What is the setting of ''The Young King" by Oscar Wilde?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

To determine the time period and location of Wilde's "The Young King," the reader has to look at context clues. Various locations are mentioned for trading—Egypt, Persia, India, and Italy—so these locations can be ruled out as possible settings. Wilde's choice of the word "Burgomaster" hints that the fictional kingdom is likely in Germany. This word is similar to the German word "Bürgermeister," which means mayor.

The story's references to peasants and clock-tower bells indicate a Medieval time period. By the tenth century BCE, feudalism was widely used across Europe. However, its steady decline began around the thirteenth century, and feudalism disappeared in the fifteenth century. But the reference to a clock-tower bell ringing at midnight allows us to narrow down the time period even more. The first clock-tower used to strike the hour appeared in Italy in the fourteenth century. From these three context clues, we can conclude that the time and setting of "The Young King" was likely in Germany (or a Germanic country) during the fourteenth or fifteenth century.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Since there is no overt statement that indicates the setting, the reader must surmise from the characters and dialogue what is the time and place of Wilde's "The Young King."  Some of the indications that this story is set in medieval times are the references to cathedrals, the bishop to conduct the coronation of the king, the peasants who toil on the loom and the usage of Middle English:  "the Chamberlain spake..."

While there are several references to items having come from Venice and an Italian poison, the mention of a "stout Burgomaster [who]had come to deliver a florid oratorical address on behalf of the citizens of the town" indicates the place of the story is not Italy.  "Burgomaster" (Burgomeister-alternate spelling) is of Germanic origin meaning the chief magistrate of a town, so the country where the young boy is to be made king, is likely a Germanic one.

Since Wilde's tale is a fable, the setting is probably an imagined one, a composite of those used in fairy tales and such.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial