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Written by Reece Burkhard
In this poem, the author, Oscar Wilde, is also the narrator. On May 25th 1895 Oscar Wilde was sentenced to 2 years in reading Jail for the crime of homosexuality. While In Jail he encountered many prisoners, one of the prisoners, Charles Thomas Wooldridge, is the main focus of the ballad of Reading Gaol.
Charles Thomas Wooldridge
The ‘he’ that is introduced by Oscar Wilde in the opening sentences of the poem is Charles Thomas Wooldridge. Charles Thomas Wooldridge married Ellen Glendell in 1894. Wooldridge being part of the army put a great strain on their relationship; eventually, Ellen began using her maiden name again. When Ellen didn’t show up to a meeting between her and Charles, he visited her house and an argument ensued. They ended up on the street outside where Charles slit Ellen’s throat using a cut throat razor. He was arrested at the scene. Wooldridge was sentenced to death and he was to spend some time at Reading Jail prior to his execution. It was here where he met Oscar Wilde. Charles Thomas Wooldridge is the main focus of this text, as well as that Wilde dedicated the poem to him (CTW).
The Guardsman is a recurring character throughout this poem. Wilde has included the guardsmen in this poem to show that all men are the same. The guardsman is described similar to the criminal as ‘wearing a suit of shabby gray’. This links to the line ‘all men kill the thing they love’ as it shows that the rule applies to all men, guard or not.
The Trial Men are the other men who are on trial throughout this poem. They are included to emphasize Wildes view that all men 'kill the thing they love'. Charles is not the only guilty man, every man is guilty of something.
The Chaplain is a fairly minor character in this poem. Wilde has included this character to show that God has forgotten the guilty men. They have committed the ultimate sin. This makes the theme of religion more negative.
The Governor of the prison is presented as the personification of judgement. He is described by Wilde as being 'all in shiny black' this presents him as dark and evil, corresponding to the fate of the prisoners.
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