Oscar Wilde’s Performance Theory
Chapter Six Performance as Redemption in De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol 185
185 Chapter Six Performance as Redemption in De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol Although while writing this study I have been concerned primarily with the development of Wilde’s theory of performance as a cultural and literary theory, it has been impossible not to notice the second narrative embedded in Wilde’s theory. That is, as he is writing about performance, and especially about persona, his own public persona becomes more and more of a structuring agent for how his writings are received and read. Wilde’s focus on his own image, his brilliantly insouciant statements and his carefully cultivated friendships with celebrities made his own public persona a collaboration with the press, a collaboration about which he was always ambivalent. Writ- ers like Ellmann and Gagnier have always maintained that Wilde courted the press’ attention enthusiastically, that he maintained control of his public persona and that he was able to manipulate even the less-flattering public portrayals of him. Other critics have followed this interpretation of Wilde in order to challenge another interpretation which sees him as both victim and martyr. Given this portrait of Wilde as a player in the celebrity game, however, it can be difficult to reconcile it with the idea of Wilde as a sincere, non-campy thinker who was using his writings to describe what he saw as an important mode of creation and interpretation in both the individual and in late-Victorian culture. However, both of these ideas – persona as a cultural herme- neutic and persona as...
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