Oscar Wilde Biography

Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland, on October 16, 1854. He was the second son of Sir William and Lady Wilde, one of the Irish gentry's most colorful couples. Sir William was a famed surgeon as well as an amateur archaeologist and infamous philanderer. Lady Wilde, the former Jane Francesca Elgee, was a renowned Irish nationalist and poet who wrote under the pseudonym "Speranza." Oscar Wilde started writing verse at the early age of thirteen with the poem "Requiescat," written in memory of the death of his sister Isola. He graduated from Trinity College and then continued his brilliant academic career at Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1874, after winning an academic scholarship, there he came under the tutelage of two of the Victorian era's most eminent and influential figures, John Ruskin, then a professor of art, and Walter Pater. Pater's latter‑day epicurean philosophy, encapsulated in his famous phrase "To burn always with this hard, gem‑like flame to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life," had a profound effect on Wilde.

After graduating in 1878, Wilde moved to London, where his flamboyant manner‑he wore colorful velvet coats, knee‑breeches, and green carnations‑and his intellectual gifts made him the Spokesman of the Aesthetic ("Art for Art's sake") movement. From all accounts he was a brilliant and witty conversationalist. W. B. Yeats wrote: "I never before heard a man talking with perfect sentences, as if he had written them all overnight with labor and yet all spontaneous." In 1881, he undertook a very successful lecture tour of the United States that made him famous. Wilde's public celebrity was such that Gilbert and Sullivan caricatured him with the character of Bunthorne in their operetta Patience. In January 1885, Wilde married Constance Lloyd and they had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. At the time of his marriage he was working primarily as a journalist, contributing articles and reviews to such magazines as the Pall Mall Gazette. In 1891 his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and a collection of short stories, Lord Arthur Saville's Crime and Other Stories, established his literary reputation. To earn more money to support his family and his extravagant lifestyle, he began to write plays.

Between 1892 and 1895 he wrote four successful comedies‑ Lady Windemere's Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband, and The Importance of Being Earnest‑and Salome',an experimental Poetic drama that was not allowed to be staged in London, where the Lord Chamberlain banned it in 1892.

In the spring of 1895, at the height of his commercial success and fame, Wilde was arrested. His homosexual relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, a handsome young poet, was the cause. Douglas's father, the Marquis of Queensberry, publicly accused Wilde of homosexuality, and Wilde sued for libel. For his defense the Marquis gathered a series of witnesses‑blackmailers and male prostitutes who testified to Wilde's proclivities. Wilde lost the case and was sentenced to two years of hard labor. At the time sodomy was a serious criminal offense. His reputation and his career were in ruins. When he was released, he moved to France under an assumed name, divorced and financially bankrupt. De Proofundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol, two major late works about his unfortunate experiences, were published shortly after his release. He died of cerebral meningitis on November 30, 1900.

Although Wilde did not have much regard for his comedies which he wrote primarily for financial gain ‑The Importance of Being Earnest is now considered his masterpiece. As suggested by the paradoxical subtitle, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People, Wilde intended the play to "treat all the trivial things in life seriously, and all the serious things in life with sincere and studied triviality." Though frivolous, the play succeeds with witty wordplay and effervescent humor at being a perfect entertainment. When the play opened, theater critic A. B. Valley wrote that Wilde had 11 'found himself' at last, as an artist in sheer nonsense." The plot follows the progress of two friends, Algernon and Jack‑the latter also has an after ego called Ernest‑through the entertaining twists and confusions that lead to their respective marriages. It contains some of Wilde's best dialogue and shows why he remains, next to Shakespeare, the most quoted dramatist in English literature.

(Biography taken from Great Irish Plays Copyright 1995, Random House Value Publishing, Inc)

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Recent Performances of works by Oscar Wilde
Production/Credit WhereOpening Night
The Importance of Being Earnest Chatham Players 5/3/2019
The Importance of Being Earnest Brundage Park Playhouse 10/11/2013
The Importance of Being Earnest Turning Leaf Theater Company 7/23/2010
The Importance of Being Earnest Paper Mill Playhouse 1/14/2009
The Importance of Being Earnest Over The Rainbow Productions 7/14/2006
The Importance of Being Earnest Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey 9/6/2005
Salome Two River Theatre Company 3/13/2003
Dorian ...... (Based on a Novel) East Brunswick Community Players 6/7/2002
The Importance of Being Earnest Villagers Theatre 1/11/2002
An Ideal Husband Paper Mill Playhouse 2/14/2001
The Importance of Being Earnest Brookdale Community College Drama Dept 12/3/1999
Lady Windermere's Fan Fellowship Theater 11/12/1999
The Importance of Being Earnest McCarter Theatre 10/19/1999
The Importance of Being Earnest Two River Theatre Company 5/1/1998
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