An Ideal Husband
An Ideal Husband (1895) is the third of Oscar Wilde’s society comedies after Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892) and A Woman of No Importance (1893). The play delighted and continues to delight audiences with its mixture of scandal and humour, melodrama and satire. Underneath a surface of frivolity and witty exchanges, Wilde explores the serious question of the relationship between political power and personal morality. After laughing at others, Wilde taught Victorian theatregoers to turn their laughter towards themselves. The play premiered at the Haymarket Theatre in London on 3 January 1895 to popular acclaim, and ran for over one hundred performances.
The play opens at a dinner party at Sir Robert Chiltern’s house in the fashionable Grosvenor Square in London. Lady Markby arrives with an unexpected guest, the witty and ambitious Mrs Cheveley. It transpires that Mrs Cheveley went to school with Sir Robert’s wife, Mrs Chiltern. Mrs Cheveley has returned from Vienna to blackmail Sir Robert, a promising Foreign Office politician. Sir Robert’s wealth, and therefore his career, was founded on a financial reward for selling a cabinet secret about the Suez Canal Company. Throughout the play, Sir Robert goes to great lengths to hide his secret – and the stain on his character – from his wife. Mrs Chiltern puts her ‘ideal husband’ on a pedestal and Sir Robert fears the loss of her love. Mrs Cheveley, eager to benefit from Sir Robert’s situation, outwits him several times before being outwitted herself in the final act of the play. Wilde demonstrates that none of the characters are faultless; indeed even the outwardly flawless Mrs Chiltern makes a foolish mistake of her own by writing a compromising letter to Lord Goring after discovering her husband’s misdemeanour.
- Article by:
- Andrew Dickson
- Popular culture, Fin de siècle
Andrew Dickson explores some of complexities of Oscar Wilde’s first hit play, Lady Windermere’s Fan.
- Article by:
- Catherine Angerson
- Fin de siècle, Popular culture, Power and politics
Catherine Angerson explores the serious questions Oscar Wilde raises in An Ideal Husband under the guise of a frivolous society play.
- Article by:
- John Stokes
- Fin de siècle, Popular culture
The Importance of Being Earnest draws on elements of farce and melodrama in its depiction of a particular social world. Professor John Stokes considers how Oscar Wilde combined disparate influences into a brilliant satire which contained hidden, progressive sentiments.
Related collection items
A Christmas book by Charles Dickens (1812–1870), published in 1843. Dickens was prompted to write this ...
Oscar Wilde’s play A Woman of No Importance is a satire on English upper class morality and society’s ...
Lady Windermere’s Fan was first performed at St James’s Theatre on 20 February 1892 to rave reviews, and ...
Adam Bede is George Eliot’s first full-length novel, and embodies the realist aims she would continue to ...