CMP120 Themes and the Production of “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde” (An Extra Credit Post)


A post by Brian Polashuk (italicized additions by Kelly Lake)

Gross Indecency a photo from the original production, hopefully to be replaced by one from Rider University’s!

The play Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, performed at Rider University’s Yvonne Theater this past weekend, puts the choices and moral preferences of Oscar Wilde on the line. While sitting there, I could not help but relate several themes of this play to themes we have discussed in class.

The first theme that struck my mind was hate. (Think: Andrew Sullivan’s essay, What’s so Bad about Hate.) In past blogs, I think a majority of us agreed that the strength of the word was immeasurable and often over used; although, a few of us believed that there were different kinds of hate that differed in meaning. In the play there were several situations that some may refer to as “hate” related. You had the conflicts between Lord Alfred Douglas and his father and also the conflicts between society and Oscar Wilde. How do these conflicts differ? Are these signs of hate?

While watching the play I could not help, but feel uncomfortable watching two men show such affection towards one another. I do not consider myself homophobic, nor do I go out of my way to show signs of disapproval or crack jokes. However, I do not feel it is right. Does this qualify as hate? I do not think so. I think morals, culture, and time has constantly changed our view on things. How do your morals and culture shape the way you feel on matters? Culture changes over time. Trials like this would no longer take place. How can one thing be so negatively viewed at one time and accepted years later?

The second theme that struck my mind was heroism. (Or Goodall’s example of altruistic reciprocity) Heroism is so often looked at as a good thing, something that brings on glory and prestige. However, Oscar Wilde by standing up for his love, Lord Alfred Douglas, starts a series of court hearings that eventually leads to his sentence. Do you feel Oscar Wilde was naturally born with that hero instinct, or was he influenced by outside factors? Why do you think heroism is so widely promoted in our community? (Community of truth? People relying on each other?)

Like Goodall’s aforementioned idea of altruistic reciprocity, Gould explains how animals relate and are connected to humans in some ways. What Gould is concerned by is that humans impose their morals on a world that is not instructed in or operating from a “human moral base;” animals do not have a moral view. Some behaviors are frowned upon in life, sometimes referred to as “animal like” or “not human like”. Homosexuality is often referred to as un-human-like. Why do we make these distinctions? Why are only “unacceptable” behaviors looked upon as “animal like”?

I’d like to piggyback on what Brian has begun here. I think that if we look specifically at the essays that we have read this semester, and apply the challenges that those authors have given us to ponder, we have an excellent basis to discuss this topic.

Some people have responded to the idea of the source of Wilde’s tragedy “was that he tried to turn morality into art during an age that preferred art to be an extension of morality. That his real crime wasn’t the love he had for a man BUT his writing” (Robert Brustein, The New Republic). Others feel that, “the perversion pumping through Gross Indecency is not homosexuality, but Wilde’s refusal to save himself. Kaufman contemplates the lengths people think they have to go to get love, love that feels like a devotion to the other but gets played out more like devotion to devotion–or frustration” (Laurie Stone, The Nation). Do you feel these ideas fit into your experience of the material of the play? How?

I am further reminded of Sulllivan’s statement, “A free country will always mean a hateful country… Tolerance is the eradication of hate; toleration is co-existence despite it. We might do better as a culture and as a polity if we concentrated more on achieving the latter rather than the former.”

— refer to specific examples from the production
— relate the ideas you respond to to at least one of the essays we have read. BE SPECIFIC!
— If you use personal example, please provide a context to both the issues of the play and the essays.
— I will delete any post that is offensive in nature and not in keeping with the above mentioned “rules.”


3 Responses to “CMP120 Themes and the Production of “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde” (An Extra Credit Post)”

  1. When I was watching the play, it was around the time we were disscussing the Sullivan story about hate. Immediately when I finally realized why he (Oscar Wilde) was pressing charges on his “lover’s” father and saw how the father reacted, (it was a little hard to follow) I thought about hate. Finally towards the end of the first act, they realized (lawyer and Oscar) that Oscar might get charged with indecency after the father’s evidence, they dropped the charges. Afterwards the queen made it illegal for men to have “relations”. I’m going to admit, I left after the first act. It was difficult to follow and very boring. They should have made it more entertaining. Even with all the scandal and drama, it seemed never-ending.


  2. 2 nabihaahmed

    Gross Indecency was a well-done performance, I enjoyed it. At times, I got a little confused and was lost in the beginning. But soon I was able to understand that there was one man against the whole society, he was believing and fighting for what he thought was right. Which soon ended up backtracking and became a life-threatening situation. One scene that caught my attention was when the Queen herself came out to pass a new law, she had said something along the lines of no homosexuality between men. One of the common people had then asked her what about women? And she said “women do not do such acts.” As though homosexuality was common among men and women were too good to do it. It was a good film with a story line about a man’s fight. Oscar Wilde was not close to popular back then, but now he has become a very prominent poet/writer. Reading back at what Sam said Sullivan’s piece about hate definitely does relate. Hate was reflected among many portions of this play, hate between father and son, Lord Alfred Douglas and his father, hate between the society and Oscar Wilde, and as well as hate between Bosie’s father and Oscar Wilde himself.

  3. Even though I thought Gross Indecency was a very boring play, I didn’t find it confusing. It dates back to the 1800s when homosexuality was pretty much unheard of. Oscar Wilde was put on trial for the love of Lord Alfred Douglas, by Douglas’ own father. There was no way Wilde was going to get off the hook with all the evidence presented against him, so they dropped the charges. After this trial, two more were to follow. I forget if it was the second or third trial when all the men Wilde was accused of having relations with came out and said their piece, either in favor of Wilde or strongly against his actions. One similarity between the 5 men was that Wilde had given them all gifts, including a silver cigarette case. Eventually, Wilde was given two years in prison where he had gotten very sick and died in the third year. Overall, I found the play to be boring but I somehow managed to sit through the whole thing.

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