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The Complete Plays

Oscar Wilde

  Oscar Wilde

  The Complete Plays

  Lady Windermere’s Fan, An Ideal Husband,

  The Importance of Being Earnest, A Woman of

  No Importance, Salomé, The Duchess of Padua,

  Vera, or The Nihilists, A Florentine Tragedy,

  La Sainte Courtisane

  This volume contains Wilde’s four full-length plays, including his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest–printed here in its usual three-act form, but with an appendix containing the best material from the original four-act version. Also included is Salomé, the play which was banned by the Lord Chamberlain in 1892 on the grounds that it introduced biblical characters on stage (the play was later performed by Sarah Bernhardt in Paris in 1896), and other less well-known plays by Wilde, two in verse.

  H. Montgomery Hyde, an acknowledged expert on Wilde and author of several books on him, has provided an introduction to Wilde’s life and work with special attention to the composition and performance of the plays.

  Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin in 1856. In the years following his graduation from Oxford in 1878 he published poems and stories which included The Picture of Dorian Gray. Lady Windermere’s Fan was produced in 1892, A Woman of No Importance in 1893 and An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest in 1895. Later work included De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol. He died in 1900.

  Methuen World Classics


  Jean Anouilh (two volumes)

  John Arden (two volumes)

  Arden & D’Arcy

  Brendan Behan

  Aphra Behn

  Bertolt Brecht (six volumes)




  Anton Chekhov

  Noel Coward (seven volumes)

  Eduardo de Filippo

  Max Frisch

  John Galsworthy


  Harley Granville Barker (two volumes)

  Henrik Ibsen (six volumes)

  Lorca (three volumes)


  Mustapha Matura

  David Mercer (two volumes)

  Arthur Miller (five volumes)



  Peter Nichols (two volumes)

  Clifford Odets

  Joe Orton

  A. W. Pinero

  Luigi Pirandello

  Terence Rattigan (two volumes)

  W. Somerset Maugham (two volumes)

  August Strindberg (three volumes)

  J. M. Synge

  Ramón del Valle-Inclán

  Frank Wedekind

  Oscar Wilde


  The Complete Plays

  Lady Windermere’s Fan

  An Ideal Husband

  The Importance of Being Earnest

  A Woman of No Importance


  The Duchess of Padua

  Vera, or The Nihilists

  A Florentine Tragedy

  La Sainte Courtisane

  Introduced by H. Montgomery Hyde



  Title Page

  Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde:

  A Chronology


  Lady Windermere’s Fan

  An Ideal Husband

  The Importance of Being Earnest

  Appendix: The Gribsby Scene from The Importance of Being

  Earnest with an explanatory note

  A Woman of No Importance


  Duchess of Padua

  Vera, or The Nihilists

  A Florentine Tragedy

  La Sainte Courtisane



  Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde:

  A Chronology

  16 October 1854

  Born at 21 Westland Row, Dublin, the second son of Sir William Wilde, aural surgeon, and Jane Lady Wilde, the Irish Nationalist poetess (Speranza).


  At Portora Royal School, Enniskillen.


  At Trinity College, Dublin, Scholar and winner of Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek.


  At Magdalen College, Oxford. Wins Newdigate Prize for English Verse (Ravenna), and gains ‘Double First’ in university degree examinations.


  Father Sir William Wilde dies in Dublin, aged 61.


  Writes Vera; or the Nihilists.


  Collected Poems published; goes into four editions.


  Undertakes extensive lecture tour of the United States and Canada, his subjects being ‘The English Renaissance of Art’, ‘House Decoration’, ‘Art and the Handicraftsman’, and ‘The Irish Poets of ’48’.


  Writes The Duchess of Padua.


  Marries Miss Constance Lloyd, daughter of Mr. Horatio Lloyd, Q.C., at St. James’s Church, Paddington.


  Editor of The Woman’s World for Cassell’s.


  Publishes The Happy Prince and Other Tales.


  The Portrait of Mr. W.H. published in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (July).


  The Picture of Dorian Gray published in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine (June).


  Meets Lord Alfred Douglas for first time. The Soul of Man Under Socialism published in The Fortnightly Review (February). The Picture of Dorian Gray republished in book form with numerous alterations and additions. Also publishes Intentions, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories, and A House of Pomegranates.

  20 February 1892

  Lady Windermere’s Fan first performed at the St. James’s Theatre.

  Writes Salome in French. Sarah Bernhardt, the leading French actress, agrees to play title role and the play is being rehearsed in London when the Lord Chamberlain bans its public performance on the ground that it introduces Biblical characters, whose appearance on the stage was then forbidden.


  Publishes Salome in simultaneous French and English edition. A later English edition (1894) appeared, with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley.

  19 April 1893

  A Woman of No Importance first performed at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket.


  Publishes The Sphinx with ‘decorations’ by Charles Ricketts. Lord Queensberry threatens to disown his son Lord Alfred Douglas unless he ceases to associate with Wilde, and Douglas refuses. Publication of The Chameleon containing Wilde’s ‘Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young’.

