Oscar Wilde’s Performance Theory
Chapter One Foundations and Experiments: Oscar Wilde at Oxford 23
23 Chapter One Foundations and Experiments: Oscar Wilde at Oxford Neither a theory of performance nor a concept of an individual’s persona emanated fully-flung from Wilde’s head. There was a rather lengthy process of germination, of putting together discrete pieces of a more complex theory, sometimes with a teleology in mind, and sometimes through trial and error. Wilde at Oxford University was immersed in the scholarly world’s attempts to reconcile the ‘new’ evolutionary theories of Darwin with still-popular philosophical idealism, most notably that of Hegel and Hume. The importance of the notebooks Wilde kept while at Oxford from 1874 to 1879 is not that therein lies a nascent theory to be read into all of his works; indeed, the notebooks, like many student notebooks, largely consist of copied quotations from works Wilde was either reading or studying at the time and a smattering of half-formed ideas. But there are certain key thinkers and ideas that never left Wilde’s thought and that, in revised forms, become part of the ‘critical spirit’ lurking behind his poetry, fiction, essays, and dramas. Smith and Helfand argue in the introduction to their edition of Wilde’s Oxford Notebooks for the particular importance of Hegel in shaping Wilde’s thought. Indeed, Hegel’s dialectic might be the singular most important piece of philosophy Wilde utilizes in his writings. As well, Wilde’s exposure to Oxford’s Walter Pater’s Stu- dies in the History of the Renaissance (especially in its tacit argument against Matthew Arnold’s ideas about criticism) gave him not only...
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