It's still important to be Earnest – we should all see Oscar Wilde's plays, and read his books. We can learn so much about the fight for LGBTI rights now, from queer stories that tell our history
Anti LGBT discrimination has destroyed many people over the years; most would be people like you and me who are unimportant and unheard of. There are a few who were very high profile and one of these is Oscar Wilde. The story is pretty well known by now as there have been several books and movies about him. What is not well known is how the story comes to an end. Wilde left London after his release from prison in 1897 and went to live in Paris until his death in 1900. A new film by Rupert Everett is now bringing those final years to light. Unfortunately we do not yet know when the movie ill be released in South Africa.
Jamie Wareham went to see his play The Importance of being Earnest, and shares some thoughts that arose from it.
The Importance of Being Earnest, now on stage at the Vaudeville Theatre in London, is one of Oscar Wilde’s most enduring pieces of work. His stories are back in the limelight thanks to the recent Rupert Everett biopic of his life. But seeing Earnest was particularly poignant considering the queer undertones were suppressed at the time his work was published. Wilde would later go on to be shunned and prosecuted for his sexuality, despite being a celebrated writer. The play left me walking out with a renewed sense of why it’s so important to reflect back on queer history – and historical LGBTI authors work.
Speaking to Simon Stewart, Founder & Director of All or Nothing Repertory Theatre Company, he tells me it’s one of Wilde’s most enduring plays because of its simple absurdity:
‘It is a parody of the ridiculousness of life that is still allowing audiences to laugh at reflections of themselves.
‘Earnest is a play all about realizing who you are and celebrating being the truest version of yourself.’
The story follows Jack Worthing who begins the play not knowing his true history. But he does know who he loves, and he is determined that they should be married.
‘He would move mountains to make this loving relationship a reality. And he thinks that he must change who he is to fit in that world.’
And here comes the full queer undertone:
‘However, it turns out that he need only have been himself the entire time, something I think a lot of queer people can relate to.’
Walking out of the fab performance, I was left with a reminder of the importance of knowing our history.
Following a visit to an exhibition at the British Library. The curator Steven Dryden told me:
‘History is not static; you can go back to it and interrogate it in a multitude of ways.
‘Until you do that, and examine where you’ve come from – you can’t project yourself forward and think ahead.
‘It’s as basic as knowledge is power.’
Those words are as true today. So I urge you to pick up a copy of anything that helps grow your understanding of the shared history the LGBTI community has, not just locally, but worldwide.
And if that isn’t reason enough for you? As Gwendolen says in Earnest:
‘One should always have something sensational to read in the train.’
That’s a good enough reason to pick up anything by Oscar.
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