Oscar Wilde’s Performance Theory
Chapter Five The Dialectic of Persona and Stereotypes in the Society Comedies 151
151 Chapter Five The Dialectic of Persona and Stereotype in the Society Comedies In 1895, critic Clement Scott, although no admirer of Wilde, grud- gingly admitted that ‘Oscar Wilde is the fashion. His catch and whimsicality of dialogue tickle the public. Just now the whole of society is engaged in inventing Oscar Wildeisms.’1 Or as Wilde’s good friend Ada Leverson put it, It is really difficult to convey now in words the strong popularity, the craze there was at this moment for the subject of my essay; ‘To meet Mr. Oscar Wilde’ was put on the most exclusive of invitation cards. And every omni- bus-conductor knew his latest jokes.2 From early 1892 until his May 1895 trials, Wilde enjoyed tremen- dous success as a playwright of the drawing-room comedy, a genre which took the conventions of the popular French melodramas and well-made plays of the day and recast them in a humorous vein.3 Wilde’s four drawing-room, or ‘society,’ comedies – Lady Winder- mere’s Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) – solidified Wilde’s celebrity persona as the model of the sophisticate. Ironically, though, each of the comedies is about the tension surrounding an 1 Illustrated London News, 12 January 1895. 2 Ada Leverson, ‘The Last First Night.’ New Criterion, January 1926. 3 The ‘well-made play’ (pièce bien-faite) was a variation of the melodrama; Eugène Scribe was its best-known practitioner. It made extensive use of the coincidence as...
You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.
This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.
Do you have any questions? Contact us.Or login to access all content.