Contents 3 Introduction 4 Chapter I: The Picture of Oscar Wilde 6 1.1. A concise presentation of Oscar Wilde's life 7 1.2. Main characteristics of Oscar Wilde's literary works 12 Chapter II: The magic world of the Nineteenth Century British Drama 18 2.1. The British Melodrama 24 2.2. The Nineteenth Century Comedy 28 Chapter III: Oscar Wilde, the playwright 30 3.1. Oscar Wilde's comedies of society 34 3.1.1. Lady Windermere's Fan 36 3.1.2. A Woman of No Importance 42 3.1.3. An Ideal Husband 47 3.2. Oscar Wilde's verse plays 62 3.2.1. Vera, or the Nihilists 63 3.2.2. The Duchess of Padua 68 3.2.3. A Florentine Tragedy 71 3.2.4. La Sainte Courtisane 73 3.2.5. Salome 74 3.3. A true comedy: The Importance of Being Earnest 86 4. Humour and Witticism in Oscar Wilde's literary works 98 5. Conclusions 103 6. Bibliography 106
INTRODUCTION I chose this subject for my diploma paper because, first of all, I enjoyed very much reading Oscar Wilde, his novel, essays, stories, plays and poetry. Secondly because I was much impressed by his complexity as a playwright as he was able to write such diverse plays, both in style as in plot, and all of them bearing the influence of melodrama: three drawing-room plays, a comedy, three pseudo-historical plays, a blank verse tragedy and a poetic play. Even if they are not numerous (nine known plays: "Lady Windermere's Fan", " A Woman of No Importance", "An Ideal Husband", "The Importance of Being Earnest", "Vera, or the Nihilists", "The Duchess of Padua", "La Sainte Courtisane", "A Florentine Tragedy", and "Salome"), they are extremely interesting in terms of dramatic skills, language use, witticism and, if not so much in plot, then surely in the message they convey as they all praise true love, the beauty of mind and soul, truth and the rights of men, goodness and self sacrifice. Oscar Wilde's wit was personal and non-committed as he was the leader of the aesthetic movement, which believed in art for art's sake and in the pursuit of beauty to the exclusion of everything else. The wit of Oscar Wilde's plays had no specific critical implications; their brilliance drew on presenting the conventions of society not in order to expose them but in order to get the maximum amusement out of their delightful inconstancies and absurdities. In this paper I am going to expand these ideas, to present Oscar Wilde as a complex playwright, as a beautiful mind that conceived and produced such masterfully woven theatrical works, alongside with one novel, "The Picture of Dorian Gray", a sum of short-stories gathered in the volumes "A house of Pomegranates" and "The Happy Prince and Other Stories" and a large number of poems. In the first chapter I will point out the major characteristics of Oscar Wilde's life and literary activity so as to offer a complete picture of his great personality, of his aesthetic principles and of his evolution to a complete writer. Wilde was the most colourful figure on the literary scene at the end of the century. He was a flamboyant aesthete, a studied conversationalist and brilliant wit. Then, in the second chapter, I will try to present the literary background of the nineteenth century British Drama where a preference for the melodrama can be noticed and which undoubtedly influenced Wilde's writings. Then there is the comedy which, though not very well represented during the century, became a true success written by the talented hands of Oscar Wilde. The third chapter renders a detailed panorama of Oscar Wilde's dramatic activity, with a thorough analysis of his plays, structured according to their main genre: three comedies of society, five verse plays, and a pure comedy. Wilde's lasting fame rests, first and foremost, on these engaging plays, scintillating comedies, remarkable for their adroitly contrived plots and witty dialogue. Some say Oscar Wilde was a man born under the sign of paradox and indeed he gained his fame by using witty dialogues and baffling paradoxes in all his works. They are spectacular examples of his talent as a great conversationalist and I tried to render some of his best lines to this purpose in the last pages of my paper. Oscar Wilde was a man of immense resources, a brilliant wit who surpassed by far many of his contemporaries and who left behind overwhelming masterpieces that assured his place as an outstanding figure among the best writers of the world. CHAPTER I THE PICTURE OF OSCAR WILDE One of the most remarkable and controversial figures in the history of English Literature or indeed, of the literature of the world, is undoubtedly Oscar Wilde. He gained his reputation as a man endowed with a complex character, a strong personality, alternating between leading a moral life from the religious and social point of view or having an accomplished existence as a different human being, feeling that he was caught between social request and individual, inner needs and desires.
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