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An Ideal Husband


It all starts at a big, high-culture party. The wine is flowing, the lights are flattering, and the diamonds are twinkling. Sir Robert and Lady Gertrude Chiltern, rising star couple on the political scene, greet the Who's Who of 1890s London as they mill about delivering bon mots. The surprise main event is the arrival of Mrs. Cheveley. She's one of those women that gets talked about; she looks outrageous and radiates menacing charm. It turns out that both Lady Chiltern and Lord Goring, the dandified philosopher in the play, know this lady from days gone by. They're not fans. But Mrs. Cheveley doesn't care she's not here for fun or friendship. As everyone goes in to dinner, Mrs. Cheveley sits Sir Robert down and informs him that unless he reverses his public position on the Argentine Canal she's invested in, she will blackmail him. She has a letter proving that as a young man, he built his fortune on the sale of state secrets. She will happily show it to the press. Sir Robert freaks out and agrees to do what she wants. When Lady Chiltern finds out about his change of heart not knowing anything about the blackmail, or about Sir Robert's past missteps she pressures him to go back on his promise to Mrs. Cheveley. She won't allow him to compromise his principles. So Sir Robert is caught between a rock and a hard place. If he does what Mrs. Cheveley wants, he'll lose his wife. If he doesn't do what Mrs. Cheveley wants, he'll be exposed, losing his position and probably his wife, too. Lord Goring thinks he should come clean to Lady Chiltern, but Sir Robert doesn't have the chance. Mrs. Cheveley calls to inquire about a brooch she lost at the party. Lady Chiltern doesn't have it. (Lord Goring does; he recognized and collected it the night of the party.) Irritated by Lady Chiltern, Mrs. Cheveley reveals Sir Robert's past: he built his fortune on a crime. Lady Chiltern attacks Sir Robert and says she can't love a dishonest man. He counterattacks that she should never have put him on a pedestal, that no man could survive her idealistic love. Lord Goring now goes into rescue mode. At home getting ready for a party, he's visited by his father, Mrs. Cheveley, and Sir Robert none of whom he expected. Only Lady Chiltern had written a letter on pink paper asking him to expect her. When Sir Robert arrives, pleading for help, he discovers Mrs. Cheveley there and accuses Lord Goring of siding with her. In reality, she has proposed marriage to Lord Goring in exchange for Sir Robert's incriminating letter. Lord Goring refuses he's disgusted with her for seeking to destroy the love of a good couple.

When Mrs. Cheveley inadvertently reveals that she visited Lady Chiltern on account of a brooch, Lord Goring traps her. He knows she stole the brooch years ago and he will call the police unless she gives him the letter about Sir Robert. She does. But she has one more trick up her sleeve. She steals the pink letter (from Lady Chiltern to Lord Goring, announcing her visit) and promises to send it to Sir Robert as evidence of an affair. Lord Goring visits the Chilterns to reveal that the Baron Arnheim letter (i.e., the letter Mrs. Cheveley threatened to use to expose Sir Robert) has been destroyed. Lord Goring also comes to propose to Mabel Chiltern, Sir Robert's younger sister. He warns Lady Chiltern that Sir Robert may receive a letter that incriminates her. Fearing ruin, Sir Robert is so relieved at his escape from the situation with Mrs. Cheveley that he proposes retreating from public life. Lady Chiltern eagerly agrees. When Lord Caversham (Lord Goring's father) arrives with the news that Sir Robert can have a place in the Cabinet (a government position), his resolve is tested. Sir Robert will reject the post. Left alone with Lady Chiltern, Lord Goring begs her not to ask such a sacrifice of her husband. She should forgive him, and accept that her job is to support her husband no matter what. She agrees. When Sir Robert returns with the letter rejecting the appointment, she tears it up. They kiss and reconcile. Lord Goring asks for Mabel's hand in marriage, and Sir Robert says no. He still thinks Lord Goring is involved with Mrs. Cheveley. Now Lady Chiltern must come forward and confess that it was she, not Mrs. Cheveley, whom Lord Goring expected at home last night. Everyone makes up, Mabel enters, and the couples promise to love each other in a realistic way, instead of idealizing each other.

An Ideal Husband Act 1 Summary

The stage directions tell us we're in a large, brilliantly lit room in posh Grosvenor Square. It's a party. It's Lady Chiltern's house, so she greets the guests. She's 27, beautiful, and deathly serious. The Chilterns are clearly very well off: there's a big chandelier, an antique French tapestry depicting "The Triumph of Love," and a string quartet in the next room. Not bad. Mrs. Marchmont and Lady Basildon are chatting on a sofa about boring parties. Then go into the music-room, joined by the Vicomte de Nanjac. He's wearing a fancy tie.

Mason, Robert Chiltern's butler, is announcing guests. Lord Caversham arrives. He's an old aristocrat and politician. Lord Caversham asks if his troublemaker son, Lord Goring, is here yet. Lady Chiltern says no. Mabel Chiltern (Lady Chiltern's sister-in-law) joins the conversation. She's probably in her late teens or early twenties, and a natural beauty complete with apple cheeks and rosebud lips, that sort of thing. Lord Caversham thinks his son's a slacker, but Mabel begs to differ (she likes him). Lord Goring rides horses, goes to the opera, eats out a lot, and is really into what he wears. He's actually very busy with all that stuff. Lord Caversham thinks Mabel's adorable.

Two new ladies arrive on the scene: Lady Markby and Mrs. Cheveley. Lady Markby is a nice middle-aged woman with good lace, say the stage directions. But the real dish is Mrs. Cheveley. She is Done Up. Tall and thin, with bright red hair, bright red lips, and dressed in heliotrope with diamonds. Heliotrope? Think bright purple. Lady Markby introduces this fascinating lady to our hostess, Lady Chiltern. Uh-oh, we smell a fight. Turns out they went to school together and were totally not BFFs. Mrs. Cheveley drops a hintshe's looking forward to meeting Lady Chiltern's husband, whom she's heard a lot about in Vienna. Lady Chiltern is none too cool with that and says they couldn't possibly have anything in common. She leaves the conversation. The Vicomte de Nanjac approaches Mrs. Cheveley, whom he knew in Berlin. They have a little flirt. Sir Robert Chiltern enters and the stage directions give a lot of time to his looks. Your mom would dig this guy he's 40 but looks younger; he's confident and successful and respected in the House of Commons. His face doesn't quite agree with itself, though; it has a poet's eyes but a businessman's jaw. We sense some inner conflict coming This dreamboat greets Lady Markby and requests an introduction to Mrs. Cheveley, whose reputation has preceded her. Sir Robert and Mrs. Cheveley proceed to have a banter-fest that covers women, philosophy, modern literature, science, and women again. (This happens a lot in Wilde's plays.) Mrs. Cheveley confesses that she's in London to ask a favor of him. When she mentions a common acquaintance Baron Arnheim Sir Robert reacts with a start. It's not a name he wants to hear. Lord Goring enters, announced by the butler, Mason. The stage directions tell us he is thirtyfour but says he's younger. He is a dandy, meaning he pretends that the most important things in life are dressing well, socializing, and being witty. Sir Robert introduces Lord Goring to Mrs. Cheveley. Sure enough, they already know each other. Mrs. Cheveley teases Lord Goring about his perpetual bachelorhood. He kind of hopes she won't be staying long. Mrs. Cheveley exits with Sir Robert, and Lord Goring is freed to talk to Mabel. They flirt. Mabel likes his bad boy image. Lord Goring inquires who on earth invited this Mrs.-Cheveley-in-heliotrope. It was Lady Markby, says Mabel, why? Because he hasn't seen her in years. Mabel gets jealous. The Vicomte de Nanjac interrupts with some nonsense about English ladies and good taste. Apparently on the prowl, he asks to escort Mabel in to the music room. She doesn't want to leave Lord Goring, but she does. Lord Caversham swoops in on his son, Lord Goring, and lays into him. Lord Caversham says his good-for-nothing son dances all night, talks about nothing, and lives only for pleasure. Lord Goring cheerfully agrees with this assessment.

