An Ideal Husband

One Has to Compromise... Everyone Does

In "Anatomy of Criticism", Northrop Frye explains a formula that describes the structure of dramatic comedy. Two key points in the formula are the use of "obstructing characters" and the "movement from pistis to gnosis". An "obstructing character" is anything physical or intangible that blocks a relationship, and "pistis to gnosis" is a shift from belief to knowledge. In Oscar Wilde's play "An Ideal Husband", Wilde effectively incorporates both of these elements.

Mrs. Cheveley is a character in "An Ideal Husband" who attempts to obstruct the marriage of Robert and Lady Chiltern. Robert Chiltern is "deeply respected by...many" (183), especially his wife; Lady Chiltern states that to her, he has "been an ideal always" (204). However, Lady Chiltern is unaware of the "fraud" (229) that made her husband's fortune. "Out of malice" (249), Mrs. Cheveley reveals the fraud to Lady Chiltern: "Get him to tell you how he sold to a stockbroker a Cabinet secret" (229). This is a major blow to the marriage of Robert and Lady Chiltern, as "break[ing] her idol...put poison in her heart" (249).

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