Time: The Present

I live in terror of not being misunderstood

If Oscar Wilde really did live in terror of not being misunderstood—as he wrote in The Critic as Artist in 1891—then he need not have worried, at least not so far as his plays are concerned. That is because parts of the original texts are now so arcane that they are almost bound to be misunderstood, if they are understood at all.

Take Wilde’s most famous play The Importance of Being Earnest, which many say, quite rightly, is still relevant. Of course, it is, in everything from human shallowness to the fact that sugar is no longer fashionable.

But we should not allow the richness of the text to conceal the many dated references and topical allusions in it, which had a contemporary, often esoteric, relevance at the time Wilde wrote them, but which are now elusive—especially for young or non-British audiences.

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