Leaving Dad for pretty Lady Basildon and Mrs. Marchmont, Lord Goring exchanges pleasantries about politics and marriage. The ladies complain about their husbands, who are so good they are boring. The wayward Lord Goring feigns shock. The conversation turns to Mrs. Cheveley. She's insulted London society and offended the ladies. Mabel joins in the trash talk. Lord Goring and Mabel go in to dinner. She fusses at him for ignoring her all evening. He tries to smooth her feathers. Lady Basildon and Mrs. Marchmont complain about how hungry they are. In this play, women clearly can't eat without a man. Luckily the Vicomte de Nanjac comes to Lady Basildon's rescue, and a Mr. Montford saves Mrs. Marchmont. With the octagon room cleared out, Mrs. Cheveley and Sir Robert come in for a chat. The siren makes her move. She wants to talk about a venture of the Argentine Canal Company. He doesn't. This Argentine thing is a moneymaking scam. He's looked into it. There's been no progress on the canal, nobody knows what's happened to the money raised so far, and the whole thing's going to fail. But Mrs. Cheveley has invested in it. Big time. Sir Robert asks why the heck Mrs. Cheveley would you do that. Mrs. Cheveley responds that it's because her dear friend Baron Arnheim has advised her to do so. Sir Robert doesn't like the second mention of this name. He tries to distract Mrs. Cheveley with some paintings. She's having none of it. Sir Robert advises her to get out of this Argentine Canal deal, because the House of Commons (the legislative body in Parliament kind of like our Senate) will shut the whole thing down once he delivers his report tomorrow. But Mrs. Cheveley says that Sir Robert shouldn't do it, for his own good. She lays it out: withdraw this negative report and promote the Argentine Canal. Or else. Sir Robert can't believe she's serious. There's no way he'll do this. But she'll pay him. Sir Robert tells her to leave immediately. Mrs. Cheveley traps him with her fan and drops the bomb. She knows that as a young man, Sir Robert made his fortune by selling a state secret to a Stock Exchange speculator. She has a letter proving it. A letter addressed to Baron Arnheim. Uh-oh. This is bad for Sir Robert. Mrs. Cheveley generously offers to barter this letter for Sir Robert's public support of the Argentine scheme. She points out that the moral climate in England is such that politicians like him have to be perfect. Scandals used to be fun but now they are deadly. If the public finds out Sir Robert built his fortune and career on an unethical act selling state secrets he is done. She wants an answer now, or she's going straight to the newspapers. Those vultures will looooove this. At this point Sir Robert is pretty much ready to be sick. Could he give her money instead? No way, she says. Make a speech supporting the Argentine Canal, and she will give him the letter. She makes to leave. No time to think about it. He agrees. The crowd comes in from dinner and Lady Markby asks Mrs. Cheveley if she has enjoyed herself. Oh yes, she has. Sir Robert Chiltern is very interesting. And Lady Chiltern, says Mrs. Markby, has the highest principles. Which make for boring dinner parties. Lady Markby leaves on Lord Caversham's arm. Approaching Lady Chiltern, Mrs. Cheveley complements her house, party, and husband. Then she shares the news: Sir Robert will make a speech supporting the Argentine Canal. Lady Chiltern can't believe that this is true.

But it's all settled, counters Mrs. Cheveley. She explains that it's a secret until tomorrow, thoughso Lady Chiltern can't tell. Sir Robert comes in to get rid of her. Mrs. Cheveley says goodbye to Lord Goring and goes out with Sir Robert. Lady Chiltern looks on with worry. Mabel and Lord Goring tease each other and sit down on the sofa, where Mabel finds a diamond brooch. Lord Goring seems to recognize it he knows it can be worn as a bracelet. He asks her not to mention that he's keeping it but to let him know if someone asks for it. Mabel leaves and Lady Chiltern enters. The topic of Mrs. Cheveley naturally comes up. Lady Chiltern tells Lord Goring that Mrs. Cheveley wants Sir Robert to support to Argentine Canal. They both agree it is impossible for someone as morally sound as Sir Robert to do such a thing. Sir Robert comes in and wants Lord Goring to stay. He can't more parties await. The husband and wife are left alone. He flatters her, saying she's beautiful. She's not biting, and asks him what's going on with the Argentine thing. Lady Chiltern says that Sir Robert shouldn't trust this Mrs. Cheveley. As a young girl she was manipulative, dishonest, and a thief. And people don't change. Sir Robert begs his wife not to judge others entirely on their past. Lady Chiltern takes a hard line, claiming that the past makes the man. Sir Robert is naturally a little uncomfortable with this statement. Lady Chiltern can't believe he's going to support something she just heard him describe as a total fraud. Sir Robert prevaricates (i.e., does a little shuffle around the truth). He was wrong, the report was biased. And besides, private and public life are two different things. No, she says. A man should be perfect in both. Sir Robert draws a line. He's made his decision and he doesn't want to talk about it. Lady Chiltern senses something, and asks if he's telling her the whole truth. Again, he evades, and gives her some platitudes about the complexity of truth and the necessity of compromise in politics. She can't believe what she's hearing. Her principled husband talking compromise? What happened? In her opinion, Sir Robert always stood apart from others, above others, above reproach. That's why she loves him. She worships him. And that love is threatened by what he's about to do. Is there some dark secret he's not telling her? Because if there is, she's out of the relationship. He lies: nope, nothing she doesn't already know. Lady Chiltern, relieved, asks him to write Mrs. Cheveley and take it all back. In fact, she's pretty pushy about it. Sir Robert sends off the letter, and Lady Chiltern gets all lovey-dovey. She's saved him from shame and horror and she'll love him forever because he'll always deserve it. She kisses him and exits. Sir Robert sits alone with his head in his hands. He asks Mason to put out the lights. The only thing illuminated is the tapestry of the Triumph of Love. End of Act 1.

An Ideal Husband Act 2 Summary

Lord Goring and Sir Robert are in Sir Robert's morning room. Lord Goring, dressed to the nines, is chilling in an armchair; Sir Robert is pacing up and down nervously. Sir Robert has just confessed his conundrum to Lord Goring. Lord Goring thinks he should have told Lady Chiltern the truth right away. You can't hide things from your own wife, he says, because they'll always sniff it out. Impossible, says Sir Robert. She would have left him. Lord Goring can't believe Lady Chiltern's so perfect herself, and proposes to have a get-real talk with her. Sir Robert's pretty sure it won't make a dent. Lord Goring thinks Sir Robert should have come clean years ago. Easy for someone else to say, says Sir Robert. Confessing fraud doesn't exactly reel in a girl like Lady Chiltern. Okay, says Lord Goring, he has a point. But most people would judge his action selling state secrets pretty harshly. While they were doing the same thing themselves, explodes Sir Robert. He was young; he was poor; he was ambitious. He made a mistake. Should it ruin him forever? Is that fair? Besides, wealth is the only god this century worships, and the only way to get power. Lord Goring still can't wrap his head around it. Why did Sir Robert do it? He was coached by Baron Arnheim, who preached the philosophy of power and gospel of gold. The Baron invited the young Sir Robert to his home, showed off his bling, and said only wealth could bring power. Lord Goring, surprisingly serious in the scene, calls this philosophy shallow. Sir Robert defends it. After all, wealth is what gave him the power the freedom that has made his life so meaningful. The Baron gave him the chance of a lifetime. When state documents passed through his hands that could make the Baron some money, Sir Robert informed him. The Baron made three-quarters of a million pounds on the deal; he gave Sir Robert 110,000. Sir Robert went into the House immediately and continued to grow his fortune. He's always had luck with money. And no regrets? asks Lord Goring. Sir Robert says no. He simply fought with the weapons of the times. And won. After a long pause, Sir Robert confesses he's paid a lot of guilt money over the years. He's donated twice the bribe amount to public charities over the years. In the first joke of the scene, Lord Goring feigns shock. To public charities! Then he's done a lot of damage after all. Lightening up a little, Lord Goring promises to help Sir Robert however he can. He doesn't think a public confession would help things. Nowadays a politician needs morality on his side. Nope, what he has to do is tell Lady Chiltern. Oh god, says Sir Robert, not that. Can't he get something on Mrs. Cheveley? Lord Goring knew her before. It turns out that Lord Goring was engaged to Mrs. Cheveley. For three days. It didn't work out. By the way, has Sir Robert tried to bribe her? Money used to work wonders on her. Alas, not this time. She wouldn't bite. Sir Robert fears that public humiliation is in his future. Lord Goring melodramatically strikes the table and the scene goes a little Batman and Robin. There's got to be a way to stop her! We've just got to find her weak spot! Sir Robert decides to write to Vienna to get dirt on her. He wonders why Baron Arnheim was in her power. Smirking, Lord Goring has an idea. Sir Robert seems to cheer up, but Lord Goring is less optimistic. He knows the woman and she is T-U-F-F. Lady Chiltern enters. She's just come from the Women's Liberal Association, where she enjoyed the part when they clapped for her husband.

