Wilde: The Remarkable Rocket

  • Peter Raby


Wilde was arguably the first English-speaking playwright who systematically cultivated an image for himself. He was soon to be followed by George Bernard Shaw, who, while relishing the Celtic heritage he shared with Wilde, fashioned a distinctively contrasting public personality. Shaw, rival as well as colleague, also found himself in the role of critic when he began to write theatre notices for the Saturday Review in January 1895, and had to respond successively to An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, which marked Wilde’s re-entry to the public arena of West-End theatre in the first months of that year. For a brief period, Wilde and Shaw mounted a combined assault on the West-End London stage, an outpost of mediocrity defended by serried ranks of Philistines, puppets and time-serving journalists, where the actor-managers offered to a complaisant public wholly predictable and limited theatrical fare. Shaw performed his role combatively in the columns of the Saturday Review, and in his energetic attempts to market his unpleasant plays through actor-managers such as Charles Wyndham and George Alexander. Wilde, prolific in both playscripts and scenarios, and distinctly more bankable, was eventually successful in placing An Ideal Husband, and agreed to compress The Importance of Being Earnest to satisfy Alexander’s criteria.


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    Punch, 10 November 1894, p. 225. The cartoon is by Bernard Partridge (who as Bernard Gould played Sergius in George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man). Google Scholar
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© Peter Raby 2005

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  • Peter Raby

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