Posts Tagged ‘Oscar Wilde’

I read this piece recently by Teresa Preston called ‘100 Must-Read Plays Not by Shakespeare’. It made me think about the plays I have read, seen performed and watched adaptations of. I love plays but I haven’t read a lot of them. I thought that I could list them down in a page. And then I could look at the list and feel bad about it. As Woody Allen’s character says in ‘Annie Hall‘ – “I feel that life is divided up into the horrible and the miserable. These are the two categories. The horrible would be like terminal cases. And blind people. And cripples. I don’t know how they get through life. And the miserable is everyone else. So, you should be thankful that you’re miserable. You’re very lucky to be miserable.” I knew that my list of plays was going to be short and it was going to make me feel miserable. Well, I am happy to be miserable. Here is my list of plays – plays I have read, seen performed and watched film / TV adaptations of.

Plays read

(1) The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
(2) Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov
(3) A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
(4) Oedipus by Sophocles
(5) The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan
(6) A Streetcar named Desire by Tennessee Williams
(7) And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
(8) The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie
(9) Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie
(10) The Robbers by Friedrich Schiller
(11) Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller
(12) Hayavadhana by Girish Karnad
(13) Nagamandala by Girish Karnad
(14) Tughlaq by Girish Karnad
(15) Muhammad bin Tughlaq by Cho Ramaswamy
(16) La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler
(17) Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee
(18) The Homecoming by Harold Pinter
(19) She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith

Play performance watched

(1) A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

Narrated / performed by my mom

(1) Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Film / TV Adaptations watched

(1) Gods of Carnage by Yasmina Reza
(2) Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire
(3) My Zinc Bed by David Hare
(4) Platonov by Anton Chekhov
(5) The Odd Couple by Neil Simon
(6) The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman
(7) The Petrified Forest by Robert E. Sherwood
(8) Proof by David Auburn
(9) Alfie by Bill Naughton
(10) Hamlet by William Shakespeare
(11) The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
(12) The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
(13) The Rose Tattoo by Tennessee Williams
(14) Closer by Patrick Marber

I think in terms of quality the list is good, actually excellent. Not very diverse, but excellent still. In terms of quantity, bad, very bad. I am not much of a theatre goer and have never been. That is not going to change much. But I hope to read more plays and watch more film / TV adaptations and improve that number above, which stands at 35 right now.

Which are my favourite plays from the above? I loved all the film / TV adaptations except for Patrick Marber’s ‘Closer‘. That one, I didn’t like much, eventhough it had Julia Roberts in it. I loved the performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. It was, interestingly, performed by an Italian theatre company. ‘Twelfth Night’ was one of our family favourites – my mom used to narrate us the story / perform some of the scenes during dinner time or during weekends when I was a kid. She was a great storyteller. Those were magical times. My mom inspired me to read. She passed on her infectious love for literature to me. I miss her so much. Out of the plays I read, I liked all of them except for the last three. Harold Pinter’s ‘The Homecoming’ was powerful, but I didn’t like it much. Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘She Stoops to Conquer‘ was disappointing.

So, do you like reading plays? Do you like watching performances in the theatre? Which are your favourite plays?

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I haven’t read a play in a while – I think the last play I read was ‘Homecoming’ by Harold Pinter a few years back. So, I decided to read a few plays this year. The first one I got hold of was ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ by Oscar Wilde. I have always admired Oscar Wilde’s wit and humour and so I was really looking forward to reading his most famous play. I finished reading it a couple of days back. Here is what I think.



What I think


‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is about two friends John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff. Worthing loves Moncrieff’s cousin Gwendolen, and proposes to her and she accepts it. But Gwendolen’s mother Lady Bracknell refuses to approve their match, because John was adopted and doesn’t know anything about his biological parents. Algernon falls in love with John’s ward Cecily and proposes to her and she accepts it. Lady Bracknell has a problem with that too, till she discovers that Cecily has good investments in her name. But there is a catch in all this. John calls himself Ernest Worthing when he comes to the city. Gwendolen knows him as Ernest. John also tells his ward Cecily that he has a brother called Ernest in the city who is not a good guy and who is whiling away his time. Algernon, when he meets Cecily for the first time, takes advantage of the situation and introduces himself as Ernest Worthing. So Cecily thinks that he is Ernest. Then comes a situation when John, Earnest, Gwendolen and Cecily all end up in John’s home in the countryside, and both Gwendolen and Cecily think that they are engaged to Ernest. This leads to some funny situations and when the truth is finally revealed, that neither John nor Algernon is Ernest, Gwendolen asks John :


“Where is your brother Ernest? We are both engaged to be married to your brother Ernest, so it is a matter of some importance to us to know where you brother Ernest is at present.”


John replies :


“I will tell you quite frankly that I have no brother Ernest. I have no brother at all. I never had a brother in my life, and I certainly have not the smallest intention of ever having one in the future.”


On hearing this, Gwendolen tells Cecily :


“I am afraid it is quite clear, Cecily, that neither of us is engaged to be married to anyone.”


Gwendolen and Cecily walk off into the house after this conversation. Do John and Algernon manage to win back the trust of Gwendolen and Cecily? What does Lady Bracknell say to all this subterfuge? What happens in the end? The answer to all these form the rest of the story.


I enjoyed reading ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. It made me remember some of old Hollywood / Bollywood / Tamil movies that I have seen, which had similar plots. It looks like Oscar Wilde inspired many filmmakers. I loved the way ‘earnest’ is interpreted in different ways throughout the play taking on multiple meanings. I was also surprised to discover that Oscar Wilde was Irish. I didn’t know that before.


The play had many of my favourite Oscar Wilde lines, like these.


“it is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn’t. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read.”


“That, my dear Algy, is the whole truth pure and simple.”

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility.”


“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.”


“I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays. You can’t go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left.”


“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”


Cecily : That certainly seems a satisfactory explanation, does it not?

Gwendolen : Yes, dear, if you can believe him.

Cecily : I don’t. But that does not affect the wonderful beauty of his answer.

Gwendolen : True. In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.


Lady Bracknell : Is this Miss Prism a female of repellent aspect, remotely connected with education?

Chasuble : She is the most cultivated of ladies, and the very picture of respectability.

Lady Bracknell : It is obviously the same person.


One of my favourite Oscar Wilde lines was not there in the play – or rather it was there in its original form, which in my opinion, didn’t have the same effect. The notes to the play said that this line was modified later. The modified line, which I like, goes like this:


To lose one parent, Mr.Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.


Algernon has a manservant called Lane, who is smart and intelligent, and who reminded me of Jeeves from the P.G.Wodehouse books. Here is one scene which I liked.


Algernon : I hope tomorrow will be a fine day, Lane.

Lane : It never is, sir.

Algernon : Lane, you’re a perfect pessimist.

Lane : I do my best to give satisfaction, sir.


I have seen a movie version of the play, which had Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Frances O’Connor, Reese Witherspoon and Judi Dench. I remember the movie having a twist-in-the-tail kind of surprising ending, which the play didn’t have. I liked the movie but now after reading the play, I want to watch it again. I also have a movie version starring Michael Redgrave, Edith Evans and others, and I want to watch that too.


There are also four other Oscar Wilde plays in the collection I have. I want to read them next.


Have you read ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ or seen it performed or seen a movie version? What do you think about it?

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