Lord Goring thinks they should have clapped for her super-cute hat. Au contrair, Lord Goring, says Lady Chiltern. We liberal ladies are serious; we debate Factor Acts, Female Inspectors, the Eight Hour's Bill, the Parliamentary Franchise. Another hat joke from Lord Goring, and Lady Chiltern exits. Sir Robert thanks Lord Goring for listening and letting him unload the truth. Lord Goring quips that he always gets rid of the truth as soon as possible. Lady Chiltern comes in as Sir Robert is going out. She cautions him not to work too hard. He exits and she sits down with Lord Goring for a little chat. It's about Mrs. Cheveley. Lady Chiltern made Sir Robert take back his terrible promise about the Argentine scheme. It would have been a black spot on his record. And Sir Robert should be above other men. Right? Listen, says Lord Goring, success requires compromise. Ambition demands flexibility. Lady Chiltern's hackles start to rise. She wonders what he means. Well, frankly, she's a little judgmental. She's not forgiving. What if, he proposes and this is totally, totally hypothetical what if some public man like Lord Caversham, or Sir Robert, say, had written a compromising letter There's no way Sir Robert could do something that wrong, says Lady Chiltern. Lord Goring believes anyone can do wrong. And he believes that we should all be able to forgive, and love. He makes an earnest offer to Lady Chiltern to come to him any time she is in trouble. This kind of freaks her out. He's being so serious. Thank goodness Mabel Chiltern arrives for some comic relief. She doesn't like this seriousness at all and asks Lord Goring to cut it out. Mabel invites Lord Goring to ride horses with her tomorrow at 10 am. And doesn't he want to hear more about her adventures? On that note, Lord Goring leaves. Mabel and Lady Chiltern have some girl talk time. Tommy Trafford has proposed to Mabel again three times in 48 hours. The annoying thing is that it's never with a splash. Lady Chiltern thinks Tommy would make a good match. He's a great secretary with a lot of promise. Mabel is so not interested. That's OK for someone with character, but geniuses bore her to death. Mabel goes out, and comes right back in. Guess who's come for a visit? Lady Chiltern's favorite people: Mrs. Markby and Mrs. Cheveley are led in by Mason. Mrs. Cheveley is introduced to Mabel, who has to leave for rehearsal. It's a play benefiting the "Undeserving." Lord Goring is president. How apt, says Mrs. Cheveley. Mabel exits. Lady Markby asks whether the Chilterns have found a diamond brooch Mrs. Cheveley lost. Lady Chiltern hasn't seen it, but offers to call the butler. No matter, says Mrs. Cheveley. She must have dropped it at the opera. Lady Markby isn't surprised. There's so much jostle at all society events that she's surprised they don't end up naked every night. Mason comes in. Mrs. Cheveley describes the brooch: snake-shaped, made of diamonds, with a large ruby on its head. Mason hasn't seen it. Lady Markby hates losing things. She also hates her husband. She thinks the House of Commons is the worst thing for marriages since the education of women. She has a million other opinions that she squeezes in to this little scene before she leaves the two foes alone. Then it's face-off time. Lady Chiltern tells Mrs. Cheveley frankly that, if she'd known who she was, she wouldn't have invited her last night. When someone's done something terrible in the past, they'll probably do it again. And they don't deserve invitations to nice dinner parties. Mrs. Cheveley is clearly getting a kick out the irony here.

Lady Chiltern reveals that she encouraged Sir Robert to write the letter rejecting Mrs. Cheveley's proposal. You're going to regret that, says Mrs. Cheveley. She adds that Sir Robert is just as low as she is. Now Lady Chiltern's getting angry. She can't believe Mrs. Cheveley puts Robert in her league. Speaking of the devilSir Robert enters. Mrs. Cheveley reveals everything: this house was bought by fraud; Sir Robert's fortune was made in a dirty deal. If Sir Robert doesn't give the speech she wants him to, he's done. Sir Robert rings the bell for Mason. Mrs. Cheveley looks both of the Chilterns in the face, then makes a proud exit. When the couple is alone, the accusations start. Lady Chiltern is shocked and hysterical as she confronts Sir Robert with his past. Sir Robert tries to calm her, wants to explain how it all happened. She doesn't want him to touch her. She basically calls him a liar, prostitute, thief and slave, all in one breath. Her ideal image of him has been totally shattered. That's the problem, says Sir Robert. She put him up on a pedestal. Men accept and love their wives, faults and all, but women need a man to be perfect. Sir Robert continues that love means forgiveness. But apparently, Lady Chiltern is not big enough for that. She ruined his life last night when she made him retract his promise. Because she can't accept him, she has buried him. Sir Robert leaves the room and Lady Chiltern is left alone in anguish. She cries alone.

An Ideal Husband Act 3 Summary

We're in the library of Lord Goring's house; it's a neoclassical room with a roaring fireplace. There are lots of doors: one on the right leading into the hall; one on the left leading into the smoking-room; and a pair of folding doors at the back of the library that lead into the drawing-room. Phipps, Lord Goring's butler, is arranging newspapers on the writing-table. He is an ideal Butler because no one ever knows what he is thinking. Lord Goring comes enters. He's dressed to go out for the evening. He's wearing a silk hat, an Inverness cape, and white gloves. He's also carrying a Louis XIV cane (all of which were Oscar Wilde's personal accessories). The stage directions call him the first well-dressed philosopher in the history of thought. Lord Goring asks Phipps for the second flower to put in his buttonhole. But adds that it makes him look too old, and too serious. Phipps responds dryly that the florist has had a death in her family, perhaps influencing the seriousness of this buttonhole. Lord Goring observes that the lower classes continually have deaths in the family. Yep, says Phipps, they're pretty lucky that way. The joke surprises Lord Goring. Phipps is totally cool. Three letters have come for Lord Goring, one of which is on pink paper. Phipps goes out, and Lord Goring has a monologue revealing its content. The letter is from Lady Chiltern and it says: "I want you. I trust you. I am coming to you." It's almost ten o'clock, so now Lord Goring can't go out. He strategizes about what he'll tell her. To stand by her husband.

Phipps enters, announcing Lord Goring's father, Lord Caversham. Doh! His dad has such terrible timing. Lord Caversham comes in riled up. He takes off his cloak, takes the best chair, and complains about drafts in the room. Lord Goring protests that it's a little late in the evening to have a serious conversation. Cut out the funny business, says Dad. Then he lays out everything: Lord Goring needs to get married. The boy is thirty-four and is wasting his life. And there is a draft in here. Lord Goring agrees his father is likely to catch his death with this kind of cold. He tells daddy dearest to leave; they can get in touch tomorrow. Lord Caversham's not falling for it. He's on a mission. But Lord Goring successfully ushers his cantankerous old dad into the smoking room so he can talk to Phipps. There's a lady coming to see him and Phipps should put her in the drawing room. And he shouldn't let in anyone else. Got it, sir, says Phipps. The doorbell rings. Lord Goring, chillest guy ever, is starting to sweat. He goes into the smoking room to talk to his impatient Dad. Harold the footman shows in Mrs. Cheveley. The stage directions describe her as Lamia-like a snakelike demon in green and silver. She avoids giving her name. Under Phipps direction she goes into the drawing room. She's surprised that Lord Goring seems to expect her. Looking into the drawing room, Mrs. Cheveley calls it drab. She wants to flip it. Mrs. Cheveley is in the mood for candles. While Phipps goes in the drawing room to light them, she has a little snoop in the library. She finds the pink letter from Lady Chiltern. Oh heck yes, a love note! But Phipps comes in before she can steal it. Mrs. Cheveley goes into the drawing room, then peeps back out. She wants to steal that letter. Lord Goring and Lord Caversham are emerging from the smoking room, so she has to retreat. Lord Caversham wants Lord Goring married. Now. And to a woman chosen by himself. Lord Goring protests. Then goes outside. He comes back in, flabbergasted, with Sir Robert. Sir Robert's surprised to find Lord Goring at home, since his servants just said he was out. But he's glad. Lady Chiltern knows everything. He wishes he were dead. What should he do? The inquiries in Vienna didn't turn up any good dirt. Sir Robert is desperate. For Lord Goring's friendship, and for a drink. Lord Goring rings for Phipps and gives him instructions. Don't let the lady in after all. Too late, says Phipps, she's already in the drawing room. OK, OK, Lord Goring can deal with his. First he talks to Sir Robert. Hasn't Lady Chiltern ever done something she's regretted? Something that had to be pardoned? Never, replies Sir Robert. She's totally faultless. And they don't have children so if she leaves him, he has no one. But there's something more he has to share. Enter Phipps with the drink. Lord Goring uses the interruption to try to get rid of Sir Robert. No dice. Sir Robert has something to say but is distracted by a chair falling in the next room. Who is in there, eavesdropping this whole time? Um, nobody. (Lord Goring still thinks Lady Chiltern's in there. It would look really bad for her to be visiting him this late.) Sir Robert pushes his way through and looks in the drawing room. He starts trashing the lady. Lord Goring's a little shocked. Talking that way to his own wife, when she loves him so much. What? Sir Robert thinks Lord Goring is crazy, and that he (Lord Goring) is sleeping with Mrs. Cheveley. Lord Goring protests. He'll explain everything but

