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The interesting irony of the plays An Ideal Husband, by Oscar Wilde, and Love for Love, by William Congreve is that they both do not necessarily criticize the values, but actually mock them as trivial. However, from a reader's point of view it is clear that the mockery of the values is a way for the author's to illustrate the shallow nature of society and the empty values that it aims to drag with it.
InAn Ideal Husband, values conflict directly with with the agendas of the characters. Sir Robert and his wife aim to epitomize the most virtuous of Victorian marriages. This virtuosity of character is perhaps the most important value expected from this society. Additionally, Sir Robert is amiable, well-rounded, respected, and generous, which makes him stand out in his set. His lavish parties, his seemingly incorruptible wife, and his application of ethics as well as etiquette make him the ideal of the Victorian gentleman and, like the play's title says, "an ideal husband". However, these values are scoffed by Mrs. Cheveley with deep contempt
...with our modern mania for morality, everyone has to pose as a paragon of purity, incorruptibility, and all the other seven deadly virtues—and what is the result? You all go over like ninepins—one after the other.
This is because the apparently virtuous Sir Robert obtained his fortune from a shady deal involving inside trade. Moreover, he hid all of this from everybody, including his wife. As a result, Mrs. Cheveley comes to blackmail him with information obtained during the dealings of Sir Robert. The biggest fear of Sir Robert has nothing to do with money, for he even offer to pay Cheveley as much as she wants. In reality, Sir Robert's biggest fear is to tarnish this fictitious image of morality and perfection that he continues to present to others.
InLove for Lovethe upper-class sophistication comes at a price. It is smeared with hypocrisy, dishonesty, lack of loyalty, and superficiality. Although the higher classes often snub the country folk, it is the simplicity of the bucolic life what should permeate a truly happy society. Contrastingly, we find characters going from lover to lover, making empty promises, discriminating against non-equals, bragging about their superiority and an overall lack of values. Why adhere to "boring" values when money can buy everything...even values, as they would claim.
Hence, the illustration of how the upper-classes live a life of delusion and poor ethical characters is the way in which Congreve and Wilde criticize the prominent expectations of value within their own historical contexts.
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