Tag: Oscar Wilde

Well Hon(or)ed Narrative Techniques

The Comedies of PlautusThere is a successful forms of fiction which can easily morph into the basis for dozens of Hollywood movies (usually starring Hugh Grant, Katherine Heigl, or Cheech & Chong). An early model is Plautus’s Menaechmi. The Menaechmi is a comedy about mistaken identity, involving a set of twins and includes various stock characters (Roman at the time but some still around on television sit-coms) including the parasite, the comic courtesan, the comic servant, the domineering wife, the doddering father-in-law and the quack doctor.

This is one of my favorite plays. You may be more familiar with more recent incarnations of the same story including Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors (and Twelfth Night to some degree), Goldoni’s play I due gemelli venetian , and  Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest. Of course the idea of having look-alikes (twins) being confused is a common trop in literature, television, and movies (Cat Ballou, Dead Ringer).

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An unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort

MauriceWhen Maurice reaches a low point in his life he consults the now retired family doctor. Maurice at first tells the doctor he has a problem with women, but after the doctor responds to everything from unwanted pregnancy to impotence, Maurice admits to being “an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort.” The doctor responds, “Rubbish.” How often do you hear science defined by literature?

But the doctor’s response was indicative of the times:

Dr. Barry had given the best advice he could. He had read no scientific works on Maurice’s subject. None had existed when he walked the hospitals, and any published since were in German, and therefore suspect. Adverse to it by temperament, he endorsed the verdict of society gladly; that is to say, his verdict was theological. He held that only the most depraved could glance at Sodom, and so, when a man of good antecedents and physique confessed the tendency, “Rubbish, rubbish!” was his natural reply. He was quite sincere. He believed that Maurice had heard some remark by chance, which had generated morbid thoughts, and that the contemptuous silence of a medical man would at once deplete them.

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