1000 Books in 10 Years; Vol. 143-151: The Plays Of Oscar Wilde

Vera:  Vera has much in common with most of Oscar Wilde’s plays in that it presents a strong woman in the title role.  Indeed, of Wilde’s 9 plays, 5 have women in the title role.  In this, perhaps his finest play, Vera is a member of the Russian destitute and heads a group of Nihilists who aim to overthrow the Czar.  Then men of the play are all subservient to her, and she for her part proves her worth when she makes the ultimate sacrifice with the hopes that the new Czar will usher democracy into Russia.

 

 

The Duchess of Padua:  The Duchess of Padua tells the story of a young man named Guido who was left in the charge of a man he calls his uncle as a baby.  Guido gets a noticed to meet a man in Padua in regards to something concerning his parentage.  When he arrives in Padua he is convinced by a man named Moranzone to abandon his only friend (a man named Ascanio) in order to dedicate himself to revenging his father’s death at the hands of Simone Gesso, the Duke of Padua.  In the course of the play Guido finds he has fallen in love with Beatrice, the title character, and confides his love to her, a love which she returns.  By this time Guido has had a change of heart and decides not to kill the Duke of Padua, and instead intends to leave his father’s dagger at the Duke’s bedside to let the Duke know that his life could have been taken if Guido had wanted to kill him.  On the way to the bedchamber though Guido is met by Beatrice who has herself stabbed and killed the Duke so that she might be with Guido.  Guido is appalled at the sin committed on his behalf and rejects Beatrice, claiming that their love has been soiled.  She runs from him and when she comes across some guards she claims that Guido killed the Duke and he is brought before trial where, the next day, Beatrice tries to prevent Guido from speaking on his behalf for fear that she might be exposed as the killer, but Guido admits to the killing to protect her, and so his execution is set.  Beatrice goes to visit Guido in his cell and tells him that she has confessed to the murder but that the magistrates did not believe her and would not allow her to pardon Guido.  Before waking Guido, Beatrice drinks some poison and when Guido discovers that the poison is all but gone, he shares a kiss with Beatrice before she dies, at which time Guido takes her knife and kills himself.  It’s pretty awesome.  Apparently this one is not read or performed often, but along with Vera, it is I think Wilde’s best play.  Oh, and you might notice that my synopsis of the play is word for word what the Wikipedia article says.  That would be because I wrote the Wikipedia article! I ROCK!!!!

Lady Windermere’s Fan:  This play is about a woman who she believes is having an affair with another woman, when in actuality it is her own mother who left the family when she was a child.  Lady Windermere almost find solace in the arms of another man, but her mother, without revealing her relationship to her, rescues her from this and explains to her that her husband has not been unfaithful.  One of Wilde’s ‘society’ plays, it consists of ladies and lords each telling each other conflicting maxims.  You know, like liars are the only honest people and honest people can’t be trusted.  Shit like that.  These ‘society’ plays are rather generic and frankly aren’t nearly as good a Vera and The Duchess of Padua.

A Woman Of No Importance:  The play deals with the double standard that is thrust upon women and tells the story of a young man of humble origins who finds himself offered a job as a Lord’s secretary.  It is eventually discovered that, unbeknownst to either man, they are father and son.  The Lord had refused to marry the young man’s mother when she was pregnant, and so she went off and raised him on her own.  It explores the double-standard women suffer through in that men do not lose their reputation when they have casual sex, but that woman are shunned for such things.  In the end an American woman of independent means agrees to marry the young man, and he in turn need not take the job offered to him by his father.

 

An Ideal Husband:  This, like A Woman of No Importance and Lady Windermere’s Fan, is another society play and again deals with the hypocritical morality of England’s ruling elite.  A man, who sold a state secret at a young age, is threatened to be exposed should he not compromise his position on a political matter.  He reluctantly agrees to do so, but is convinced otherwise by his wife, who learns of the original sin and forgives him for it.  Like all of Wilde’s society play, somebody agrees to get married at the end and people share maxims that are paradoxal.

The Importance Of Being Earnest:  Another society play that ends with marriage.  Perhaps Wilde’s best known work, but after reading his three other societal plays it seems like generic rubbish.  All his society plays are scathing satires in English society, and though one does not really differentiate itself from the others, this one seems to be the most popular of the plays.  My guess is that Wilde wrote these four plays because they had a audience, and while each has its moments, none are as good as Vera and The Duchess of Padua.  Oh, did I mention that one of the two marriages in this play involves first cousins? WTF!?!!?!?!?!?!?

Salome: Written by Wilde in French (he was fluent in French btw) this tells the tale of Salome, the step-daughter of Herod, who does a sexy dance for Herod then asks him for John the Baptists head.  It’s a little on the short side, but hey, I’ll include is as one book.  A play is a play after all.

La Sainte Courisane:  A woman meets a holy hermit, and they talk.  Next.

A Florentine Tragedy:  A Prince takes to a working class woman who is eager to return his love, but she’s married and when her husband arrives at home he seems to be clueless as to what is going on.  He supplicates to the prince, who keeps telling him how beautiful his wife is, but then challenges him a sword fight.  The husband wins, and in his strength he finds his wife’s affection.  She says to him upon killing the prince:  “Why did you not tell me you were so strong?”  He says: “Why did you not tell me you were beautiful?”  They kiss.  CURTAIN!!!!

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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