Research Paper On Oscar Wilde English Literature Essay

Gilbert Melendez



Professor Remington

April 28, 2013

Research Paper on Oscar Wilde

Life and Background

Oscar Wilde is an Anglo-Irish novelist, poet, and short story writer to name a few. Wilde was born in Dublin, unlike other Irish writers of the time he did not use his Irish homeland as a subject for his work. Wilde studied at Dublin’s Trinity College and Oxford; it is there he discovered the writings of Walter Pater. Walter Pater was a major figure of the aesthetic revival in English arts and letters. He also advocated the pursuit of intense aesthetic experience which was widely influential at the time. Oscar Wilde was one of Pater’s students. He made this doctrine into a way of life. Oscar Wilde gained a reputation as a self- declared saint of artistic beauty. His first publication, Poems, did little to show Wilde as an aesthete. Poems was considered highly polished and highly imitative exercises in form. He promoted himself and his ideas with lecture tours throughout the United States, Canada, and Great Britain.

It wasn’t until the production of his four plays in the 1890s that Wilde achieved his greatest success. They were Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband, and The Importance of Being Earnest. All of the plays are well made comedies but out of them The Importance of Being Earnest is considered Oscar Wilde’s best and most characteristic drama. The play had more realistic characters and situations than the previous three plays he and written before. Wilde was involved in the middle of a scandal with Lord Alfred Douglas who was the son of the Marquis of Queensberry. He was arrested in April. The charges were committing homosexual acts. Wilde was sentence to serve two years hard labor. While Wilde was in prison his play The importance of Being Earnest was a huge success up until that point. Promoters removed Wilde’s name from advertisements and programs, but attendance to the play slowly dwindled. While in prison, Wilde continued to write. Of his writings he created a poem call The Ballad of Reading Gaol and the essay De Profundis. After his release he retired to France, where he lived the remainder of his life. He attempted to revive his literary career there as well but unfortunately was unsuccessful.

Importance of Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was more than just a playwright. He opposed the attempt to return to traditional doctrine. During his time period, people mostly view that if the world is to be interpreted correctly, it must be viewed in a theological way or a religious way. Most people rejected secular sciences because it is considered inherently atheistic. Wilde was placed right in the center of the political world at that time in the late nineteenth century. He was hounded on by political officials who saw their world of tradition be challenged by Oscar Wilde. Wilde was helping in the growth of Socialism there in the United Kingdom. In his plays, you can see how he writes about the different classes and how he puts his personal views in them.


Wilde has had many critics. Some may view his works favorably, but others did not view it as favorable. Whether unbiased or not, it is hard to tell if his personal life choices played a role in some of the views. In his most popular play The Importance of Being Earnest, you have one critic named Bernard Shaw who wrote his opinion about the play not being all that great. He goes on to say:

it must certainly have been written before Lady Windermere’s Fan. I do not suppose it to be Mr. Wilde’s first play: he is too susceptible to fine art to have begun otherwise than with a strenuous imitation of a great dramatic poem, Greek or Shakespearian: but it was perhaps the first which he designed for practical commercial use at the West End theatres. The evidence of this is abundant. p.409

Shaw admits that it he couldn’t help but laugh sometimes. Unfortunately he was still disappointed in the overall experience in the play. Shaw ends his review by saying:

I cannot say that I greatly cared for The Importance of Being Earnest. It amused me, of course; but unless comedy touches me as well as amuses me, it leaves me with a sense of having wasted my evening. I go to the theatre to be moved to laughter, not to be tickled or bustled into it; and that is why, though I laugh as much as anybody at a farcical comedy, I am out of spirits before the end of the second act. p. 409

Shaw is one of many different views about the play. A second critic named William Archer who also saw The Importance of Being Earnest had an indifferent view than that of Shaw. He shows a much more appreciative review for the play. An example of this is when he state:

There is a fourfold division of the works which come within his ken. These are his categories: (1) Plays which are good to see. (2) Plays which are good to write about. (3) Plays which are both. (4) Plays which are neither. Class 4 is naturally the largest; Class 3 the smallest: and Classes 1 and 2 balance each other pretty evenly. Mr. Oscar Wilde’s new comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest, belongs indubitably to the first class. P 410

Archer goes on in his praise describing the huge crowds laughing over and over again. The two critics show such different views of the same play that it almost shows if there is some sort of biased reason in their views. One last critic named Henry James describes another one of Oscar Wilde’s plays called An Ideal Husband bad, despite the popularity it has with the majority of most people. James states:

The thing seemed to me so helpless, so crude, so bad, so clumsy, feeble and vulgar, that as I walked away across St. James’s Square to learn my own fate, the prosperity of what I had seen seemed to me to constitute a dreadful presumption of the shipwreck of Guy Domville, and I stopped in the middle of the Square, paralyzed by the terror of this probability, afraid to go on and learn more. ‘How can my piece do anything with a public with whom that is a success?’ p269

Henry James goes on in a similar fashion throughout the rest of his essay.

The Importance of Being Earnest

Importance of Being Earnest is quite an amusing play. Oscar Wilde is able to set the scene very well. The verbal wit in the play reflects on who Oscar Wilde was. The details that are put in the names, how and where people were brought up, and the way they dress print a beautiful picture in the mind. Wilde’s play seems to have you look at the actors and try to find the real people that you can relate to under the social norms. For the time when this was made, the play is brilliant and light-hearted. I can definitely see why Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is one of the writer’s greatest achievements and reflect the pinnacle of his writing career.

Oscar Wilde’s Contribution to World

Oscar Wilde spent most of his life around the upper class of the United Kingdom but parodied them in his plays. He made contributions as a playwright, a comedian, and as a public figure. He brought about a wit that had a hint of sarcasm and cynicism in his plays. Most people of that time wanted to reform back to a tradition doctrine, where he did not. He was basically able to see the ridiculous nature of common everyday life. Of course in his writing you can see the moral conflict that was probably stemming from his own life. The world was able to see the courage of Wilde as he went to court on charges for indecent homosexual activity, for which at the time was still a punishable offense in England. Wilde could have given in or denied those charges but surprisingly he did not. Oscar Wilde helped bring forth the Aesthetic Movement. This movement believed that art should not have to have a moral or educational message but should give more of a pleasurable feeling. One of Oscar Wilde’s more famous quotes he had said was "Art for Art’s sake". He showed the world that one does not have to go with the other. Oscar Wilde’s legacy has been revitalized through movies and plays done by others so many times throughout the years because they can still hold relevancy to people even today. That feat only shows the greatness one person can have. To be able to come up with ideas and stories that can stand the test of time are the values he has contributed to the world in general. This is the mark of a great writer, whether you like his works or do not.


Works Cited

Archer, William. Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Dennis Poupard. Vol. 23. Detroit:

Gale Research,1987. p406-452. Print 26 April 2013

James, Henry.Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Thomas J. Schoenberg and Lawrence J.

Trudeau.Vol. 175. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2006. p264-326 Print 26 April 2013

Shaw, Bernard. Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Dennis Poupard. Vol. 23. Detroit:

Gale Research,1987. p406-452. Print 26 April 2013

Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Dedria Bryfonski and Phyllis Carmel Mendolson.

Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale Research, 1978. p494-510. Print 26 April 2013

Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Sharon K. Hall. Vol. 8. Detroit: Gale Research, 1982.

p486-503 Print 26 April 2013

Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Laurie Di Mauro. Vol. 41. Detroit: Gale Research,

1991. p347-403. Print 26 April 2013