  Wilde also writes La Sainte Courtisane and A Florentine Tragedy at this time.

  3 January 1895

  An Ideal Husband first performed at the Hay-market theatre.

  14 February

  The Importance of Being Earnest first performed at the St. James’s Theatre. Queensberry, who is denied admission to the theatre with the intention of creating a scene, calls at Wilde’s club four days later and leaves his card for Wilde with an inscription accusing Wilde of posing as a sodomite.

  28 February

  Wilde receives Queensberry’s card and decides to prosecute him for criminal libel.

  1 March

  Queensberry arrested and committed for trial.

  3 April

  Queensberry trial opens at Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) before Mr. Justice Henn Collins and a jury.

  5 April

  Wilde withdraws prosecution, on his counsel’s advice, and Queensberry is acquitted. Arrested later same day. Bail refused.

  26 April-7 May

  Tried jointly with Alfred
Taylor on homosexual charges at the Old Bailey before Mr. Justice Charles and a jury. Jury disagrees on principal counts of indictment. Wilde released on bail of £5,000.

  20–25 May

  Tried before Mr. Justice Wills and jury, Taylor being tried separately. Both found guilty and sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour. Taken to Pentonville prison.

  4 July

  Transferred from Pentonville to Wandsworth.

  26 August

  Adjudicated bankrupt.

  12 November

  Public examination in bankruptcy.

  20 November

  Transferred from Wandsworth to Reading.

  3 February 1896

  Mother Lady Wilde dies in London, aged 70.

  11 February

  Salome first performed at the Théâtre de L’Oeuvre, Paris.

  February 1897

  Constance Wilde granted custody by Chancery Court in London of their two children Cyril and Vyvyan, with herself and her cousin Adrian Hope as guardians. The children’s surname was subsequently changed from Wilde to Holland.


  Completes De Profundis in the form of a long letter to Lord Alfred Douglas.

  19 May

  On his release from prison, travels by night boat to Dieppe where he is met by Robert Ross, to whom he entrusts the manuscript of De Profundis for copying and arranging that a typed copy is sent to Douglas.


  Settles at Berneval, near Dieppe, and writes the greater part of The Ballad of Reading Gaol there.


  Reunited with Douglas in Rouen, going on to Naples where they take a furnished villa and Wilde finishes The Ballad. They eventually separate for financial reasons, since Wilde’s wife had stopped the allowance she made him when she heard that he was living with Douglas.

  March 1898

  The Ballad of Reading Gaol published pseudonymously (‘By C.3.3.’) by Leonard Smithers. During next three months it goes into six editions.

  7 April

  Constance Wilde dies in Genoa, aged 40, and is buried in the Protestant cemetery there. Adrian Hope continues as the children’s sole guardian.


  Seventh edition of The Ballad of Reading Gaol published with the addition of the author’s name in brackets after the pseudonym on the title page.

  30 November 1900

  Wilde dies of meningitis in the Hotel d’Alsace, Rue des Beaux Arts, Paris, having shortly before been received into the Roman Catholic Church. Robert Ross constituted literary executor. Douglas pays the funeral expenses.


  De Profundis first published in a drastically expurgated edition, with a preface by Robert Ross, which gives no indication that it is part of a much longer letter to Douglas. Salome, which had been set to music as an opera by Richard Strauss, has its first performance at the Royal Opera House, Dresden.


  Wilde estate declared solvent through payment of final dividend which gives creditors in his bankruptcy 20 shillings in the pound, together with 4 per cent interest.


  First Collected Edition of Wilde’s works issued in fourteen volumes, under the general editorship of Robert Ross, thirteen by Methuen & Co., London, and one (The Picture of Dorian Gray) by Charles Carrington, Paris.


  Wilde’s remains removed from Bagneux cemetery in Paris, where they had been originally interred, to their present resting place in Père Lachaise, in the presence, among others, of Robert Ross and Wilde’s younger son Vyvyan Holland. Manuscript of De Profundis presented by Robert Ross to the British Museum on condition that it should not be opened to the public until 1 January i960, by which date it was assumed that Douglas and everyone else mentioned in the manuscript would be dead.


  Large sculpture by Jacob Epstein erected over Wilde’s grave in Père Lachaise.

  April 1913

  Portions of the unpublished parts of De Profundis read out in court during the trial of a libel action brought by Lord Alfred Douglas against Mr. Arthur Ransome, author of Oscar Wilde: A Critical Study, an action which Douglas loses and which makes him bankrupt.

  5 October 1918

  Robert Ross dies, having expressed wish in his will that after cremation his ashes should be transferred to Wilde’s tomb in Père Lachaise.

  20 March 1945

  Death of Lord Alfred Douglas.

  30 November 1950

  Fiftieth anniversary of Wilde’s death marked by graveside ceremony at Père Lachaise, when the tomb is opened and Robert Ross’s remains are placed beside Wilde’s by Mrs. Margery Ross, niece of Robert Ross, in accordance with his wishes. Panegyric delivered by Jean-Joseph Renaud, French fencing champion, who had known Wilde in his last years in Paris and had translated Intentions into French after his death.