Sir Robert rushes out. And here comes Mrs. Cheveley, sauntering to the door. She's loving it. Lord Goring can't believe it. What is she doing there? She's listening through the keyhole, of course. Lord Goring guesses that she's come to sell him Sir Robert's incriminating letter. Well, what does she want for it? But Mrs. Cheveley takes her time. She asks him to sit. They take a stroll down memory lane. Lord Goring proposed to her, but broke it off when he saw her messing around with some Lord Mortlake. Lord Goring's lawyer paid her off. Mrs. Cheveley claims she loved him back in the day. Lord Goring can't believe it she's too smart for love. She comes clean. What she really wants is to come back to England and be rich. Have a house, have lots of intellectual parties, that sort of thing. If Lord Goring promises to marry her, the letter is his. Lord Goring insults her and then complements her. Neither tactic seems to work. Mrs. Cheveley thinks that Lord Goring should sacrifice to save Sir Robert. Lord Goring won't do it. Facing his rejection, she gets a little nasty: Sir Robert is a dead duck. Won't you please shake hands, Lord Goring? No way, he says. Goring refuses to shake hands with the woman who is ruining Lady Chiltern's life (and not to mention what she's doing to Sir Robert). He adds that Mrs. Cheveley is killing love out of spite. Mrs. Cheveley protests that it wasn't out of spite. She went to the Chiltern's to ask about a brooch she dropped. Lady Chiltern was so uppity that she had to taunt her a little. The brooch, eh? Lord Goring gets it out and puts it on her as a bracelet. Lord Goring then gets into the history of the brooch. He gave this brooch to his cousin for her wedding. It was stolen years ago, and a servant was fired for it. When he found the brooch at the Chiltern's last night, he decided to wait and find out the thief. Lo and behold it is Mrs. Cheveley. She denies the theft and tries to take it off her wrist. She's trapped, though. There's a secret clasp she can't find. Lord Goring's going to call the police. Mrs. Cheveley totally flips out. Usually she is the most controlled character in the play, but now she is starting to lose it. She's scary. She'll do anything to avoid this. Lord Goring demands the incriminating letter about Sir Robert's earlier mis-deeds. She gives it to him. With a sigh Lord Goring burns it with the lamp. Mrs. Cheveley, always thinking, asks for a glass of water. When Lord Goring turns his back, she steals Lady Chiltern's pink letter. She puts on her cloak and gets ready to leave. But not before she tells him that she has the pink letter. She'll make Sir Robert think his wife is sleeping with Lord Goring. Phipps enters and shows her out. As she leaves, the stage directions describe her face: lit up, joyful, young. Lord Goring bites his lip and lights a cigarette.

An Ideal Husband Act 4 Summary

The setting is the same as Act 2: Sir Robert's morning room. Lord Goring is by the fireplace, bored. He can't find anyone to talk to, even though he has all this new information. Where is everyone? Thankfully the servant James has some answers. Sir Robert's still at the office; Lady Chiltern hasn't left her room; but Mabel is around. Oh, and Lord Goring's father, Lord Caversham, is here, too. Lord Goring doesn't want to deal with his father. Too bad, here comes Lord Caversham. He's on this marriage thing again. And he has news. There's an article in the Times about Robert Chiltern. Lord Goring has to know what does it say? Everything positive, of course. He made a brilliant speech denouncing the Argentine scheme. It's being called the turning point of his career. Whew. Lord Caversham takes up the parental advice thing again. Why doesn't Lord Goring go into Parliament? Why doesn't he get married? How about that Mabel Chiltern? And here she is. Mabel ignores Lord Goring, as he stood her up for riding this morning. She wonders why Lord Caversham can't have a positive influence on his son. Lord Caversham replies that he has no influence on his son at all. Lord Goring asks if he should leave so they can talk. Stick around, says Mabel. You might learn something. But Lord Caversham has to go. He has an appointment with the Prime Minister. He can't take Lord Goring with him, as it's not the Prime Minister's day to see the unemployed. Mabel plays hard to get until Lord Goring proposes. He soon pops the question. It's her second proposal of the day. But this one she accepts. They kiss. Lord Goring confesses he's a little over thirty. And very extravagant. Mabel wants to tell Lady Chiltern. So Lady Chiltern naturally materializes. Looking pale. Mabel skitters out; she'll be in the conservatory under the second palm tree on the left. The usual palm tree. Lord Goring gets straight to it. The letter's been burned, and Sir Robert is safe. But she's in danger now. Because Mrs. Cheveley has her letter and plans to paint it as a love letter. She's got to come clean, tell Sir Robert she was planning to go to Lord Goring late last night. Lady Chiltern can't see how this will help the situation. Let's intercept the letter, she says. But it's too late. Sir Robert comes in with the letter in his hand. He's reading it: "I want you. I trust you. I am coming to you. Gertrude." Apparently, Sir Robert thinks it's addressed to him. What should she do? What should she do? She looks at Lord Goring. He seems to indicate that she should just go with it. She does. They make up. Lord Goring tactfully retreats into the conservatory. Lady Chiltern takes this opportunity to fills in her husband: Lord Goring has destroyed the letter, so there is nothing to worry about. Sir Robert is relieved. Instead of public humiliation, he's been lifted even higher. He proposes retreating from public life. Lady Chiltern thinks that's a great idea. Lord Goring reenters with a new buttonhole flower made by Mabel. Sir Robert thanks Lord Goring effusively for saving his life. How can he ever repay him? Lord Goring has an idea. It involves someone who is standing under the usual palm tree But they are interrupted. Lord Caversham, shown in by Mason, is full of congratulations. The Prime Minister wants to offer Sir Robert a seat in the Cabinet. Sir Robert is so proud and flattered that he almost acceptsuntil he sees Lady Chiltern's eyes.

