Oscar Wilde: Brilliant AND Funniest Playwright

The Noncomformist Oscar Wilde

A bit about the witty Irish sardonic poet and playwright Oscar Wilde…

Photo of a Napolean Sarony portrait

Photo by DPMS @ flickr
Photo by DPMS @ flickr


Where it all began: Ireland

Well, one thing is evident; he had to be witty considering the name his parents tagged him with back then: Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde. In Dublin, Ireland, the days of 1854 when he was born, folks were lucky just to receive one middle name, let alone three! He probably had to dodge the school bullies on a regular basis, learning how to talk his way out of a beating. Guess that’s one path to becoming a successful writer! Perhaps the reality was that as a middle child he took nothing for granted, developing his skills, since he figured out early in life it took more to get noticed.

His successful parents

Seriously though, it looked like he was able to build upon a good family foundation of successful writing parents. His mother, Lady Jane Francesca Wilde (1820 – 1896), succeeded as both a poet and a journalist, writing patriotic Irish verse under the pseudonym of “Speranza.”

Oscar’s father was Sir William Wilde (1815 – 1876) who was well known as a gifted writer himself on the subject of archaeology and folklore. By profession he was a medical doctor, specializing in eye and ear surgery. Sir William Wilde was additionally well respected as a philanthropist.


Wilde’s house in London at Tite Street 34

Photo by pablo.sanchez @ flickr
Photo by pablo.sanchez @ flickr

A life hard-lived

Establishing his career

Obviously a child of privilege, Oscar received a stellar education at the fine colleges of the time, Trinity College of Dublin and Magdalen College of Oxford. By 1879 he moved to London to begin his literary career. Just the year before he won a prize for his poem “Ravenna” but, like anyone just getting established in the field of their choice, his first collected poems effort, called “Poems,” received the usual mixed reviews. Often these things happen because they are the new guy on the scene and the critics are out of their comfort zone. Also it is because a young writer is still working to create and firmly establish their writing voice.

Wilde’s long poem (5 online pages), "Ravenna," can be found to read here.

Wilde became an art reviewer in the United States and Canada by 1881. By 1883 he lived in Paris, lecturing in Britain and Ireland. By 1884 he regularly contributed to the Pall Mall Gazette and Dramatic View.

Wilde’s marriage and children

At the end of May in 1884 he married Constance Lloyd. Her father was the Queen’s Counsel Horace Lloyd. That union brought Wilde two sons, Cyril (1885) and Vyvyan (1886). Like any parent it was time to consider a job to bring home the money to pay the mounting bills. He accepted a job at Woman’s World Magazine as their editor for two years until 1889. During his tenure at the magazine he published fairy stories he wrote for his sons called The Happy Prince and Other Tales.

Critics at odds with Wilde’s early work

By 1891, Wilde wrote his first – and only – novel that we all know quite well: The Picture of Dorian Gray. While today we yawn at such books back then Wilde received an overwhelmingly negative reaction. Among the Victorian Age critics the book’s homoerotic overtones were quite the sensation, a bit too much for their senses.

The homosexual love affair that ruined his career

The year of 1891 was not a great year for Wilde as that is when he began his homosexual affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, nicknamed “Bosie.” Wilde trumpeted Douglas as the love of his life. The affair was also Wilde’s downfall in Victorian society. Of course, Wilde’s marriage ended in 1893. Divorce was not widely accepted in those days and was quite the dramatic step to take unless a woman knew society approved.

Wilde found his writing stride and shined as a witty comedic playwright

Wilde found his writing stride in comedic playwriting. His first play, Lady Windermere’s Fan, opened in 1892. A string of comedic plays were wildly popular: A Woman of No Importance (1893), The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) which is often studied in high school and college literature. My favorite, as it was produced as a wonderful 1999 movie with today’s Cate Blanchett, Minnie Driver, Julianne Moore, Jeremy Northam and Rupert Everett, is The Ideal Husband (1895). A century later this play is still very funny! You need a good laugh? Rent or buy this DVD as it is well worth it. It was these wildly acclaimed comedic plays that finally and firmly established Wilde as an accepted playwright.

The Ideal Husband SparkNotes can be found here.

The Ideal Husband in a 54-online page script form can be found to read here.

