Saturday, April 7, 2012

Whilst being laced with Wilde’s incomparable wit, “an ideal husband” deals with issues which remain as serious today as they were in 1895

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Although the play was written over one hundred years ago, Oscar Wilde deals with important issues, such as society, politics, marriage and hypocrisy. They are dealt with in such a way that Wilde could have been writing in the present day. Whilst the play an ideal husband is crammed full of Wild’s incomparable wit, much of the humour has a deeper and darker meaning Like many play writes, Oscar Wilde was aware that many people are hypocrites; as shown in this quote, “men would call it shameful and dishonourable � Men who every day do something of the same kind themselves. Men who, each one of them, have worse secrets in their own lives.” (Act II, Pg 141). The play is founded on a base of hypocrisy. Wilde’s views of an eighteenth century hypocritical society are portrayed throughout the play by most, if not all of the characters. A lot of the play revolves around hypocrisy. “This is the game of life as we all have to play it, sooner or later.”(Act I, Pg 18) A perfect example of one of Wilde’s hypocritical statements. In society most people are hypocrites, most do not mean to be and do it inadvertently and few do it on purpose. “When the gods wish to punish they answer our prayers.”(Act II, pg 145). Shown in this quote is that most people who are hypocritical on purpose, do it to prove a point. It also implies that people do not know what is good for them, and only want bad or materialistic things in life. Most people also have two sides, good and bad, but they normally only show one side. This is illustrated in this conversation, “Arnheim � a damned scoundrel. � No; he was a man of culture, charm and distinction” (Act II, Pg 14). The character of Lord Goring is also a man of two faces, but he hides the good side and shows off the vain round about town side. Most people put on a false identity in public and it’s very rare to find so one who is absolutely pure to their personality, this is said in this quote, “ What a mask you have been wearing all these years! A horrible painted mask!”(Act II Pg 166). In this day and age it is a very risky thing to speak your mind. Some people may respect you but most people will dislike you for it, as said here, “I usually say what I really think. A great mistake nowadays.” (Act II Pg 145) Life is not black and white, Wilde portrays this in a scene where Lady Chiltern realises her husband is not perfect. Sir Robert excuse is “why do you place us on such monstrous pedestals? We have all feet of clay.” This is where Lady Chiltern releases no one is perfect and that life is not black and white but more shades of grey. Society is also full of people who are dishonest, unfaithful and generally undeserving. Wilde shows this here, “Life is never fair. And perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not.” and then, “ How many men are there in modern life who would like to see their past burning to white ashes before them!” saying that most people have something in their past they regret.


The way Wide deal with marriage is very mocking. Wilde shows his opinion of 18th century married life in a very cynical way, in lines such as “Damme, sir, it is your duty to get married. You can’t always be living for pleasure,”(act III Pg 17) Or “Property is at stake. It is not a matter of affection,”(Act III, Pg 177). Both of these quotes suggest that people had to get married to be respected not to be happy or because you loved someone. He also uses epigrammatic reversal of accepted clich�s to express himself. These include such lines as “we have married perfect husbands, and we are well punished for it,”(Act I Pg 11) People should be happy when they are married, but this quote shows that this was not always the case in Wilde’s time, and today the same is true, the divorce rate has risen hugely in recent years. But there were people who had many husbands in Wilde’s plays too, implied by this quote. “I can read [your marriage] like a book … the Book of Numbers,”(Act III Pg 186). Like current day, adultery was committed in the 18th century and Wilde was well aware of this, and portrayed this in this line “Our husbands never appreciate anything in us. We have to go to others for that.”(Act I Pg 11) Like nowadays, men did not appreciate women, so they have to go to other men to get pleasure. Like in today’s society “People are either hunting for husbands, or hiding from them” (Act I, Pg 117). Then there are some people who lie to themselves that they are happy but inside they are not. Wilde shows this in Sir Robert Chiltern whose secret is eating at him. This is said about him, “You must get a wife sir. Look where your friend Robert Chiltern has got to by probity, hard work, and a sensible marriage with a good woman. Why don’t you imitate him, sir?” (Pg 17 act III) The audience knows that Sir Robert has made his money by lying and selling a cabinet secret and not hard work. In both the eighteenth century and today many men are such ill-behaved creatures that very few deserve the women they marry. Wilde says this in this line, “If we men married the women we deserved, we should have a very bad time of it.”(Act IV Pg 15)


Like today, society in Wilde’s life was far from perfect. In Wilde’s day society was bored, aimless, trivial, idle, vain and often bitchy. Not a lot has changed in over one hundred years. Nowadays there are supposed to be no classes and in America anyone can run for president. This is a complete lie; a low paid person from a bad background would never be allowed to even run. Wilde used every chance he could show up the ignorance, snobbery and vanity of the upper class, for example he uses in another of his plays, “Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them,” (Importance of Being Ernest, Act I) Society was and still unbelievably vain. In today’s society everywhere you look there is something telling you what to wear and how to look good. These quotes prove that Wilde recognised this issue as well and that looking good often involves being completely false. “Idle? � changes his clothes five times a day.”(Act I, Pg111) Or this classic example of Wilde’s wit in the form of a paradox, having a deeper meaning of society being false. “- You prefer to be natural? � Sometimes. But it is such a very hard pose to keep up.”(Act I pg 151) He also uses this line “ � I don’t think I have ever heard you talk seriously before. � It won’t occur again …” (Act II, Pg15) This is Wilde showing the problem with society was that it was not advised to be serious, it was far better to make oneself seem whimsical. Having mocked the upper class for being too vain, he describes Lord Goring as if he were based on himself. They are both poseurs and somewhat of a dandy. He also mocks English society by saying it is gluttonous in this satirist line from Vicomte De Nanjac “I am so fond of eating. I am very English in all my tastes.” (Act I, Pg 14) They had celebrities in the 18th century; Lady Markby is the equivalent to today’s posh spice. Like most of today’s television presenters they “ talk more and says less than anybody I have ever met,” (Act II, pg 16) He also uses a lot antithetical balances to show his views of the upper class such as “I don’t think man has much capacity for development. He has got as far as he can …”(Act II pg 15) Unlike most play writes Wild making a satirist line at his own sex. He does it again with this line “ � Common sense is the privilege of our sex. � And we men are so self-sacrificed that we never use it, do we, father?” (Act III pg 178)