He declines. Lord Caversham is incensed. He appeals to Lady Chiltern. She approves of her husband's decision. And she wants him to write the letter declining the post right now. They exit. Lord Caversham can't believe it. Go talk to Mabel, says Lord Goring. She'll cheer you up. Mrs. Chiltern reenters and Lord Goring has at her. Why is she driving him from public life? Excuuuse me?, she says. It's speech time. Lord Goring has some advice for her, since she asked for it on that pink paper. Taking away Sir Robert's political career will emasculate him. She needs to forgive him, stop judging. She needs to accept him for who he is. And then he adds some comments that we would find offensive today, but that were not back in the Victorian period. Lord Goring says that a man's life means more than a woman's. The realm of influence is larger. Her job is to love him and to support him in everything he does. Lady Chiltern objects. Sir Robert is the one that proposed to leave office. Sir Robert only suggested leaving office because he's willing to make the sacrifice for his wife, says Lord Goring. But Lady Chiltern shouldn't demand it; the man has been punished enough. When Sir Robert comes in with the letter he didn't really want to write, Lady Chiltern tears it up. And then this is weird she quotes the part of Lord Goring's speech in which he talks about men's lives being of more value than women's. (We'll talk about it in her "Character Analysis.") Anyway, she doesn't want him to give up public life. Sir Robert is overcome. He hugs her, and thanks Lord Goring. Lord Goring takes this opportunity to ask for Mabel's hand. Sir Robert says no. He doesn't think Lord Goring loves her. Or rather, he thinks Lord Goring loves someone else. He tells the story of encountering Mrs. Cheveley at Lord Goring's house. He can't let Lord Goring marry Mabel if he's involved with that she-snake. Now it's Lady Chiltern's turn to do some good. She confesses that Lord Goring had been expecting her. The letter Sir Robert read was meant for Lord Goring. They were just lucky Sir Robert didn't fall into Mrs. Cheveley's trap. Apparently, all the confusion have been cleared up. Mabel enters with Lord Caversham. They bring him up to speed. Lord Goring and Mabel are engaged, and Sir Robert will accept the seat in the Cabinet. Lunch is served, says Mason. Lord Caversham hopes Lord Goring will make an ideal husband, but Mabel doesn't like the sound of that. She would rather him be a real person. Everyone exits except for Sir Robert. After a minute, Lady Chiltern comes in. Sir Robert asks if she feels love for him, or only pity. It's love, she replies, and only love.

An Ideal Husband Theme of Marriage

Marriage was a popular topic for plays in Oscar Wilde's time. It's still popular in ours. Remember all those movies in which a young couple fight and break up, but make up in time for the credits? Same

thing here. The characters mill around in a comic fog of misunderstanding and hardheadedness until their need for each other (with a little meddling) overcomes the odds. They learn to be honest, to forgive, to commit, and to give. In An Ideal Husband, marriage seems to be a generally desirable institution. Only the villain stays single.

Marriage As the title might suggest, An Ideal Husband's primary theme is marriage, a common premise for the potboiler melodramas of Wilde's day. To recall our discussion of the play's Context, the Victorian popular theater provided stock storylines of domestic life that, after various crises, would culminate in the reaffirmation of familiar themes: loyalty, sacrifice, undying love, forgiveness, devotion, and onward. More often than not, this reaffirmation also involved the reestablishment of the conjugal household. Though An Ideal Husband adopts these motifs, it also mocks, parodies, and ironizes them with its more decadent and dandified characters. Thus we can organize the play's treatment of marriage according to the "poles" these characters might represent. Lady Chiltern, for example, would predicate marital life on worship, posing her husband as a pristine ideal in both public and private life. Notably this love is explicitly gendered as "feminine." As the play progresses, Lady Chiltern's love comes to appear unreasonable andonce Sir Robert's secret sin is revealeddangerous to the health of the domestic household. This opinion emerges most explicitly from Sir Robert and Lord Goring, who offer a competing model of marital love that the two identify as "masculine." If a woman loves in the worship of an impossible ideal, a man loves his partner for its human imperfections; his love includes charity and forgiveness whereas the woman's does not. Thus the play calls for the tempering of the woman's overly idealizing and morally rigid love for one that can pardon human fault. Somewhat paradoxically (but all too unexpectedly), it will ultimately assign the role of pardoner to the woman; as Lord Goring tells Lady Chiltern in Act IV, "Pardon, not punishment, is [women's] mission" in love. Thus the play, miming a conventional narrative arc of the Victorian popular theater, in some sense ruins the ideal husband only to win his forgiveness from his virtuous wife. Re-establishing the conjugal household, this resolution numbers among the more sentimental and conservative of Wilde's day. Obviously, its gender politics are unfortunate to say the least. The main obstacle to this reconciliation of married life, Mrs. Cheveley, the play's villainness, would subordinate and reduce to marriage to mercenary transactions. Schooled in Baron Arnheim's gospels of power and wealthgospels that privilege the domination of others over all elseshe has no qualms blackmailing Sir Robert and potentially destroying his conjugal bliss to secure her financial investments. Moreover, we come to learn that she engineered a false courtship with Lord Goring in their youth to swindle him out of a settlement. Finally, she will offer to exchange her evidence against Sir Robert for Goring's hand in marriage; Goring will then roundly condemn her for defiling the ideas of love detailed above. With these offenses in mind, Mrs. Cheveley's ultimate capture by a stolen wedding presentthe diamond broochwould revenge her crimes against marriage.

In contrast to both the Chilterns and Mrs. Cheveley, however, the play features a number of characters and conversationsespecially those involving "banter" and other apparently frivolous speechthat mock its more conventional thematics. In particular, Goring and Mabel Chiltern function as foils to the upstanding Chilterns. Throughout the play the pair assume an amoral pose, disparaging the demands of duty and ironizing social convention. Notably then do the penultimate lines of the play, spoken by Mabel Chiltern upon accepting Goring's proposal, dispense with the notion of ideal husband altogether. "An ideal husband!" she exclaims. "Oh, I don't think I should like that. It sounds like something in the next world." Goring is to be what he wants while Mabel would only be a "real wife." In this sense, Mabel and Goring playfully reject the moral thematics described above, unconcerned with the question of what a man and wife should be ideally

An Ideal Husband Theme of Compassion and Forgiveness

In An Ideal Husband, compassion and forgiveness are the holy grail of marriage, and the only way marriage can possibly work. In this play, both the men and the women are forever messing up and inadvertently hurting each other. That seems to be inevitable when it comes romantic relationship. What is preventable is the stalemate that happens in the middle of the play, when each side denies the other any communication. According to Lord Goring, husbands and wives need to step back, let go of anger, try to step into the shoes of their spouses, and forgive. And Lord Goring gets the other characters to do just that.

An Ideal Husband Theme of Politics

Politics serve a number of purposes in An Ideal Husband. They start the show with a party, lend weight to the protagonist's crisis, and give occasion for many, many witticisms. The public nature of work in politics gives the protagonist higher stakes. To paraphrase the villainess: scandals don't just hurt a politician, they crush him. Pitted against the equally high-stakes game of love, politics lend an exciting background to this comedy with dashes of potboiler.

An Ideal Husband Politics Quotes

Quote #1 LADY MARKBY: Really, now that the House of

Commons is trying to become useful, it does a great deal of harm. (1.54)

One of the older characters in the play, Lady Markby's conversation is often a variation on "how things have changed." Here she seems to long for a bygone past when the House of Commons was more ceremonial than effective.

Quote #2 MRS. CHEVELEY. Politics are my only pleasure. (1.84)

Laura, Laura, Laura. (That's Mrs. Cheveley's first name.) It's all about her. Politics, sex, friendship all serve one purpose securing her comfort and security.

Quote #3 SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. A political life is a noble career! (1.85)

This is early in his conversations with Mrs. Cheveley before she reminds him of the ignoble moment that bought him this noble political career. One immoral act has enabled him to do a lot of good. The only problem is that she is not willing to forget that original, immoral act.

Quote #4 MRS. CHEVELEY. Sometimes. And sometimes it is a clever game, Sir Robert. And sometimes it is a great nuisance. (1.86)

While Sir Robert understands politics as a narrative of progress, Mrs. Cheveley sees it almost like a fickle frenemy, sometimes for her, sometimes against her. She doesn't get this "common good" thing.

Quote #5 LORD GORING. I adore political parties. They are the

only place left to us where people don't talk politics. (1.159)

Lord Goring is the original hipster, totally cooler-than-thou. He likes to pretend that political engagement indeed, caring about anything is too much for him. But he's also the character who ends up exerting the most influence on others throughout the play.

Quote #6 LADY BASILDON. I delight in talking politics. I talk them all day long. But I can't bear listening to them. (1.160)

For Lady Basildon, politics are useful in social settings. She can show off her learning but she doesn't really have to engage with contrary opinions.

Quote #7 MRS. CHEVELEY: Remember to what a point your Puritanism in England has brought you. (1.268)

Mrs. Cheveley blames Sir Robert's imminent doom on British Puritanism, contrasting it with the looser morals in Vienna. Mrs. Cheveley's willingness to exploit probably gives her more leverage in England than it would on the Continent.

Quote #8 LORD CAVERSHAM. I wish you would go into Parliament. (4.35)

Lord Caversham is old-fashioned and idealistic about politics. Political office is about serving the public, yes, but it's also about securing the family name. A career in Parliament might save his son from being such a public embarrassment.