Wilde went to prison

Sadly, at the height of his career, his life went awry. He sued his lover’s father for libel and lost the case. Wilde was accused publicly by the Marquis of Queensbury as a homosexual. After Wilde lost his libel case, he was arrested and tried for gross indecency. Found guilty of the crime of sodomy he spent two years in prison at hard labor. He wrote “De Profundis” during his time in prison; it was a dramatic monologue and autobiography.

Wilde spoke out about deplorable prison conditions

After that prison ordeal, as Victorian prisons were no picnic, he was lucky to have survived deplorable conditions and was released in 1897. He wrote “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” to bring awareness to inhumane prison conditions.

The end of his short life

Wilde only lived another three years. He died of cerebral meningitis on a cold November day in 1900. For the three years since his prison release he had spent his life wandering Europe where he stayed with friends or in cheap hotels. Sad to say that such a talent met his end, penniless, in one of those cheap Parisian hotels.

A cheeky monument that would have amused Wilde greatly

Photo by anaxila @ flickr
Photo by anaxila @ flickr

Wilde's writing legacy

Ireland's gifted writer endures

The life of a gifted writer never seems easy. Often, the best writing comes through harsh life experience. What is important is to find a way to make peace with those experiences. In Victorian society it would appear there was little maneuvering room for Oscar Wilde. The witty Irishman left behind a wonderful body of work as his lasting legacy. And his cheeky quotes? Ironic humor thrives down through the centuries!

Some Cheeky Quotes from Oscar Wilde:

"I think God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability."

"I don't want to go to heaven. None of my friends are there."

"I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying."

"America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between."

And one of my many favorites that rings so true:

"Be Yourself; everyone else is already taken."


I'm a Social Issues Poet (SIP). Pay a visit to my poetry, news, humor and political blog: The Social Poets. Posting is every day.

Cheeky Quotes Day is on Wednesdays. Libations Friday! posts coffee recipes and an original poem on Fridays.

Come visit The Social Poets!

Oscar Wilde would probably find it most amusing, especially how well he is regarded a century later. Ah, life!


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Comments are always welcome! 31 comments

readabook profile image

readabook 7 years ago from Texas

Nice job summarizing Wilde's life. I enjoyed reading it and learned something new.

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Wow! That was fast - just finished putting it up. Thanks for visiting, readabook! Originally, this started off a quick highlights post of a funny guy from the past for my poetry blog, The Social Poets. Of course, one thing lead to another and I probably wrote past my agenda of just highlights... :) The Ideal Husband is a wonderful movie true to the printed work and worthy of watching. The movie is fast-paced and the wild characters grab and hold onto you all the way through to the end.

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

I'm a big fan of Oscar Wilde. The movie with Stephen Fry is excellent as an account of Wilde's life. His father would have been referred to as "Sir William" -- not Sir Wilde; the honorary title accompanies the first name. Thanks for this very interesting hub. I actually got to play Lady Bracknell once, and got to say my favorite line ever ("A handbag?"). Trivia: on his first date with Constance, they met outside James Joyce's house.

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, Teresa, thanks for visiting - and catching the typo! Great trivia back story, thanks for the lagniappe goodies.

Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

Hey, Denny! Wilde be one of my faves. Just as Teresa sid, the Frears movie was a great recount, I just found it quite depressing and sad. Whenever I hear or read about OW's life, I can't help but be pissed off at how some geniuses were treated by their peers, not out of being misunderstood but out of being considered threats to the status quo. Oh well.

Wilde's quotes are genial, I think my favorite (if I needed to pick one, which I really don't) is "The truth is rarely pure and never simple."

Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

What a delightful writeup, Denny! And what a delightful character was Mr. Wilde. His name certainly suits him, doesn't it!??

Agree with Elena. It seems artistic history is splattered with similar stories -- huge talents stabbed and battered. Isn't the whole point of literature, art and music to break through the status quo?

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, Elena., thanks for visiting!  Since I grew up with geniuses and an intelligence community who was desperate to find out if they could breed new baby geniuses - forever trying to poke, prod and test me as the child, grand and great grandchild and sibling of geniuses - well, I threw a lot of IQ tests just to keep them at arms length. They never were successful in measuring my intelligence - though over at Facebook they are still trying. 

Amazing how many people are allowing themselves to be their dupes.  But then many people are more starved for attention than they are outraged at being manipulated.  The CIA bought Facebook and has been running their usual obvious psych study of profiling and then manipulating people. 

