Sunday, August 14, 2011


The Portrait of Mr. W.H. by Oscar Wilde is a great compact little book. It’s not really a book, but more like a novelette. Longer than a short story, shorter than a novella. There are two pieces contained within. FIRST - The Portrait of Mr. WH. It advances the idea that Shakespeare’s Sonnets are dedicated to Willie Hughes (Mr. WH). The intrigue centers on a purported portrait of an effeminate male actor depicted in female roles. Not unusual in Shakespeare’s days, since only males were allowed to perform on stage of the Globe Theatre in Elizabethan England. SECOND - The Ballad of Reading Gaol. It’s very dark, apparently the last work completed prior to his death. The poem is organized in six sections with images of trials, prisons, wardens, guards and the hangman’s gallows. There is conflicting information as to whether the poem’s genesis was his imprisonment for A. moral reasons or B. loss of a libel case. Nonetheless, the mood is severe, reinforced by the poem’s melodic structure. Wilde’s quotations are brilliant short witticisms, his plays are societal intrigues constructed of effervescent dialogue and his involvement in the aesthetic movement promoted gilding the lily, in other words, art for art’s sake.

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