An Ideal Husband, by Oscar Wilde

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An Ideal Husband is an 1895 comedic stage play by Oscar Wilde which revolves around blackmail and political corruption, and touches on the themes of public and private honour. The action is set in London, in “the present”, and takes place over the course of twenty-four hours. “Sooner or later,” Wilde notes, “we shall all have to pay for what we do.” But he adds that, “No one should be entirely judged by their past.” Together with The Importance of Being Earnest, it is often considered Wilde’s dramatic masterpiece. After Earnest it is his most popularly produced play.[1]

In the summer of 1893, Oscar Wilde began writing An Ideal Husband, and he completed it later that winter. His work began at Goring-on-Thames, after which he named the character Lord Goring, and concluded at St. James Place. He initially sent the completed play to the Garrick Theatre, where the manager rejected it, but it was soon accepted by the Haymarket Theatre, where Lewis Waller had temporarily taken control. Waller was an excellent actor and cast himself as Sir Robert Chiltern. The play gave the Haymarket the success it desperately needed.

After opening on 3 January 1895, it continued for 124 performances. In April of that year, Wilde was arrested for ‘gross indecency’ and his name was publicly taken off the play. On 6 April, soon after Wilde’s arrest, the play moved to the Criterion Theatre where it ran from 13–27 April. The play was published in 1899, although Wilde was not listed as the author. This published version differs slightly from the performed play, for Wilde added many passages and cut others. Prominent additions included written stage directions and character descriptions. Wilde was a leader in the effort to make plays accessible to the reading public.
Many of the themes of An Ideal Husband were influenced by the situation Oscar Wilde found himself in during the early 1890s. Stressing the need to be forgiven of past sins, and the irrationality of ruining lives of great value to society because of people’s hypocritical reactions to thOscar_Wilde_-_An_Ideal_Husband_-24grammata.comose sins, Wilde may have been speaking to his own situation, and his own fears regarding his affair (still secret).[2] Other themes include the position of women in society. In a climactic moment Gertrude Chiltern “learns her lesson” and repeats LORD GORING’s advice “A man’s life is of more value than a woman’s.” Often criticized by contemporary theatre analyzers as overt sexism, the idea being expressed in the monologue is that women, despite serving as the source of morality in Victorian era marriages, should be less judgemental of their husband’s mistakes because of complexities surrounding the balance that husbands of that era had to keep between their domestic and their worldly obligations.[3][4] Further, the script plays against both sides of feminism/sexism as, for example, Lord Caversham, exclaims near the end that Mabel displays “a good deal of common sense” after concluding earlier that “Common sense is the privilege of our sex.”

A third theme expresses anti-aristocratic sentiments. Lady Basildon, and Lady Markby are consistently portrayed as absurdly two-faced, saying one thing one moment, then turning around to say the exact opposite (to great comic effect) to someone else. The overall portrayal of the upper class in England displays an attitude of hypocrisy and strict observation to silly rules.[4] Dramatis Personae
The Earl of Caversham, K.G.
Lord Goring, his son. His Christian name is Arthur.
Sir Robert Chiltern, Bart., Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs
Vicomte De Nanjac, Attaché at the French Embassy In London
Mr. Montford, secretary to Sir Robert
Mason, butler to Sir Robert Chiltern
Phipps, butler to Lord Goring
James, footman to the Chilterns
Harold, footman to the Chilterns
Lady Chiltern, wife to Sir Robert Chiltern
Lady Markby, a friend of the Chilterns’
The Countess of Basildon, a friend of the Chilterns’
Mrs. Marchmont, a friend of the Chilterns’
Miss Mabel Chiltern, Sir Robert Chiltern’s sister
Mrs. Cheveley, blackmailer, Lady Chiltern’s former schoolmate… free ebook

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