  16 October 1954

  Rehabilitation completed by the erection by the London County Council of a plaque on the outside wall of Wilde’s home in Tite Street, Chelsea, recording the fact that ‘Oscar Wilde, wit and dramatist lived here’. The plaque is unveiled by Sir Compton Mackenzie in a well-attended and impressive public ceremony, at which H. Montgomery Hyde, M.P., presides. A similar plaque erected by the Dublin authorities on the wall of the house where Wilde was born is unveiled on the same day by the Irish playwright Lennox Robinson.

  1 January 1960

  Complete manuscript of De Profundis unsealed and opened in the British Museum. H. Montgomery Hyde is the first member of the general public allowed to examine it.



  Lady Windermere’s Fan was Wilde’s first success in the theatre, and the first of his plays to be performed in England. Prior to its original production, in 1892, he had written two serious dramatic works, Vera, or The Nihilists and The Duchess of Padua, both historical in character, but had failed to find an English producer for either, although The Duchess of Padua, which was in blank verse, had been produced under the title Guido Ferranti in New York in 1891: however, it was withdrawn after only twenty-one performances, but it was included in the theatre’s repertory during its subsequent provincial tour where it was given a few additional showings. Disheartened by this failure, Wilde now determined to try his hand at modern comedy.

  In fact, the suggestion that he should do so came from his friend George Alexander, who had played the male leads for several years under Henry Irving at the Lyceum Theatre in London and had recently emulated Irving by becoming the lessee of another London theatre, the St. James’s, as actor-manager. When they met and discussed the project, Alexander gave the author £50 for an option on the play, which Wilde gladly accepted as he was pressed for money at this time and was largely dependent on his wife’s small private income. But the art of the playwright does not come easily, even to the most gifted, which Wilde undoubtedly was. At first he found the going so hard that he despaired and even thought of abandoning the play altogether and giving Alexander his money back. ‘I am not satisfied with myself or my work,’ he wrote to Alexander on 2 February 1891. ‘I can’t get a grip of the play yet: I can’t get my people real. The fact is I worked on it when I was not in the mood for work, and must forget it, and then go back quite fresh to it. I am very sorry, but artistic work can’t be done unless one is in the mood; certainly my work can’t … With regard to the cheque for £50 you gave me, shall I return you the money, and end the agreement, or keep it, and when the play is written let you have the rights and refusal of it? This will be just as you wish.’

  No doubt Alexander encouraged Wilde to persevere; at all events he would not hear of having his money back. But the work progressed slowly. For one thing Wilde was ill and made visits to Brighton and Paris to recuperate. He could do little work at his home in Chelsea where he was beset by domestic and social distractions. According to Alexander’s secretary Hesketh Pearson, who later wrote an excellent biography of Wilde, it was not until the late summer that Wilde went off to the Lakes where he
took a holiday cottage. This seems quite possible since Wilde did most of his work on holiday and would often give the characters in his plays the names of places in the neighbourhood where he had been staying – hence Lady Windermere, in this instance, and also Lord Darlington. On his return to London, before again setting off for Paris where he was to write Salome, he handed the play he had completed to Alexander, describing it as ‘one of those modern drawing room plays with pink lampshades’, and read some passages to him. He added that he intended to call the play, provisionally at least, A Good Woman.

  Alexander realised that he had a winner and was so pleased with it that he immediately offered the author £1,000 for the rights.

  ‘Do you really mean to say that you will give me a thousand pounds for it?’ Wilde asked.

  ‘I will, certainly,’ said Alexander.

  ‘Then, my dear Aleck,’ Wilde replied, ‘as I have such complete faith in your judgment, I will not take it – I will take a good percentage instead.’ And this, after Alexander had agreed, was precisely what he did.

  Lady Windermere’s Fan, described in the theatre programme as ‘A New and Original Play, in Four Acts, by Oscar Wilde’, was first produced by Alexander at the St. James’s Theatre on Saturday, 20th February 1892. As already noted, Wilde had called it A Good Woman, by which it was known for purposes of advance publicity until a few days of its opening. When the author’s mother Lady Wilde read about the initial title, she wrote to her son: ‘I do not like it. It is mawkish. No one cares for a good woman. A Noble Woman would be better.’ Whether this opinion induced the author to change the title is unknown. Probably not, since Wilde, as he was to do later with An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, similarly used provisional titles. In the published version, which first appeared in November 1893 under the imprint of Elkin Mathews and John Lane, the work was sub-titled ‘A Play about a Good Woman’. It was dedicated to the author’s friend Lord Lytton, a poet and ‘a man of real artistic temperament’, as Wilde described him, who had died two years previously while he was British Ambassador in Paris and Wilde was putting the finishing touches to his play. (‘I had seen him only a few days before he died, lying in Pauline Borghese’s lovely room at the Embassy, and full of charm and grace and tenderness.’)