Oscar Wilde Fairy Tales

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DÉBORAH SCHEIDT, Universidade Estadual de Ponta Grossa

ABSTRACT: In this paper we examine the articulation of the tragic mode in Oscar Wilde‟s collection of fairy tales The Happy Prince and Other Stories, especially in “The Young King”, “The Selfish Giant” and “The Birthday of the Infanta.” By “tragic mode” we mean, in this context, the vestiges left by Greek tragedy and its development, the Elizabethan tragedy, in a piece of nineteenth century fiction. Several thematic and structural elements, as suggested by Richard Palmer – tragic heroes, tragic villains and martyrs, issues of fate, guilt, will, self-recognition, death and suffering, as well as the recurrence of paradox, tragic
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The first dream is about the work of the “pale, sickly-looking children” (p. 83) in charge of weaving the cloth for the new king‟s robe. The second one reveals the death of the black slaves who fish for pearls for the royal sceptre. The last dream is in morality-play style as it depicts Death and Avarice‟s battle over the lives of the men digging and cleaving rocks for rubies for the king‟s crown. At his coronation ceremony, the prince, formerly a vain teenager who had worried only about his “delicate raiment and rich jewels” (p. 79), shocks everyone when he is seen wearing “the leathern tunic and rough sheepskin cloak that he had worn when he had watched [...] the goatherd [...] and in his hands he took his rude shepherd‟s staff.” (p. 92) But could we call the prince‟s experience as tragic, or merely sad? Richard Palmer (1992, p. 2) calls our attention to the present-day complexities involving the term “tragedy”. In 2400 years of usage, its meaning (that even in Aristotle‟s time was

never established conclusively) has become highly disputed, along with the possibility of its contemporary existence. Diametrically opposed approaches live side-by-side, from the utter banalisation of the term (e.g. by the media) to critics who claim that only a few selected plays can be rightfully called tragedies. Palmer
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