Oscar Wilde's 'A note on Shakespeare' and 'Shakespeare and Stage Costume'


This handwritten draft manuscript formed part of an article written by Oscar Wilde for the journal The Nineteenth Century, titled 'Shakespeare and Stage Costume'.

In the published article Wilde argues that ‘anybody who cares to study Shakespeare’s method will see that there is absolutely no dramatist of the French, English, or Athenian stage who relies so much for his effects on the dress of his actors as Shakespeare does himself’. He brings together a range of evidence from Shakespeare’s plays and productions to show that the dramatist placed high importance on costume design and visual effects.

A printed copy of the journal in which the article was published in May 1885 is also enclosed in the red presentation case, which holds the bookplate of the manuscript’s former owners, Donald and Mary Hyde.

What is the relationship between the note and the published article?

Wilde’s handwritten note takes up little more than a page of paper, but it does contain the core of his argument in the article, namely that Shakespeare cared very much about ‘the costume of his actors’. The note, with corrections and revisions, may have formed part of a longer manuscript draft. Wilde’s note is a reply to an article by Lord Lytton in a previous issue of The Nineteenth Century, where Lytton ‘laid it down as a dogma of art that archaeology is entirely out of place in any play of Shakespeare’s, and that its introduction is one of the stupidest pedantries of an age of prigs’. This passage appears in the opening paragraph of Wilde’s published article, where he also introduces evidence from productions of Much Ado about Nothing and Hamlet. For Wilde, ‘the stage is not merely the meeting place of all the arts, but is also the return of art to life’ (p. 807). The Nineteenth Century: A Monthly Review was a British literary journal edited by James Knowles, which published debate by leading intellectuals.

Full title:
Oscar Wilde, 'A Note on Shakespeare', with printed copy of The Nineteenth Century (May 1885)
Manuscript / Draft / Note
Oscar Wilde
© Estate of Oscar Wilde
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© Estate of Oscar Wilde

Held by
British Library
Add MS 81643

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