This edition marks the start of LGBTQ+ month. Usually, the theatre page is curated with humorous articles, light hearted reviews and the odd interview. However, I thought that for this edition I would use my powers as theatre editor for good, shining a light on an incredible playwright and member of the LGBT community.
Oscar Wilde was a prominent writer in the Victorian era, dying prematurely of meningitis at 43 years old in 1900. He is known for his work in poetry, playwriting and of course, the well known novel ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. He strived to exasperate Victorian society with his dress, actions and mind – his aforementioned novel critiquing society in a defined voice.
Wilde’s initial venture into theatre was not met with a lot of success, Vera; or, The Nihilist and The Duchess of Padua receiving less than incredible reviews. However, while in Paris he focused on the biblical icon Salome. As such, with Wilde being unable to to take his mind off Salome, after an evening debating his depiction throughout history, he was utterly inspired – writing the tragedy Salome in one evening, in French.
After this success, it was no surprise that Wilde flourished in the theatre world, moving on to writing comedies of society, in which he critiqued the world around him. Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance and An Ideal Husband mark his success in this world. The first two plays, although met with a wave of conservative criticism, established him as a comedic genius. His writing of illegitimate births and mistaken identities resulted in him being commissioned to write even more plays, including An Ideal Husband.
Wilde’s final play was titled The Importance of Being Earnest, which is widely thought to be his most successful play and crystallized his status as an impressive artist. His success was mirrored in the anger of his professional enemy Queensberry, who planned to throw a bouquet of rotting vegetables onto the stage at the end of the play in protest. However, Queensberry was banned from the theatre due to his plan being leaked prematurely. The Importance of Being Earnest solidified Wilde as an artist of high regard, yet only 15 weeks later he was imprisoned for his sexuality.
On the 25 May 1895, he was convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years of hard labour. The Judge used the maximum punishment and even stated that he wished that there was more to give, due to his intense hatred of Wilde and the crimes he had committed. Homosexuality. Initially fuelled by Queensberry’s public calling card that labelled Wilde a ‘sodomite’, that initiated a private prosecution of libel, Oscar Wilde was convicted to prison due to his sexuality. During his two years of hard labour he was transferred to another prison, during the transfer it is said that members of the public spat on him. This event is referenced in some of Wilde’s text. In response to being asked in court what is the ‘love that dare not speak his name’ (referencing Wilde’s texts) Wilde responded eloquently, stating that the love ‘is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection’. His statement only reinforced the homosexual charges in the courts eyes, yet Wilde chose to remain true to himself – acting as a gay icon throughout the theatre world. Whilst in prison, although initially refused pen and paper, he continued to publish his written works. However, he published under the pseudonym ‘C33’, his cell number.
It is said that Wilde aestheticised his suffering and turned it into art. Having read some of his very last works, I would struggle to argue against this statement. The comedic and lighthearted voice that penned The Importance of Being Earnest was gone by 1900. Yet even though Wilde was imprisoned and punished for a crime that today is thought to be a depiction of love and is free to commence under UK legislature, the voice that wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray never left him. He died penniless and alone in France, rejected by British society. I urge all of you to go and pick up a copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray and read and appreciate him. He deserves a lot more than GCSE and A-level student contempt.
Image 1: Public Domain Pictures
Image 2: flickr: trialsanderrors
Image 3: flickr: Eleanor Jaekel