When I read this play, I could not help but appreciate the talent Oscar Wilde had in storytelling, especially crafting dialogue. A playwright is almost completely limited to dialogue when painting a picture for the reader. There is no description, no narrative voice. And yet without me having seen the movie (of which there are several), or the play itself, Wilde’s characters, setting, and situations all come to life based entirely on what the characters say and do. Wilde’s dialogue is so precise; so specific. It goes to show how unimportant, how unnecessary, description can sometimes be.
If you’re looking for a light, hilarious read, read this play. The story is a romp back in time at the turn of the 20th century when a sophisticated, more gentile society claimed the envy of the common man. Even the play’s title is a running joke, threading the entire storyline until the punchline at the end. The narrative is code for Wilde’s social commentary, which seems to be, “Aren’t these social class games we play with each other ridiculous?”
After reading his play, I can’t help but agree with Wilde, which must be why the play has stood the test of time a hundred years after he wrote it. One can’t help but read and laugh, and then recognize that even though the posturing we do today looks different, it’s the same old thing. It’s the keeping up the with Joneses. The Facebook Envy. The coveting. The play’s themes are as old as envy itself, and that’s saying something.
Download it for free on gutenberg.org.