Boy, it doesn't take long for them to figure out who is easy prey.  The intelligence community has always laughed at how easy it is to manipulate the American public.  Sadly, this recent Facebook garbage is proving their point.  I left Facebook as I just couldn't stomach it any more. As it is they don't allow you to delete your account, only deactivate it.  That was a serious red flag for me that it was The Company in full-court press. 

I am a person who is aware of what they are doing and it is wrong.  If they would tell people about their studies they would get plenty of participants anyway but deception is wrong, especially on your own countrymen and women.  Wrong is wrong.

(Stepping down off my soapbox now...)  As to genius is supposed to challenge the status quo - then I must be blanking brilliant!!! :) Spent my whole life challenging wrong as much as challenging mediocrity.  But you see, if the intelligence and government community gets a handle on and targets who are the most brilliant citizens they can control the challenging of the status quo:  those in power, "them." See how they work?  This is why it is so important to be deeply involved in politics and learn to separate fact from fiction and not just accept what you are told.

Hi, Mighty Mom, thanks for stopping by to visit!  Hmmm.... "stabbed and battered" seems to describe my life story too.  I suppose that's why I like to shock my detractors/abusers by getting back up to challenge them yet again.  Tenacity wins the day!  What a shame that Wilde did not go a few more rounds with the Establishment.  Eventually, he would have broken through.  It really does take tenacity to get your message out.  Challenging the status quo is a long-term committment not won in a few writings or a few years.  It can take a lifetime, a generation to turn things to the better.

That's why I keep promoting some kind of spiritual development, because without it, a person will stay broken.  The spiritual level is the only place where there is a power reservoir strong enough to anchor you, and as an infinite power source to tap that can keep you going through the winds of chaos swirling around you til you solve the problem and win the situation.  Growing up around a community of, well, basically, psychopaths (constant lying, hard-heartedness and violence) is chaos.  Without drawing on the spiritual level I wouldn't be alive to tell my story as it took that much to sidestep their violent dramas.

So, yes, it's easy for me to identify with Wilde as he was a truth-teller in a society who deflected and hid from the truth.

Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

Hi Denny. Spending most of my life in theatre, I am very familiar with Wilde's plays and some of his history (prison, e.g.) but I had no idea of much of the information I learned here today. Well done, detailed and extrememly interesting!

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, Christoph, thanks for peeking in your busy head! Wilde was one interesting guy even if his tenure on Earth was short. I see your Crusty Curmudgeon blog is rising in traffic ranking - congrats!

nazishnasim 7 years ago

Mr. Wilde is one of English Literature's most celebrated writers. I absolutely love his literary works. Especially , 'Picture of Dorian Grey' is a real treat to read. And thankyou Deny Lyon for writing such an informative piece.

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, nazishnasim, thanks for visiting and leaving your welcomed comment! I've always liked Wilde's work. The man was such a laugh riot and wrote the most incredible comedic dialogue, so fast-paced considering the time he lived when life was so slow. His writing reflected how quickly his mind worked.

Cliff 7 years ago

Hi Denny, Having spent my life in much different environments, I never knew anything about Oscar Wilde, and only vaguely knew the name. I liked the Cheeky Quotes. Have a good day.

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, Cliff, thanks for visiting and taking time to leave a comment, much appreciated! You are exactly the kind of person I wrote this for - someone who was a bit familiar or had studied some of his work in school and would enjoy reading a few highlights about the writer without getting bogged down in academic writing and citations.

nazishnasim 7 years ago

I hate the circumstances in which he died. But I think, the jail time made a big change in his life; he was a different man when he was released. But all in all, he is the best I have come so far. Can't seem to get these lines out of my mind, " He looked upon the garish day with such a wistful eye ... the man had killed the thing he loved and so he had to die". Touche!

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, nn, thanks for stopping by to visit! I agree with you that jail changed him and for the better. As a child of the wealthy class he had no idea of the harsh reality others outside his small circle had to live every day. While he was always a sensitive person, harsh experience opened up his heart to view on a larger scale and to fully understand the gravity of that witness.

tdarby profile image

tdarby 7 years ago

Thanks for the insight into a great writer's life.

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, tdarby, thanks for visiting, glad you enjoyed!

Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

Thanks for giving us a Wilde time, Denny. It's heart breaking how he wound up in prison, hard labor, I mean I just can't imagine it. Poor guy.

