Vol. 13 (2023): A Global Ireland: New Audiences and New Alliances

Fog-Clearing and the “Irish Dimension” in Oscar Wilde’s Three Society Plays

Richard Haslam
Saint Joseph’s University

Published 2023-07-31


  • English National Character,
  • English Puritanism,
  • Ireland,
  • Oscar Wilde,
  • Society Plays

How to Cite

Haslam, R. (2023). Fog-Clearing and the “Irish Dimension” in Oscar Wilde’s Three Society Plays. Studi Irlandesi. A Journal of Irish Studies, 13. https://doi.org/10.36253/SIJIS-2239-3978-14623


Despite growing scholarly interest in how Oscar Wilde’s Irish heritage shaped the form and content of his creative works, critics exploring this area have paid less attention to his three society plays than to his fiction and his final play The Importance of Being Earnest. In seeking to rectify that imbalance, this essay first addresses the analytical implications of Wilde’s suggestion in 1893 that his own performed and planned society plays, along with certain works by his countryman George Bernard Shaw, constituted an “Hibernian” or “Celtic School”, whose key goals were to celebrate Henrik Ibsen, to deprecate theatrical censorship, and to extirpate the English “intellectual fogs” of Puritanism and Philistinism. Examining Wilde’s depictions of Puritanism, London society, and English national character in the three plays, the essay argues that their Irish facets turn out to be relatively modest in scale, consisting not of the allegorically encoded political commentaries previous critics claimed to discover in Wilde’s fiction and The Importance of Being Earnest, but instead strategies of plot, characterization, and dialogue designed to alert England to the urgent need “to clear” away its “intellectual fogs”.


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