Moral transgressions against Victorian society in the tragic plays of Oscar Wilde

Abstract

After Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in 1895 for acts of ‘gross indecency’, his reputation was destroyed. He was subsequently ‘dismissed as an idle aesthete, an uncommitted poseur’ and ‘a mere dandy’ (Eltis, 1996, p. 6). Critics would ultimately ignore Wilde’s lifelong engagement with socio-political change throughout his works due to his legacy as a scandalous celebrity.

Today, his society comedies are at the forefront of his theatrical prowess, but his tragic plays are largely forgotten. This article scrutinises Wilde’s deliberate yet overlooked focus on societal subversion in his tragic plays that scandalise nineteenth-century standards of morality in Victorian England just as skilfully as his more popular comedic plays. 

Feminist writer Hélène Cixous (1977, p. 133) once asserted that tragedy ‘is built according to the dictates of male fantasy’, a claim that appears to position Wilde as a playwright who torments his tragic heroines. However, this article explores Wilde’s women as symbolic of patriarchal oppression and the cost of escaping societal expectations. Wilde’s tragedies reflect his devotion to individualism and feminism as political gestures aimed to contravene orthodox Victorian tradition.


Keywords

Oscar Wilde, Transgression, Victorian Society, Tragedy, Tragic Heroine, Feminism, Individualism

How to Cite

Javid, Q., (2023) “Moral transgressions against Victorian society in the tragic plays of Oscar Wilde”, Fields: journal of Huddersfield student research 9(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.5920/fields.1280

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Authors

Qurratulain Javid (University of Huddersfield)

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