The Playgoer: A New Wilde?

Custom Search

Monday, July 11, 2011

A New Wilde?

King's Head Theatre in London is staging what they're claiming to be the premiere of a "lost" Oscar Wilde play, Constance.

Sounds exciting, but we should approach with caution. The text's provenance is complicated to say least:

Wilde outlined the plot for Constance, which shares its name with his wife, in a letter to actor-manager George Alexander in 1894. But it is believed he started writing the play only after his release from prison in 1897, when the exiled Wilde sold "exclusive rights" to the story to various different people. 

Wilde's manuscript ended up with the American actress Cora Brown Potter, before passing to French writer Guillot de Saix following her death. He and colleague Henri de Briel put together a French translation, which appeared in a French literary magazine in 1954. At the time Wilde's son, Vyvyan Holland, said the play seemed to be his father's.

According to the author and theatre critic Charles Osborne, who translated the French version back into English, de Briel was suspected of collaborating with the Germans during the Second World War, and members of the resistance probably destroyed Wilde's original text.
Damn you, French Resistance Fighters!

(Funny, this would be the second Wilde play known to us only in translation from French--Salome was the first.)

Constance appears to be more in Wilde's "melodrama" mode than in his outright comic, Earnest mode. (And, lest we forget, Earnest is Wilde's only play that resembles Earnest.) The plot actually seems similar to that of An Ideal Husband, but more from the wife's point of view.

More importantly, though, this would be the only play Wilde wrote after his legal ordeals and imprisonment. So even more reason why we should not be surprised if it's not so funny.

No comments: