Oscar Wilde: Morality, Aesthetics and the Dandy
The Victorian stage was a public space in which playwrights could actively explore notions of moral philosophy and ontology or identity formation. Oscar Wilde utilized this open theatrical space of discovery by writing plays that staged and interrogated certain Victorian values. In An Ideal Husband, Wilde uses the language of aesthetics to examine his personal moral beliefs, which were not always coincident with the doxa of the time. Wilde’s personal moral vision is caught up in his identity as a dandy as he conceived of the dandy and the artist as one and the same. In touch with the inscape of life through a love of beauty and the senses, both the dandy and the artist were perfectly poised to present a moral message to society, according to Wilde. In An Ideal Husband the dandy, Lord Goring, under goes a series of ontological shifts which are echoed in Wilde’s own life: dandy as moral voice, guide or counselor ; as innocent accused of immorality ; as sacrificial lamb ; and as the reinstated dandy. In An Ideal Husband , the dandy as a moral voice is sacrificed by the very society he attempts to assist and improve. However, at the end of Wilde’s play, the dandy is rescued and reinstated into the good graces of society. Unlike Wilde’s idyllically penned community of forgiveness, his Victorian audience was unwilling to forgive his own actions that fell outside of the community standards. After Wilde’s arrest , the Victorian community was silent. Wilde hoped for acceptance; however, unlike his dandy, neither he nor his reputation could be repaired or restored.
Corrie Shoemaker , a SSHRC scholarship recipient, is currently completing her Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Humanities (English Stream) at Trinity Western University. Her primary research interests are Shakespearean drama, Victorian literature, and contemporary theatrical adaptations of early-modern and Victorian plays. She presented a paper, “The Translation of Shakespearean Truth(s): Early Modern Ethics on the Post-Modern Stage,” at the University of Alberta’s MEMI conference this past December. She is currently applying to doctorate programs, both in Canada and in England, that focus upon Theater Studies and Shakespearian literature.