Quote #9

LORD GORING. My dear father, only people who look dull ever get into the House of Commons, and only people who are dull ever succeed there. (4.36)

For a self-described slacker, Lord Goring is very hard headed about what he does and doesn't want. He is skeptical of the machine of politics of politician's motives but he's not going to let us know he's thought that much about it.

Quote #10 LORD CAVERSHAM. You have got what we want so much in political life nowadays - high character, high moral tone, high principles. [To LORD GORING.] Everything that you have not got, sir, and never will have. (4.194)

One of the funny/sad ironies that keeps popping up is Lord Caversham's total dismissal of his son as a useful human being. In reality, Lord Goring is the play's most useful character. His desperate efforts to save a marriage amply demonstrate his character, morality, and principles

An Ideal Husband Theme of Respect and Reputation

Respect and reputation are extremely important in the polite Victorian society of An Ideal Husband. The respect of your peers gets you an invitation to dinner and a potential opening for what it is you really want: a promotion, a husband, more invitations to dinner, etc. Decorum is so ingrained in these characters that they can't talk to their friends in front of the butler, and can't order the butler in front of their friends. Characters who flout social norms are punished or woefully misunderstood.

Quote #1 MRS. CHEVELEY. Do you know, I am quite looking forward to meeting your clever husband, Lady Chiltern. [] They actually succeed in spelling his name right in the newspapers. That in itself is fame, on the continent. (1.43)

Mrs. Cheveley seems to think that any attention is good attention.

Quote #2 LADY MARKBY. Oh! she goes everywhere there, and

has such pleasant scandals about all her friends. (1.60)

For Lady Markby, scandal is something delicious and exotic to be kept far away from her, preferably across an ocean.

Quote #3 Nowadays, with our modern mania for morality, every one 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. (1.268)

Like Lord Goring, Mrs. Cheveley believes that human beings are fundamentally flawed. Unlike him, she uses this knowledge for personal profit.

Quote #4 Suppose that when I leave this house I drive down to some newspaper office, and give them this scandal and the proofs of it! Think of their loathsome joy, of the delight they would have in

Even in Oscar Wilde's time, digging up dirt was an important part of journalism. What would happen, though, if news sources weren't allowed to do the kind of investigative reporting that reveals wrongdoing?

Quote #5 SIR ROBERT. Besides, Gertrude, public and private life are different things. They have different laws, and move on different lines. (1.351)

This quote reveals that Sir Robert is pragmatic pretty much a necessity for political success.

Quote #6

LADY CHILTERN. They should both represent man at his highest. I see no difference between them. (1.352)

Lady Chiltern is idealistic. This creates some tension for Sir Robert, but perhaps it's useful to have someone with such convictions keeping him honest.

Quote #7 LADY CHILTERN. I know that there are men with horrible secrets in their lives - men who have done some shameful thing, and who in some critical moment have to pay for it, by doing some other act of shame - oh! don't tell me you are such as they are! (1.370)

Lady Chiltern is as self-deluding, as we all are, to some extent. We think: "Oh, that sort of thing happens to other people, but not to me." It's clear that she had been thinking this all along, until she was forced to deal with a difficult situation. Experiencing the crisis in her own home humanizes her.

Quote #8 SIR ROBERT: And now what is there before me but public disgrace, ruin, terrible shame, the mockery of the world, a lonely dishonored life, a lonely dishonored death, it may be, some day? (2.311)

Sir Robert fears public humiliation almost as much as he fears losing his wife's love.

Quote #9 LORD CAVERSHAM. [Opens THE TIMES.] 'Sir Robert Chiltern . . . most rising of our young statesmen . . . Brilliant orator . . . Unblemished career . . . Wellknown integrity of character . . . Represents what is best in English public life . . . Noble contrast to the lax morality so common among foreign politicians.' (4.31)

Part of us applauds Sir Robert's narrow escape, part of us wanted him to be caught and then redeemed.

Quote #10 SIR ROBERT. Gertrude, Gertrude, you are to me the white image of all good things, and sin can never touch you. (4.272)

Oh dear. This quote occurs at the end of the play. After Sir Robert has twisted Lady Chiltern's arm to accept his imperfection and obvious missteps, he wants her to be the "white image of all good things"? Maybe you should write the sequel: An Ideal Wife.

An Ideal Husband Theme of Morality and Ethics

In An Ideal Husband, morality and ethics are inextricably bound to respect and reputation. As most characters shrewdly scale the social skyscraper, ethical behavior is valuable in gaining credibility with others not necessarily valuable in itself. Good deeds are rewarded with respect and power; bad deeds get you kicked off the island. Those with no part in the rat race are a little freer to define their own ethical code. They may even play with social expectations, doing good while acting badly in order to ease the strictures.

An Ideal Husband Morality and Ethics Quotes

Quote #1 MRS. CHEVELEY. I have a distinct recollection of Lady Chiltern always getting the good conduct prize! (1.66)

Mrs. Cheveley thinks that ethics are just obedience.

Quote #2 MRS. CHEVELEY. [In her most nonchalant manner.] My dear Sir Robert, you are a man of the world, and you have your price, I suppose. (1.252)

Mrs. Cheveley is saying that a man of the world recognizes that principles bow before needs (i.e., he'll do what it takes to get what he wants politically). Sir Robert has accepted that law before, and Mrs. Cheveley expects he'll do so again. Like Lady Chiltern, she doesn't believe people change.

Quote #3 LADY MARKBY. Lady Chiltern is a woman of the very highest principles, I am glad to say. I am a little too old now, myself, to trouble about setting a good example, but I always admire people who do. (1.290)

It's funny how Lady Markby equates holding the highest principles with setting a good example. For her, if a tree falls in the forest and no one can hear it, it doesn't make a sound. In other words, morals only matter if other people can see you upholding them.

Quote #4 SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [Sitting down.] Sooner or later in political life one has to compromise. Every one does. (1.359)

Sir Robert feels the need to school his wife on the realities of politicsbut he doesn't want to. He sounds a little childish with that last excuse, "Everyone's doing it!"

Quote #5 LADY CHILTERN. Circumstances should never alter principles! (1.362)

Lady Chiltern thinks of human behavior as solid and unchanging, impervious to everything around it. Oscar Wilde, history, and psychologists take another view. Procrastination break: google "Situationism."

Quote #6 LORD GORING. [] in England a man who can't talk morality twice a week to a large, popular, immoral audience is quite over as a serious politician. (2.58)

Apparently people had double standards for their politicians even back in Victorian England.

Quote #7 SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I would to God that I had been able to tell the truth . . . to live the truth. Ah! that is the great thing in life, to live the truth. (2.115)

Sir Robert is caught between a desire to come clean to his wife and to his public, and a very real understanding of the repercussions of admitting his crimes. No matter how long ago he committed his crimes, the danger of potential damage is real.

Quote #8 MRS. CHEVELEY Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike. (2.289)

It's interesting how much Mrs. Cheveley sounds like Lord Goring at certain points. No wonder they were into each other at one point. What makes their behavior so different?

Quote #9 LORD GORING. I don't like principles, father. I prefer prejudices. (4.195)
In a society as rule-oriented as Victorian England, this kind of statement is pretty radical. Speaking through Lord Goring, Wilde is saying that personal preferences are what matters, not rules.

An Ideal Husband Theme of Power

Characters in An Ideal Husband have two kinds of power. In a play with a political setting, the first is naturally public power, the ability to make decisions on a grand scale. Speeches made, votes taken, meetings and reports at this level of government, one man can affect thousands of people. But this one man is at the mercy of the second kind of power, one individual's control over another person. And it's not just the villain he has to fear. All of the characters in this play try controlling each other, whether as blackmailers, tastemakers, armchair judges, or spouses. Even the "good" characters work hard to get what they want.

Quote #1 MRS. CHEVELEY. [Leaning back on the sofa and looking at him.] How very disappointing! (1.250)

The power's in the stage directions. Mrs. Cheveley knows she has the upper hand. She's relaxed. She wants to enjoy the foreplay. Then she'll go for the jugular.

