Therefore, Oscar Wilde rebels against the artificial and hypocritical social codes of his class and suggests that anybody can pass for an aristocrat with a bit of practice. Lord Bracknell is blatantly absent from the play, is referred to as a sick man, almost an invalid, and plays in fact the role of the mother. Here it has to be said that a lot of Victorian women had psychosomatic diseases—like Lord Bracknell who has little appetite and often retires to his bedroom—mostly because they were unhappy and frustrated by their assigned impotent roles as daughters, wives and mothers.
As for Lady Bracknell she has the power of decision, the power of money and the power of language. The play makes extensive reference both implicitly and explicitly to this debate, thus conforming to the fashionable discussion of his time. Two years later J. Oscar Wilde, who was well educated, had probably read it or at least heard about it. In the play, Algy and Jack are idle and lazy, but morally the women are not better than them: like them, they are idle, lie, cheat and are interested in money.
Actually, the play portrays real anxiety about gender because it raises the difficult question about the meaning of masculinity and femininity, yet always in an ironical and derisive tone.
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Upper-class women were idle but sometimes did some volunteer work or some craftswork at home. But what do we know about what men and women are supposed to do, like and dislike? If it is destined for serious people this implies that serious people might find an interest in it. Indeed, there are serious themes in the play but Oscar Wilde does not treat them seriously, thus debunking the very notion of seriousness. Then, why not play with this subtitle and reverse it?
What if, in fact, it were a serious play for trivial people? In that case it would mean that Wilde chose to tackle serious subjects but that he did not believe his public would understand his attempts at turning traditions and preconceived notions upside down. One can also wonder whether he really cares about those notions.
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Is he really aware of his own discourse on gender? If he is, he does not seem to want to push it too far. Is it because he is afraid of losing his readership and audience? In fact, we do not really know the intentions of Oscar Wilde, except perhaps that, and to paraphrase Jack in the play, when he is in town he amuses himself p. It is delightful to see, it sends wave after wave of laughter. More reviews of that time would be required in order to determine if other critics were also ill-at-ease when they saw the play.
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However, only a few weeks after its opening, Oscar Wilde was involved in the scandal that led him to prison. The audience that had laughed so much during the performances shunned his company and work. Equally, it would have been interesting to have interviews of members of the audience to find out why they had enjoyed the play. Was it because they had chosen to overlook the questionings of the play or simply because they had completely misunderstood the undertones in the first place?
Later, why did they really turn away from Oscar Wilde? Was it because they were really shocked by his homosexuality or just to conform to the new trend that was to despise him?
This way of viewing things seems to suggest that the gender order may be disrupted and changed, and Oscar Wilde was certainly one of the first ones to do so in his life and by using theatre as a means of expression for his questioning and mockery of both the social and gender orders. When the public saw the actors and actresses on stage they underwent an identification process because they lived in the same flats, wore the same clothes and spoke the same apparent language.
The Victorian audience then laughed at itself. Or did it? The scenes would have seemed so exaggerated that they could not possibly have recognized themselves and have taken the play seriously. They actually laughed at social and sexual relationships that, as far as they were concerned, could not exist.
Exaggeration and nonsensical dialogues probably helped Wilde get away with the more troubling questions he raised. This was partly because she only focused on the serious aspects of the play and found Wilde nihilistic. The direction lacked creativity and boldness, maybe because P. Laville may have understated the dimension of the play in terms of disruption of norms—or chosen to ignore this aspect.
It is the performance that is emphasized, not the subversive content.
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Can we then say that Oscar Wilde paved the way for contemporary authors like Frank McGuinness for example? However, butterflies are short-lived whereas his play has survived for more than a hundred years so far, conforming to the tastes of many different people and resisting both time and analysis.
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