Discuss the technical use of secrets, rumors, and gossip in complicating the incidents of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband.

Oscar Wilde's play An Ideal Husband features a web of secrets, rumors, and gossip that entangles the characters and threatens their relationships with one another. Sir Robert, Lord Goring, and Mrs. Cheveley all have dangerous secrets, and Mrs. Cheveley's malicious gossip nearly destroys the Chilterns' marriage. The web, however, is cut in the end, and the situation is resolved for the good of all except Mrs. Cheveley.

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Oscar Wilde's play An Ideal Husband is full of secrets, and they all muddle the relationships between the characters. A good dose of rumor and gossip doesn't help, either. Let's take a look at some of these complicating factors.

Sir Robert Chiltern has a secret from long ago—a secret...

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Oscar Wilde's play An Ideal Husband is full of secrets, and they all muddle the relationships between the characters. A good dose of rumor and gossip doesn't help, either. Let's take a look at some of these complicating factors.

Sir Robert Chiltern has a secret from long ago—a secret that is about to come back to haunt him. He once sold a secret to Baron Arnheim. This was a government secret that allowed the Baron to get a head start on his financial investment in the Suez Canal Company. Arnheim paid Sir Robert well for his “contribution,” but someone else knows Sir Robert's secret, and that is never a good thing. Mrs. Cheverley was once the lover of the Baron, and she is now threatening to expose Sir Robert unless he backs a new canal scheme in Argentina. Sir Robert feels that he has no choice but to give in.

Meanwhile, Lady Chiltern discovers the news of her husband's involvement from some “gossip” (intentional, of course) of Mrs. Cheveley. Lady Chiltern knows nothing of Sir Robert's past indiscretions, but she is not about to let him commit a new one. Sir Robert tells his wife that he will follow her wishes, leaving him wondering what he will do next. His secrets have trapped him in a tight place.

Meanwhile, Lord Goring and Mabel find a diamond brooch that Lord Goring recognizes. Lord Goring has a secret of his own, which he admits to Sir Robert. He was once engaged to Mrs. Cheveley. The latter appears at the Chiltern home looking for her brooch, and she reveals all to Lady Chiltern, who is horrified and hurt by her husband's secrets and by his failure to live up to her standards.

In act 3, the action shifts to Lord Goring's home. Lady Chiltern has sent him a letter asking for help, but that letter, emotional as it is, can easily be mistaken for a love letter. Mrs. Cheveley appears and tries to take advantage of her old relationship with Lord Goring. But Lord Goring will have none of it, for Mrs. Cheveley has a secret of her own. The brooch is not really hers; she stole it from her cousin years ago. Lord Goring knows this, and he offers his silence in exchange for the letter she has implicating Sir Robert. She has no choice but to agree, but she also steals Lady Chiltern's letter, planning to use it to her advantage. Unfortunately, Sir Robert sees the two together and assumes the worst, and this makes him unwilling to allow a marriage between Lord Goring and Mabel.

By the end of the play, though, all the secrets are exposed to the light, all the gossip and rumors have been replaced by the truth, Sir Robert and his lady are reconciled, Lord Goring and Mabel become engaged, and Mrs. Cheveley gets exactly what she deserves, which is nothing.

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