Quote #2 MRS. CHEVELEY. [] I am much stronger than you are. The big battalions are on my side. You have a splendid position, but it is your splendid position that makes you so vulnerable. (1.268)

The tables have turned. Normally Sir Robert uses the power of his good reputation to influence people. Now that reputation leaves him wide open. Mrs. Cheveley has no good reputation to protect and so she pulls out all the stops.

Quote #3 LADY CHILTERN. It is power to do good that is fine that, and that only. (1.366)

Lady Chiltern can't understand Sir Robert's obsession with power, and why the desire for political power would influence him to sacrifice his beliefs. Two very different temperaments meet in this marriage.

Quote #4 SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Youth is the time for success. I couldn't wait. (2.25)

Sir Robert's lust for power was so great that he effectively said " carpe diem" (i.e., "seize the day") when Baron Arnheim made his original offer. This quote typifies the Aesthetic movement's obsession with youth.

Quote #5 SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. With that wonderfully

fascinating quiet voice of his he expounded to us the most terrible of all philosophies, the philosophy of power, preached to us the most marvelous of all gospels, the gospel of gold. (2.35)

Sir Robert describes a seduction that was both sensual and spiritual. Poor guy didn't have a chance.

Quote #6 SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [] power, power over other men, power over the world, was the one thing worth having, [] and in our century only the rich possessed it. (2.35)

Sir Robert tries to make Lord Goring understand the desperation that comes with being poor and ambitious. Lord Goring was born wealthy and was never in the position where he had to compromise any principles.

Quote #7 SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Wealth has given me enormous power. It gave me at the very outset of my life freedom, and freedom is everything. (2.37)

As Sir Robert recalls his misdeed, his condemnation of the act falters. Suddenly, it seems like the right and necessary thing to have done. Because of the impact Sir Robert has made, the Baron actually facilitated a lot of good in the end.

Quote #8 SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. She must have had some curious hold over Baron Arnheim. I wonder what it was. LORD GORING. [Smiling.] I wonder. (2.191-192)

We know what you're thinking: it's about sex. Lord Goring is acknowledging that age-old source of power.

Quote #9 MRS. CHEVELEY. Call it what you choose. I hold

your husband in the hollow of my hand, and if you are wise you will make him do what I tell him. (2.295)

Mrs. Cheveley delights in having something on Miss Goody-Two-Shoes, Lady Chiltern. Cheveley's lust for power resembles Sir Robert's.

Quote #10 LORD GORING. Power is his passion. (4.240)

Have you noticed that most of the quotes on power come from Sir Robert? He uses the word nine times in one scene.

An Ideal Husband Theme of Memory and the Past

In An Ideal Husband, the past is mostly a thing one wishes had never happened. The characters don't want to talk about the past or hear about it. They definitely don't want a letter from it, especially if said letter identifies them as an erstwhile crook. There's some dispute about the past's influence on the future. Does it define these characters? Or can they leave the past behind like a snake shedding an old skin? Ultimately, love buries the old ghosts and banishes the vipers. With the promise of one new marriage and one renewed one, the last act of the play looks resolutely toward the future.

Quote #1 MRS. CHEVELEY. Even you are not rich enough, Sir Robert, to buy back your past. No man is. (1.274)

The past seems like a wholly negative thing. A large part of Sir Robert's past is comprised of the positive decisions he's made. Now, only the mistakes seem important and influential.

Quote #2 SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. No one should be entirely judged by their past. (1.345)

Sir Robert says this about his nemesis, Mrs. Cheveley. He also seems to be fishing for a gentle response from his wife that might apply to him, too.

Quote #3 LADY CHILTERN. [Sadly.] One's past is what one is. It is the only way by which people should be judged. (1.346)

Sorry, Sir Robert. Lady Chiltern believes that people can't change. She refuses to believe that human beings are works in progress.

Quote #4 LADY CHILTERN. But you told me yesterday that you had received the report from the Commission, and that it entirely condemned the whole thing. (1.350)

Lady Chiltern has a memory for even the most recent past, holding Sir Robert to a decision he made yesterday.

Quote #5 SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. Gertrude, there is nothing in my past life that you might not know. (1.375)

Sir Robert wishes he could live in the truth. His fear of rejection makes that impossible at the moment. He lies.

Quote #6 SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. [] she looks like a woman with a past, doesn't she? (2.95)

What exactly does a woman with a past look like? Is it her dress? Her lipstick? Her age?

Quote #7 LORD GORING. Perhaps Mrs. Cheveley's past is merely a slightly DECOLLETE one, and they are

excessively popular nowadays. (2.96)

Lord Goring reminds Sir Robert that Mrs. Cheveley might not be as susceptible to scandal as he is. As Lady Markby says elsewhere, it probably enhances her charms.

Quote #8 MRS. CHEVELEY. [With a sneer.] Oh, there is only one real tragedy in a woman's life. The fact that her past is always her lover, and her future invariably her husband. (3.253)

This quote is a brainteaser from Mrs. Cheveley. Does she mean that the past is romantic but erratic, the future steadfast but dull? That the best times are behind her? How would you interpret this quote?

Quote #9 SIR ROBERT CHILTERN. I wish I had seen that one sin of my youth burning to ashes. (4.170)

Sir Robert is referring to the old letter to Baron Arnheim. Would Mrs. Cheveley have been as powerful without this material piece of evidence? There's an interesting contrast between the past that truly existed and the past that's recorded then later interpreted as reality.

Quote #10 LORD GORING. Why should you scourge him with rods for a sin done in his youth, before he knew you, before he knew himself? (4.236)

Lord Goring's understanding of human beings is fundamentally opposed to Lady Chiltern's. He believes a person becomes, she thinks a person is.

An Ideal Husband Theme of Women and Femininity

Search "woman" in An Ideal Husband and you'll come by lots of zingers. "Women represent the irrational." "Women have a wonderful instinct about things. They can discover everything except the obvious." And can you believe it: "A man's life is of more value than a woman's." What's the deal? Well, in 1890s England, women simply weren't considered men's equals or colleagues in public life. An equal right to vote came in 1928. There are lots of unpleasant words about (and between) women in this play. But take a look at their actions. These women are aware of their power over men and they use it, whether for love or hate.

Quote #1 LADY BASILDON. What martyrs we are, dear Margaret! MRS. MARCHMONT. [Rising.] And how well it becomes us, Olivia! (1.15-16)

Their willingness to suffer conversation with boring men makes these women more attractive.

Quote #2 MRS. CHEVELEY. Certainly, more women grow old nowadays through the faithfulness of their admirers than through anything else! At least that is the only way I can account for the terribly haggard look of most of your pretty women in London! (1.70)

Mrs. Cheveley doesn't have a domestic bone in her body. A steadfast admirer would bore her to death. Maybe that's why she goes after Lord Goring.

Quote #3 MRS. CHEVELEY. Ah! the strength of women comes from the fact that psychology cannot explain us. [] Science can never grapple with the irrational. (1.76-78)

Much of Mrs. Cheveley's power especially in this early scene lies in her mystery.

Quote #4 LORD GORING. [Turning round.] Well, she wore far too much rouge last night, and not quite enough clothes. That is always a sign of despair in a woman. (2.81)

"Hello kettle? This is pot. You're black." Lord Goring and Mrs. Cheveley share the award for Most Hours in Front of a Mirror.

Quote #5 LADY MARKBY. I assure you that the amount of things I and my poor dear sister were taught not to understand was quite extraordinary. But modern women understand everything, I am told. (2.240)

It's Lady Markby with the how-things-have-changed report. Probably the most interesting aspect of this quote is the idea that "ignorance" can be taught.

Quote #6 LORD GORING. But women who have common sense are so curiously plain, father, aren't they? (3.114)

Let's remember that in Lord Goring's world, common sense is not a desirable attribute.

Quote #7 LORD CAVERSHAM. No woman, plain or pretty, has any common sense at all, sir. Common sense is the privilege of our sex. (3.115)

Lord Caversham eats these words later, applauding Mabel's common sense in favoring the "real" over the "ideal" in marriage.

Quote #8 MRS. CHEVELEY. My dear Arthur, women are never disarmed by compliments. Men always are. That is the

difference between the two sexes. (3.243)

Mrs. Cheveley has full confidence in the superiority and strength of women.

Quote #9 LORD GORING. How you women war against each other! (3.250)

Lord Goring sees Mrs. Cheveley and Lady Chiltern as two black widows of very different natures. He couldn't be married to either of them.

