‘I believe the aristocracy are suffering very much from it at present’ (p. 337).
Ideas - Aestheticism• ‘Art for art’s sake.’
• Diaries - Gwendolen’s claims the content of hers is ‘sensational’ (p.336) and Cecily’s is ‘meant for publication’ (p.329).
• Algernon criticises ‘people who are not serious about meals’ (p. 303). He believes eating should be afforded the kind of sustained consideration an art critic might give to a painting.
Genre, structure and language
• Borrows from a number of theatrical forms, including the comedy of manners, farce, melodrama and the problem play.
• Comedy of manners – dramatic form that gained prominence in the 18th century.
• Comedy derives from the manners and mores (customs and conventions) of a particular social group, usually the ruling elite.
• Commonly set in homes and show their social rituals, e.g. Visiting calls and courtship.
Comedy of manners...• Exposes their prejudices and assumptions for ridicule.
• Lady Bracknell’s assessment of Cecily’s facial profile. ‘The chin a little higher, dear. Style largely depends on the way the chin is worn. They are worn very high, just at present’ (p.349).
• This shows Society’s focus on appearances to the point of nonsense, making Lady B’s values and ideas – and those of the social group she represents – look absurd.
Farce• Popular throughout the 19th century and
continues to influence entertainment forms today.
• Victorian farce employed fast-paced comic narratives, mistaken identity, misunderstandings and coincidences.
• In farce actors signal to the audience, however in IOBE is played with absolute seriousness.
Melodrama• Good versus evil• Stock characters (hero, villain, damsel)• Happy ending• Resolutions effected through the discovery of a
character’s mistaken identity.
• Intensely sentimental – want an emotional response from the audience e.g Ernest’s death from a ‘severe chill’ (p. 323)
• Love is constant and always triumphs
• Names indicate character traits.
• E.g. Miss Prism; combination of ‘prissy’ and ‘prim’
• A chausable is a priestly vestment worn by some Anglican clergymen in the 19th century.
• Worthing – seaside place, but also ‘worthy’ – J.P.
• More complex, psychologically motivated characters than those in melodrama.
• IOBE is a parody of these.
• Three act play
• Symmetry – characters; except Lady B – effect?
• Other symmetry?
Style• Use of humour
• Wit - the talent or quality of using unexpected associations between contrasting or disparate words or ideas to make a clever humorous effect
• Language use
• Epigram – a short, sharp, witty phrase.
• Algernon says: “All women become like their moths. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.’ (p.312)
Paradox• Combining two apparently contradictory terms,
characteristics and values.
• Gwendolen uses this frequently:
• E.g. ‘The simplicity of your character makes you exquisitely incomprehensible to me’ (p. 315).
• ‘If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life’ (p. 354).
• Play on words.
• Jack: My dear Algy, you talk exactly as if you were a dentist. It is very vulgar to talk like a dentist when one isn’t a dentist. It produces a false impression. (p.300)
• Jack’s last line in the play!
Themes• Era-related – breeding/parentage
• Class and society
• Love? Or is it all in a name?
• Earnest-ness. (being in earnest)
• Truth and honesty
• Nature and the ‘natural’
• Victorian institutions: religion and education
• “I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my works.”
• Yeats the poet said ‘I never before heard a man talking in such perfect sentences, as if he had written them all overnight.”
• Arguments are to be avoided; they are always vulgar and often convincing.
More Wilde quotes...• "One should never trust a woman who tells one
her real age. A woman who would tell one that, would tell one anything.“
• I am not young enough to know everything.
• Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.
• If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.
• "People who count their chickens before they are hatched, act very wisely, because chickens run about so absurdly that it is impossible to count them accurately."
• Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.
• Work is the curse of the drinking classes.
Monty Python’s Oscar Wilde sketches...