Oscar Wilde's complex identity, as family man and homosexual outsider, socialite, socialist and Irish nationalist, underpins his unique insight into role-playing and the masks we all wear. A Woman of No Importance, for all its charm and wit, exposes an aristocratic world as smug, snobbish and morally bankrupt. An Ideal Husband portrays a glittering diplomatic gathering which is revealed as a masquerade to cover up the shady past of a prominent establishment figure. Lady Windermere's Fan is a brilliant critique of conventional morality. In The Importance of Being Earnest every character is revealed as leading a hypocritical double life, while Salome and A Florentine Tragedy deploy historical settings to explore the politics of sex and gender in contemporary society. Wilde was undoubtedly a brilliant and witty wordsmith. Yet, as Richard Cave shows in his Introduction, Wilde's innovative use of colour and design and spatial relationships on stage also made his plays 'revolutionary in the theatre of their time'.
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