Quote #10 LORD GORING. A man's life is of more value than a woman's. It has larger issues, wider scope, greater ambitions. A woman's life revolves in curves of emotions. It is upon lines of intellect that a man's life progresses. Don't make any terrible mistake, Lady Chiltern. A woman who can keep a man's love, and love him in return, has done all the world wants of women, or should want of them. (4.246)

Lord Goring advocates for women to remain in the private sphere as silent supports to their men. Lady Chiltern parrots his speech when her husband comes back in. Some critics see the word-for-word repetition as a comic resolution, but we're not so sure. Can you think of another way to interpret it?

Womanliness and the Feminine

Though the title invites speculation on the ideal husband, different figures of womanliness appear throughout the play as well. Once again, we will consider this thematic structure by contrasting a few principle characters. An Ideal Husbandrelies on a simple opposition between the virtuous Lady Chiltern and the demonic Mrs. Cheveley, the latter's wit and villainy making her a far more pleasurable character. Lady Chiltern appears as the model Victorian new woman, which Wilde elaborated while editor of the Women's World magazine in the late 1880s: morally upstanding, highly educated, and actively supportive of her husband's political career. By Act IV, she will also emerge in the role of forgiver and caretaker (again, "Pardon, not punishment, is [women's] mission"), and thus meets the more conventional demands of

Victorian womanhood as well. In terms of generational differences, she stands out against the old-fashioned Lady Markby, the embodiment of an older group of society wives. Lady Chiltern's primary foil, however, is of course the "lamia-like"that is, half-snake and halffemaleMrs. Cheveley. Whereas Lady Chiltern is nave, candid, and always in earnest, the witty and ambitious Mrs. Cheveley is characterized by a sort of duplicitous femininity. As described in Act I, she is a "horrid," "unnatural," andas quickly revealeddangerous combination of genius and beauty. Having revealed her capacity to manipulate in Act I, the play dramatically unmasks her as a monster in Act III. Trapped by Lord Goring, Cheveley dissolves into a "paroxysm of rage, with inarticulate sounds," her loss of speech giving way to an agony of terror that distorts her face. For a moment, a "mask has fallen", and Cheveley is "dreadful to look at." Her veneer of wit and beauty thus give way to the hidden beast. We should also note that the play relates Mrs. Cheveley's duplicity with the artifices of the dandy, Lord Goring. Like Cheveley, Goring is artificial, amoral, cunning, and irrational, traits associated with the feminine. The two great wits and most flamboyantly dressed characters of the play, Goring and Cheveley are doubles for each other: their face-off is something of a climax. Indeed, Goring is Mrs. Cheveley's only match because he can play her game of wiles, just as the Chilterns are doomed to be her victims in their hapless earnestness. Notably, it also takes little for Sir Robert to conclude that they are co-conspirators. With these parallels in mind, one might thus note that Goring might share an unnatural or monstrous femininity with Cheveley as well: the dandy is, after all, often considered the paragon of the effeminate male. The important difference, however, lies in Mrs. Cheveley's unmasking. If Mrs. Cheveley's mask is ultimately torn asidein an echo, perhaps, of Dorian Grayto reveal her cruelty and ambition, Goring largely keeps his on, maintaining his dandified pose for most of the play.

Aestheticism and the Art of Living Comments on what Mrs. Cheveley at one point describes as the "fine art" of living run throughout the play. The dandified Lord Goring of course exemplifies this stylization of life as art, emphasizing the beauty of youth and artifice, the importance of idleness, fashion, and social theatricality, and the ironization of existing social conventions. Once again, we can pose the fine art of living against the somber respectability and moral strictures of the Victorian age. Motifs The Epigram Wilde's plays are often read for their witty epigrams; indeed, these epigrams are what make his plays "subversive." "Wit" is defined here as the quality of speech that consists in apt associations that surprise

and delight or the utterance of brilliant things in an amusing fashion; the epigram is a brief, pointed, and often antithetical saying that contains an unexpected change of thought or biting comment. Delivered in a social intercourse that consists of rapid-fire repartee, the tone of Wilde's epigrams are often "half-serious," playing on the potential for the listener's misunderstandingfor example, taking a phrase literally, too seriously, or not seriously enough. Rhetorically, they tend to involve a combination of devices: the reversal of conventionally paired terms, irony, sarcasm, hyperbole, and paradox. Take then, for example, Lord Goring's rejoinder to his father, Lord Caversham, when the latter accuses him of talking about nothing: "I love talking about nothing, father. It is the only thing I know anything about." At one level, Goring's epigram is clearly sarcastic; at another, it is paradoxical, as in a sense one cannot know anything about nothing. The epigram also shifts between conventionally valorized terms: whereas most people would hope to have something substantive to talk about, Goring loves to talk about nothing. As one might imagine, the "threat" in these games of rhetoric is the concomitant shift in the values aesthetic, ethical, philosophical, or otherwisetaken up in conversation. Consequently, the apparently frivolous epigram becomes the primary vehicle by which the play mocks the values and mores of the contemporary popular stage. The Melodramatic Speech In contrast to its witty, epigrammatic banter, An Ideal Husband also makes extensive use of the melodramatic speech. Such speeches reflect more conventional dialogue from the Victorian popular stage. Notable examples include Lady Chiltern's plea to Sir Robert at the end of Act I, their confrontation in Act II, and reconciliation in Act IV. These rousing speechesfar longer in length than most of the dialogueinvolve innumerable apostrophes ("Oh my love!" and so on), exclamations, and lyrical entreaties. Laden with pathos, they radically transform the tone and mood found in the scenes involving epigrammatic banter, representing moments in which poised and polished characters find themselves overcome with sentiment. If the epigram is the means by which the play subverts thematic conventions, the melodramatic speech tends to reaffirm it, serving as vehicle for the play's pronouncements on love and marital life. Symbols The Rococo Tapestry Act I takes place against the backdrop of a Rococo tapestry, a representation of Franois Boucher's "Triumph of Love" (1754). The "Triumph" allegorizes the victory of love over power: Venus points to Vulcan's conquered heart, and the god gazes up at her like a love-sick boy. Though the most obvious reading might consider the tapestry as prefiguring the defeat of Mrs. Cheveley and reconciliation of the play's lovers, the significance of the allegory is not so self-evident. Indeed, it takes on a number of meanings. In the story the tapestry tells, Venus conquers Vulcan only to commit

adultery with his brother, Ares. In this sense, Love's triumph is more Mrs. Cheveley's than the Chilterns', the former having similarly betrayed Lord Goring in their youth. Within the action of the play itself, the tapestry takes center stage, so to speak, at the end of Act I, when the audience has just witnessed an argument that appears to foretell the doom of the Chilterns' marriage. Horrified, Sir Robert sits in the dark, the tapestry left lit by the chandelier. In this case then, the image of Love's victory is ironic as it would seem that intrigue is poised to ruin conjugal bliss. We can chart one more mention of the Boucher tapestry in Act II. Telling Lady Chiltern of her plans for the day, Mabel will jest about standing on her head while playing tableau in the "[t]riumph of something." This joke perhaps prefigures Mabel's own turning of love upside-down in her rather unconventional courtship with Lord Goring: recall that Goring and Mabel resist notions of love as duty and dispense with the questions of ideal marital life that consume the Chilterns. The Diamond Brooch The play's other notable symbol is Mrs. Cheveley's diamond brooch. Like the tapestry, it takes on multiple meanings through the course of the play. First, as a diamond snake, it symbolizes the evil womana woman who resembles a skin-shedding reptile in her duplicity. The brooch also functions as an agent of vengeance. Ultimately revealed as a wedding gift Mrs. Cheveley stole in her youth, the brooch returns as evidence of a past crime, entrapping a woman who would manipulate past wrongs to her own advantage and wreck marriages. The "poetic justice" in her arrest is clear. Finally, one might comment on the "duplicity" of the brooch. As Goring notes, the brooch is nothing less than a "wonderful"or, in modern parlance, "fabulous"ornament, a luxurious object that metamorphoses into a trap. As noted above, the dandy operates by trickery and artificenot force and always with style. In this sense, the brooch is the only "weapon" one can imagine the dandy putting to use, emblematizing his artfulness and guile.