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, Dolores, thanks for visiting! I agree, sad indeed, just a little too much reality for a sensitive man who excelled at comedy... Risk-taking does involve the pushback from status quo society.

In our time period we have little to compare that squashing mindset against other than during the Bush years when people protested wrongs and illegalities they were thrown out of the administration, denied jobs or denounced publicly as not patriots.

animeandi 7 years ago

Hey :)!!!...

Nice work ;]!,i liked Oscar Wilde,i'm think he was a brillant & genius :]!!!.I love so much his books,& more [ma fav.book foreva :D!] "The Picture of Dorian Gray"!!!,OMG :3!,this book once i'm read his first page,i'm stay like on shock :O!!!.

All his words are fabulous!!!,i love the quote that say: "I have nothing to declare,except my genius"...this quote,i love so bad :D!!!,& other that say like this:"In this world there are only two tragedies.One is not getting what one wants,and the other is getting it"... [: i liquefy for that :D!!!,hehe.

Well,have you ever watch the movie with the great performance of:Stephen Fry & Jude Law C:???,this movie it's one of ma favs movie.If you don't watch this,i'm recommend you watch this movie :D!!! [INCREDIBLE!].Right!,i like so much your job ;] & pretty day!!!.Greetin' from Mexico City :D...


Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, amimeandi, thanks for the fun comment and your visit!  You are great fun! I'll have to check out your movie suggestion as we like actor Jude Law at our house too. Thanks for the tip!

Haunty profile image

Haunty 7 years ago from Hungary

I've read his fairy tales, his fairy tales have I read. I like his style. :)

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, Haunty, thanks for visiting! "Fairy tales" is an interesting turn of thought!

The Lost Dutchman profile image

The Lost Dutchman 7 years ago from Flanders (Belgium)

Great, great hub! I love Wilde's work, especially Salome!

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, Lost Dutchman, thanks for your visit! Yay! Another "wilde" fan! Whoo Hooo!

elliot.dunn 7 years ago

among my favorite quotes of Wilde are those found in his Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray

"All art is at once surface and symbol" and

"All art is quite useless" - that one made me think for a while.

thanks for the biographical lesson; i always enjoy learning more about an interesting author.

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, elliot.dunn, thanks for visiting and leaving some more quotes! Like a lot of artists (Picasso was well celebrated and yet doubted his effect on the world) and writers (too many to list), Wilde often waxed morose, thinking his work useless and unloved.  Those remarks often reflect how we feel about ourselves. 

Wilde was both loved and despised - surely, those feelings were fodder for personal confusion.  How happy he would be to find us celebrating him AND his work today! 

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

Hi Denny,

Thanks for this hub. A great summary of a great man. What a pity that society treated him so shabbily. He would have fared much better if he'd been born today.

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, Amanda, thanks for visiting! I agree with you about a shabby society. That's one reason I like to go back thru history and pluck out people who were trashed for no good reason and highlight their talent, a little validation and vindication a least a century or so later...

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 6 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, dali48, Facebook just isn't trustworthy with your private information. They are selling to every person that is willing to pay for it. Some are advertisers trying to figure out how to profile the public so they know how to manipulate them into buying their products. Others are unscrupulous like grifters from Nigeria.

Case in point, an older (and much too trusting) relative was the subject of identify theft from facebook just two weeks ago. She didn't find out until she was traveling in London and all her accounts were wiped out - so she couldn't pay her hotel bill. She traced how the grifters got the information all the way back to Facebook. "Oh, thank you, Facebook for selling off my private information." :)

Amazing how many people hear this news and yet continue to leave their information with Facebook. There are other social sites doing similar foolish practices - just not on the massive level that Facebook is doing - yet. (Hopefully, they never will.)

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Dafer 5 years ago

Oscar Wilde one of the greatest figures in the human history. Although, I disagree with his sexuality but his work can always take you beyond the enjoyment. By the far He is the best friend I have ever had!. I am telling all my friend here in Saudi Arabia about most of his work as I love every single word Oscar Wild has wrote it.

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    Photo Credits

    Photo of Wilde’s house in London by pablo.sanchez @ flickr

    Photo of a Napolean Sarony portrait by DPMS @ flickr

    Monument photo in Dublin, Ireland by anaxila @ flickr

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