Since the theory of politics was first invented and put into practice, it has progressively got worse. Wilde thought that the political system was poor as well and made it the background of the play. Some things that has stayed the same are that all politicians on tell the public half the story, this is expressed in this line “ � sooner or later in political life one has to compromise …,”(Act I, Pg 16) Something else which has not changed is the fact that most of the general public find politics exceeding boring. Wilde portrayed this by saying “… send Sir John [Makby] to the Upper House. He won’t take any interest in politics then …” (Act II, pg 160) And saying, “Only people who look dull ever get into the House of Commons, and only people who are dull ever succeed there,” (Act IV pg 14) Wilde portrayed one of the characters, Sir Robert Chiltern, as a typical politicians who has a secret he doesn’t want people to know about. In this line of dramatic irony the audience know that he has a secret but the characters don’t, “[Robert Chiltern] is a noble contrast to the lax morality so common among foreign politicians.” (Act IV, pg 14) In short politics has not come a long way since the time of Wilde, and it doesn’t look as if it is about to change.


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There is one sentence which is said pops up often, this is, “ - You are quite heartless, sir, quite heartless, - I hope not father,” By this Wilde means that if he did not have a heart, then he would die or that he would not be able to love anyone. This is humorous because it is repeated throughout the play and turns into a catch phrase, much like in current day comedy shows. The play also has a great many paradoxes within it. One of these is, “Everybody one meets is a paradox nowadays. It is a great bore. It makes society so obvious.” (Act III pg 174) This is a sort of paradox within a paradox. To this Lord Caversham replies, “ - Do you always really understand what you say, sir? - Yes father, if I listen attentively.”(Act III Pg174) This is another example of Wilde’s wit.


Blackmail is a very serious issue in todays and 18th century society. Wilde’s plays are no strangers to blackmail and ‘an ideal husband’ is based on blackmail and bribes, and occurs quite frequently. He is one line illustrating bribes, “… you are a man of the world, and you have you price, I suppose. Everybody does nowadays.” (Act I pg 17).


Wilde shows the idea of blackmail in Mrs Cheveley; she first blackmails Sir Robert Chiltern to endorse the argentine canal. This would certainly cost him his job and his home etc. he may even have to move abroad. “ � Loathsome joy [of newspapers] � dragging you down - the hypocrite with his greasy smile.” (Act I Pg 1) Mrs Cheveley has invested greatly in the argentine canal project after being advised to by Baron Arnheim. So he is torn between approving the canal and saving his job but costing the government lots of money and the respect of his family and friends, or condemning the scheme and loosing his job and riches, but he would save the government a lot of money and he would still have the respect of some of his family and friends for coming clean about his past.


Mrs. Cheveley then tries blackmail Lord Goring into marrying her, if he does, she says she will give Sir Robert Chiltern’s letter to Lord Goring on the morning of their wedding day. She says “, I knew you were the only person I have ever cared for, if I have ever cared for anyone,” ( pg 185 ) this means that out of all the men she has been with she has only ever loved Lord Goring.


Wilde uses several characters in the play portray corruption in high places. Sir Robert Chiltern could be considered corrupt when he was young and sold a cabinet secret to Baron Arnheim for one hundred and ten thousand pounds. However Sir Robert was in a very difficult position. He could either sell the secret to the Baron or make enough money to make the rest of his life a lot easier, or keep it and have a hard time trying to get to the top. Some people would say he made the right decision others disagree. Baron Arnheim was the person who was really corrupt; he had a high power job and did not need the money like Sir Robert. The Baron could have ignored the secret and lived quite happily. Many people have decisions like these, although often not as important. They know what they should do, but is seems so much more appealing to do the wrong thing and benefit yourself.


Mrs Cheveley is a lady who runs in all the high circles in Vienna and she is very corrupt. She does not have a high-powered job, but she makes it her job to be corrupt and make dirty money, mostly through blackmail. She doesn’t care who she uses or hurts as long as she gets what she wants. She is probably two sided but barely, if ever shows her good side. The danger of falling from high places is a serious result usually from a serious wrongdoing. It is something, which Wilde reflects on through Sir Robert Chiltern, but Sir Robert does not fall in the end. If Lord Goring had not saved him then Sir Robert would have lost everything. This is something, which has happened to Jeffery Archer recently, and he has been sent to prison.


Although the characters and events in the play are fictional, much of the story happened to Oscar Wilde himself. In 185 he had three plays running. In each of plays had a character with a dark secret in them. The same year he was arrested and convicted.


He was sentenced to two years hard labour in Reading jail. In 187 he went abroad and died a broken man. So many of the events in his play happened to him and he wrote from the heart.





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