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OSCAR WILDE (1854-1900)

The following biography was originally published in The British and American Drama of Today. Barrett H. Clark. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1915. pp. 47-48.

Born in Dublin in 1854, of cultured and well-to-do Irish parents, Oscar Wilde spent his early youth in his native country. For three years he attended Trinity College in Dublin, but completed his university education at Oxford, where he devoted himself to classical studies. After traveling in Italy and Greece he came to London. His first book was a volume of poems (1881); these were followed by his first play, Vera, or the Nihilists, which was performed in the United States in 1883. The Duchess of Padua, a verse tragedy, was performed in the United States in 1891. Meantime Wilde had been in Paris, there making the acquaintance of many prominent literary men of the period. In 1884 he married, and was enabled thereby, as his wife was a woman of means, to devote his time to lecturing, writing poetry, essays, stories, and plays. The important plays -- Lady Windermere's Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband, and The Importance of Being Earnest -- were produced between 1892 and 1895. In 1895, Wilde was sentenced to two years' imprisonment with hard labor as the result of a trial instigated by him against the Marquess of Queensberry. On leaving prison, he adopted the name of Sebastian Melmoth and went to France; there, and at Naples, where he later went and wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, he dragged out the few remaining years of his life. He died at Paris in 1900.

In De Profundis, Wilde said: "I took the drama, the most objective form known to art, and made of it as personal a mode of expression as the lyric or the sonnet; at the same time I widened its range and enriched its characterization." He refers to his "social" plays and speaks rather of what he intended to do than of actual accomplishment. In his poetic plays and fragments -- The Duchess of Padua, A Florentine Tragedy, and Salomé -- he wrote fairly effective pieces and some good pseudo-Elizabethan poetry; in his other plays, with the exception of Vera, comedies which for their cleverness, their ingenuity, and above all, their wit, are unsurpassed in modern times.