The Plays of Oscar Wilde

Ernest Boehm
3 min readDec 26, 2022

2022 The Year of Aesthetics №52

I am on my 6th year of the hard book project and I was tired of my job and hard books for the sake of being hard , I was looking for a reprieve from “required” books I felt I had to read, and instead I wanted to read for the simple (yes capitalized) Joy Of Reading. The Importance of Being Earenst and Other Plays whispering read me. I had a wonderful time reading these plays as I saw Wilde develop as a playwright and to grow into his own. Most of his plays are flawed, imperfect and of his age, but he has written a perfect tragedy in Salome and a perfect comedy in The Importance of Being Ernest, a rival to BeaumarchaisFigaro Trilogy and Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

I am saddened by the fact that the Wilde was destroyed by being convicted of Buggery and put into forced labor destroying his career as a playwright, his last play, The Importance of Being Earnest was a masterwork that has brought me as much joy as The Marriage of Figaro and As you Like It. It plays a Shakespearian game of identity and is a strange foundling play were lies become truth in a wonderful way. Wilde was building these ideas in Lady Windermere’s Fan and Woman of No Consequence but these are plays of their ages The Importance of Being Earnest becomes a timeless play while that could be played or written today. It plays on false identities being real, the relationships between people magically emerging in a Shakespearian Comedy. All ends in happy accident and marriage and false sins forgiven and all find love and lovers are satisficed. This is hard to do and only Beaumarchais and Shakespeare really have pulled it off before Wilde.

Salome is the darkest of tragedy, biblical in the sacred yet decadent in the profanity. It is the premier play of the decadent school plays and has been compared to Tannhäuser as one of the best plays of the decadent school. Salome lives in the dark opera by Richard Strauss and it is rivaled only in opera by Strauss comic masterpiece Der Rosenkavalier . While it is a German version of Wilde’s play it plays word for word true to Wilde’s vision. I use Strauss as an example because Wilde and Strauss both achieve the complete Tragedy and Comedy.

His other plays The Ideal Husband, Lady Windermere’s Fan, The Woman of No Importance really play to their age but are well worth reading and lead you on to the path of the Importance of Being Earnest.

The Duchess of Padua is an early attempt at being Shakepearian and is in my mind an early failure of a young playwright. Vera and the Nihilist also suffers from being very much a young mans work. These plays are full of shifts of position of the characters that are ridiculous an over melodramatic.

Oddly, Salome was early and The Importance of Being Earnest is late he only ranged from 1891 to 1895 as a playwright. In those short years we received two perfect plays we can only imagine what we were robbed of by the folly of that age. As a classicist, I know we have lost much but it is even sadder when great things were never allowed to be. We all suffered for the Trial of the Love that dare not speak its Name.