Reading Greek and Roman New Comedy through Oscar Wilde's society plays Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Witzke, Serena Suzette
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Classics
  • This dissertation provides the first extended analysis of the influence of Greek and Roman New Comedy on Oscar Wilde's Society Plays and of the ways in which Wilde adapted the ancient plays he studied in school. Equally, I argue that reading Wilde's Society Plays can offer new ways of appreciating themes and conflicts in the ancient material. Wilde--ultimately interested in the individual and his place in society--uses New Comedy to explore the ways in which the individual can develop while mired in the hypocrisies of those around him. Conventional morality often comes under fire, as Wilde demonstrates the lip service paid to traditional morality. Wilde also interrogates the ancient New Comedies he adapted: these plays were considered not only funny, but mimetic in their day, with valuable messages. Wilde identifies what is amusing in them, but also sees what is serious or thought-provoking--elements that must have been obvious to ancient viewers, but went underappreciated in Wilde's time, and indeed our own. Wilde questions the value systems in place and draws attention to the psychology underpinning these plays by restaging them in his time. Chapter 1 outlines Wilde's classical education and his departure from the values of his tutors, who disparaged New Comedy. Chapter 2 explores the sexual double standard of both antiquity and Victorian England, through philandering husbands and seduced/raped wives in New Comedy and Wilde. Chapter 3 analyzes the successful recognition plots of Menander and Plautus alongside The Importance of Being Earnest. Chapter 4 investigates the superficiality of that recognition plot as it is deconstructed in Terence as well as in Lady Windermere's Fan and A Woman of No Importance--the failure of the recognition plot to reintegrate the broken family is symptomatic of deeper societal flaws. Chapter 5 reads Plautus' clever slave plays against An Ideal Husband and suggests that servi callidi and dandies have similar functions as provocateurs, that their roles are more integral to the plays than generally credited: servi callidi are necessary both for the resolution of plot and as agents of comeuppance, while dandies both facilitate character development and resolve plot.
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  • In Copyright
  • James, Sharon
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2014

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