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A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde

Categories: Oscar Wilde

Wilde uses many dramatic effects throughout the play to shock and amuse the audience and many of them can be seen in this final scene. The fact that this conversation between Mrs Arbuthnot and Lord Illingworth takes place in Mrs Arbuthnot’s house, her personal space and territory puts her at an advantage and it shows that Lord Illingworth is surrendering his usual control over his situations By Lord Illingworth referring to Mrs Arbuthnot as ‘Rachel’ we are again made aware that we are listening to two people who have a strong past relationship.

She calls him ‘George Harford’ while he uses her name far less often that in the persuasive Act 2. During this scene, Lord Illingworth speaks with awareness of the legal situation, he knows he can never make Gerald legitimate but he is willing to leave him property “What more can a gentleman desire in this world? ” and Mrs Arbuthnot’s response of “Nothing more, I am quite sure” turns this in to a class confrontation.

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When Mrs Arbuthnot says “I told you I was not interested, and I beg you to go.” this is a threat to conventional society and the audience would have been shocked by this.

She treats Lord Illingworth as he once treated her, in purely financial terms and she tells him that Gerald no longer needs his money, “You come too late. My son has no need of you. You are not necessary.” She then goes on to explain to him that Gerald and Hester are in love and they don’t need his money because Hester already has money of her own.

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Lord Illingworth asks where they will go and Mrs Arbuthnot’s reply “We will not tell you, and if you find us we will not know you. You seem surprised.

What welcome would you get from the girl whose lips you tried to soil, from the boy whose life you have shamed, from the mother who dishonor comes from you? ” is very melodramatic and it also relives the fact that Lord Illingworth tried to kiss Hester and this is when Gerald found out that he was his father, “Lord Illingworth you have insulted the purest thing on Gods earth”. This leaves Lord Illingworth to admit that he wants Gerald, “Rachel, I want my son. ” Wilde uses many props in this scene, the main one being the letter Gerald has written to Lord Illingworth imploring him to marry his mother.

The audience know what is written in the letter before Lord Illingworth does and this adds drama and tension because the audience are waiting for the big reveal and to see what happens. This letter also links back to the letter that Lord Illingworth sees in Act 2 and says “What a curious handwriting! It reminds me of the handwriting of a woman I used to know years ago.” and his dismissal of it so simply. The stage direction of ‘Mrs Arbuthnot watches him all the time’ is very important because she wants to see his reaction.

Ironically his proposal of marriage after reading Gerald’s letter uses similar language to Mrs Arbuthnot’s when explaining to Gerald why she would refuse him, for her marriage would be a ‘sacrifice’ and for Lord Illingworth it would be a ‘surrender’. For Mrs Arbuthnot to say this at this point in the play would have been very uncommon for the time because the audience would be expecting a happy ending, for the fallen women to marry the father of her child or for it to end like a melodrama, in tragedy.

For the first time, Mrs Arbuthnot is triumphant against Lord Illingworth with the repetition of his own words when she says, “Children begin by loving their parents. After a time they judge them. Rarely if ever do they forgive them. ” Lord Illingworth is clearly surprised at this response and then resorts to cruelty. His parting speech creates an exciting climax as the censorship of the time wouldn’t allow anyone to say the word ‘bastard’ on the stage.

Wilde’s stage direction of Mrs Arbuthnot’s use of the glove “Mrs Arbuthnot snatches up glove and strikes Lord Illingworth across the face with it” is a very good use of a prop because in the time this play was written a glove was a very masculine item and being hit with one was a sign of violence and confrontation. The audience is allowed a shock, due to the word about to be spoken and then they get a relief as the taboo is maintained by Mrs Arbuthnot cutting Lord Illingworth off before he can finish his sentence because she will not let him say the word because she doesn’t want to hear him say this about her beloved son.

The villain is punished and Mrs Arbuthnot’s respectability is ma intained. All of this is typical of a melodrama and we the audience now feel something has been accomplished. Wilde’s use of stage directions are very well placed and are very dramatic, especially the last few lines of this scene when Mrs Arbuthnot ‘falls sobbing on the sofa’ and it reinforces that this play is a melodrama because people are not usually this dramatic in normal everyday life.

Gerald and Hester now return to Mrs Arbuthnot and we have the image of ‘a man and a woman in a garden’ which has been mentioned previously throughout the play and is a sign of sex and fertility and in this scene it shows the audience the image of a new family emerging. Due to Hester having changed her views from believing that women who have children outside of the laws of marriage should be punished, “A woman who has sinned should be punished, shouldn’t she? ” And that the children should also carry this shame, “Yes, it is right that the sins of the parents should be visited on the children.

It is a just law. It is God’s law. ” to her now saying “I was wrong. Gods law is only love.” Because she is in love with Gerald and has managed to listen and understand all of the things that Mrs Arbuthnot has had to face to bring up Gerald alone. At the end of the play when Gerald sees the glove lying on the floor Mrs Arbuthnot picks up and changes the title line of the play and once again mirrors Lord Illingworth’s statement about seeing the letter from Mrs Arbuthnot, “Oh! o one. No one in particular. A Man of no importance. ” Unmarried and defiant she enters into a fresh and better world although the 19th century attitudes to marriage are still upheld in a way because even though she has won against Lord Illingworth and she has managed to keep Gerald and now has the love and respect of Hester the audience are still left with the image of them being exiled to America, where they have less strict views on illegitimacy and have more freedom.

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A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde. (2018, Oct 26). Retrieved from

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