Scandal, Hypocrisy, and the Ideal
Cautioning Sir Robert that she will indeed carry out her threat and ruin his career, Mrs. Cheveley declares:
Remember to what point your Puritanism in England has brought you. In old days nobody pretended to be a bit better than his neighbors. Nowadays, 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. Not a year passes in England without somebody disappearing. Scandals used to lend charm, or at least interest, to a man—now they crush him. And yours is a very nasty scandal. You couldn’t survive it.
Here, in a nutshell, is the central message of Wilde’s play: the more a culture upholds stringent moral values, the more likely it is that publicly prominent people will crumble under charges of impropriety. By this Wilde does not mean that immorality or criminal behavior is acceptable. What he means is that an exaggerated attachment to moral purity leads to social ills and not social good. This might seem counterintuitive; after all, should not the respect for moral purity lead to more people being truly good? For Wilde, it just leads to more people being failures in their own eyes and others’ because it is impossible for most people not to make a mistake at some point in their lives. It encourages...
(The entire section is 1080 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of An Ideal Husband Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!