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The Misunderstood Legacy Of Oscar Wilde

2106 words - 8 pages

The Misunderstood Legacy of Oscar Wilde

Surrounded by scandal caused by his own deception, Oscar Wilde left this world with a legacy of often misunderstood wit, a brilliant collection of writing, and sordid tales of an extramarital homosexual affair. The playwright progressed from a fashionable, flippant fop immersed in London society to a man broken by the public discovery of his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas. In his prime, Oscar Wilde was a social butterfly, admired and accepted by an artistic circle until his illicit affair became public; throughout his plays, he mocked the same London society with which he himself was quite involved. Within these plays, Oscar Wilde frequently created a character to represent himself, usually a witty, slightly devious dandy who could be a direct voice for the playwright. In An Ideal Husband, the characteristically clever Lord Goring cloaked wisdom in triviality, much like Wilde himself; in The Importance of Being Earnest, the deceitful but good-hearted Algernon embodied many of the qualities of his creator. In each of these plays, struggles within Wilde’s life often surfaced within the plot and dialogue. At the time they were written, the frenzied affair between Douglas and Wilde was at an apex, and the issues surrounding the situation--marital problems, conflicts with the government, and deception--permeated the works. The concept of deception woven throughout Oscar Wilde’s plays An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest both reflected and drew inspiration from the artifice within his own life.
Within An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, deception pervaded the formation of both plot and characters. Wilde’s self-referential Lord Goring flirted frequently with the concept of deception, though he is not the instigator of the concealment and craftiness around which the plot revolves. One critic "related Goring to the essential schizophrenia of his creator: careless wit and moral arbiter at one and the same time" (Stokes 163). Goring first explained to Sir Robert Chiltern, the main character who stood to lose everything in the exposure of a long-kept secret, that he "must begin by telling [his] wife the whole story" (Wilde 58), but soon afterwards Goring proclaimed, "the truth is a thing I get rid of as soon as possible!" (Wilde 63). Lord Goring "deliberately tempt[ed] Lady Chiltern into sin" (Eltis 161), but his character did not create the intrigue that necessitated Goring’s temptation of Lady Chiltern in order to preserve the Chilterns’ marriage. In contrast, The Importance of Being Earnest’s Algernon, while not technically the central character, was essential to the plot through his lies. Algernon’s imaginary invalid, Bunbury, created an excuse for him to pursue Cecily, and his appearance as Jack’s imaginary brother Ernest perpetuated the confusion of the story. Algernon deceived nearly everyone in the play, with the exception of Jack; the two men were close,...

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