Oscar Wilde and Theatre

Course One: Oscar Wilde and Theatre

During Wilde’s lifetime (1854 – 1900), much of his literary reputation rested on his witty conversation: W.B. Yeats tells us that Wilde was “incomparably the finest talker of his epoch”. But beneath the irreverent fun of his plays, Wilde was a searching critic of Victorian values and society, and his position as a colonized Irishman in London lent an extra edge to his searing wit.

This course explores Oscar Wilde’s theatre: the social comedies, his symbolist play Salomé and his long letter from Reading Gaol, De Profundis (currently being rewritten as a play by Frank McGuinness).

Through discussions, lectures, and audiovisual material, we will explore Wilde’s views on literature and society, which he expresses clearly in his essays and his plays. We will also explore the impact of the various contexts of Wilde’s life on his theatre: his upbringing in Ireland; his life as a professional writer, husband and father in London; his parallel life and tragic trials as a gay man; and his long association with Paris.

Course Schedule

January

(1) 15th: Oscar Wilde’s life, work and contexts
(2) 22nd: Wilde’s Salomé and French Symbolism

(3) 29th: “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime”: Wilde, socialism and London of the late nineteenth-century

February
(4) 5th: Playing with social norms in The Importance of Being Earnest
(5) 12th: Ideas, style and imaginative play in “The Decay of Lying” and The Importance of Being Earnest
(6) 19th: “The Woman Question” in the nineteenth century and A Woman of No Importance
26th: Lady Windermere’s Fan: Social hypocrisy and gender roles

March

(7) 5th: De Profundis: A prison drama
(8) 12th: An Ideal Husband: Drama to film
(9) 19th: Bank Holiday: No class
(10) 26th: Wilde’s contemporary reception and relevance to society today

Students are invited to read the texts where possible, but can also choose to watch the many film adaptations of the works, or participate in class discussions without first reading the texts.    

Course Books