Lady Windermere

’s Fan By Oscar Wilde As A Well-Made Play Essay, Research Paper

The tradition of the well-made play emerged towards the end of the nineteenth century. It was also called piece bien faite meaning ‘Second Empire Drama’. It was supported mainly by the works of Eugene Scribe , of Dumas , of Emile Augier , and of Victorien Sardou. The tradition reached to the top with Sardou’s works in which the techniques of construction invented by Scribe were completely used. Construction and stagecraft are exploited fully rather than the characterization and ideas . In the plot counstruction of the well-made play , an action turns on artificial complications that are easily solved by ingenious solutions . It is the stage of which the salon or the drawing room has double doors at the side entrances. It begins with an exposition setting the scene stating where the characters stand in the scene in detail.The problem in the play is revealed at the heart of it where there can be a sudden change . Eventually, the play ends happily and agreeably.1

As a well-known type of play , it predominated the French theatre and later was dominant in the theatre of Europe. The London stage was in many respects like an extension of the Paris theatre and flourished by the play of this type making imitations , adaptations and translations of the French drama .2 Moreover , the well-made drama was replaced in the Romantic plays such as Shelley’s Cenci and Byron’s Manfred .Besides this, it succeeded the extravagant farces, crude melodramas and spectacle plays which were the public entertainment for the people in the middle of the nineteenth century. It was better than the romantic play and the other types as a neatly organized and compact play of situation. The well-made play , also called as play of situation , treated serious issues although they were handled as secondary to the plot.3 As a result , treatment remained blurred and vague due to the necessities of the plot, Another property of the well-made drama was that it made the characters superficial and two dimensional types subordinate to the plot. All the character were like puppets in the service of the plot and the representatives of their time criticizing the institutions and social patterns. They were a kind of conventional type such as Mrs Erlynne who is a woman with an unknown past and some facile virtues and Lady Windermere who is a rigid and conservative puritanical lady. As the well-made play did not treat the characters and the issues completely and deeply , they were left inconsistent and undeveloped . The play of situation pointed at drawing attention the spectator , not only to the character but also , the action and the behaviours that the character will do next .1 For instance ,when the men come to Darlington rooms , what will Lady Windermere and Mrs Erlynne do? What will they do , when they see the mislaid fan?What will do Lord Augustus when she was Mrs Erlynne under the curtain.etc.

Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde ,which was his first success in the theatre and a comedy of social class , is set in the plot construction of the tradition of the well-made play. The plot of the play is constructed in the ‘exposition’ , ‘crisis’ rising through the complication caused by devices and solved easily and ‘denoument’. In Lady Windermere’s Fan as in Wilde’s other plays not only these elements such as devices , complications and solutions are used , but also unities of time and place are limited in the plot emphasizing a single dramatic action. The unity of time is underlined in the synopsis of the scenes of the play : ‘The action of the play takes place within twenty-four hours , beginning on a Tuesday afternoon at five o’clock and ending the next day at 1.30 p.m.’ In such a short time , the relation between Mrs Erlynne and Lord Windermerewhich rumoured for six months suddenly emerged as a scandal. Within these few hours a happy marriage which has eventually been saved would be broken .2

The action of the play progresses so rapidly due to the limited time in the play. The technique of the well-made play requires wasting a little time on exposition passing over it quickly and superficially because the dramatic situation and suspense are underscored in the play. Thus , we can not have any information about Mrs Erlynne’s past life, Because of this , the Duchess of Berwick who likes gossipping does not know much about Mrs Erlynne in such a small circle of society. Due to the absence of some information in the exposition, we can not understand why Mrs Erlynne’s appearance is so different from what it was twenty years ago. Even Lady Windermere does not find some likeness with her mother’s picture and the coincidence of their names, Margaret, does not make awaken her feeling and perception. Although these cruosities make some exposition necessary for the plot , such issues are ignored without exploiting them in well-made plot construction.1 In the exposition part , it is just prepared ground for the dramatic situation that is Lady Windermere’s being informed of the rumoured affair between her husband and Mrs Erlynne who is her mother.

The plot construction of the well-made play bases on the use of the standard devices in order to bring about complications which are untied by some facile solutions. The miscarried or intercepted letter , the mislaid object are the conventional devices used chiefly in this type of play causing the complication.2

The cheque-book of Lord Windermere proving that he gave a great deal of money to Mrs Erlynne and found by Lady Windermere is the first device leading to complication in the play. She does not believe her husband’s explanation feeling sure about her suspicion and threatens to strike Mrs Erlynne with her fan if she comes to her birthday party. Although Lord Windermere can not convince his wife’s curiosity about cheque-book and his relation with Mrs Erlynne , she can not dare do anything towards Mrs Erlynne which will cause a scandal due to her high breeding as an upper-class lady.

The farewell note that Lady Windermere wrote in exasperation and frustration to her husband but intercepted by Mrs Erlynne is another device revealing Mrs Erlynne maternity.2For the first time we learn that she is the mother of Lady Windermere in Act II.

‘Thanks ! What can I do? What can I do? I feel a passion awakening within me that I never felt before.What can it mean?The daughter must not be like the mother – that would be terrible.How can I save her?How can I save my child?’

(Lady Windermere’s Fan,II. 81)

Mrs Erlynne shows a maternal protectiveness towards her daughter in her behaviours and remarks. Suddenly she follows her daughter to save her from the similar ignominy.3 However, they are obliged to hide in the room as the men come Darlington’s rooms with together. The complication to which the farewell note leads is solved in behalf of Lord Windermere and Lady Windermere because it does not cause any complication between them.

Lady Windermere’s mislaid fan which the play centres around is the most significant device causing the crisis in the play. At the beginning of the play while it seems innocent birthday present from a husband to a wife ,it turns into an incriminating object which may break a marriage and cause a tragedy between two men. However, Mrs Erlynne save her daughter from the social disgrace taking the offence on herself. It is the decisive point in the play determining the end. While she saves her daughter and her mariage she sacrifices herself being degraded and disgraced in eyes of the men in dandy Lord Darlington’s room at that moment.

(Takes fan from him Lord Wındermere looks at her in contempt. Lord Darlington in mingled astonishment and anger. Lord Augustus turns away. The other men smile at each other.)

(Lady windermere’s Fan ,III. 120-121)

In the end of the play ,presenting some excuses to Lord Augustus who feels like jilted and deluded male ,she repairs his broken heart.

As the curtain descends , every complications are solved agreeably and neatly. However, Lady windermere’s suspense about Mrs Erlynne identity is not resolved in the end of the play. She just knows her as a good woman who rescues her making a great flaw.When she learns that they will get married with Mrs Erylnne ,she tells Lord Augustus that:

(Taking her husband’s hand) Ah, you’re

marrying a very good woman !

( Lady Windermere’s Fan,IV. 157)

‘The Windermeres flourish in a new and harmonious intimacy’1 . Mrs Erlynne bids farewell to her daughter leaving her unaware of her true identity and starts a new life with Lord Augustus planning to go somewhere else to live together. Thus , everything becomes normal as in the beginning of the play ending in an agreeable atmosphere.


Wilde, Oscar (1951) Lady Windermere’s Fan,London:Methuen.

Hopper, Vincent F. (1960) Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar

Wilde,Newyork:Barron’s Educational Series.


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