Form of Kaufman’s “Gross Indecency”

When considering the form of Moises Kaufman’s “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde,” as a play rather than a typical historical fiction or purely biographical book, there are areas where information is both gained and lost as a result of this choice.  A play requires its author to choose words more carefully and concisely to consider timing and audience enjoyment, which potentially leads to less detail than an author compiling all the facts of an individual’s experience into textbook-like or even narrative form.  This potential loss of detail seems to be the primary loss due to the choice of form.  But there are some benefits that this sparser version of history allows.  Though less detailed, a play allows audience members to be engaged in the action.  One can imagine what witnessing these trials might have been like at the time they took place and have more of a stake in the action simply because a play is more action-based than a typical biography.  A greater emphasis on visuals generally can lend itself to inspiring greater sympathy in audience members, since it is sometimes easier to relate to characters you can see rather than people you are just reading about.  Putting names to faces, and hearing the voices of each of the characters, gives greater depth to historical figures than reading off a page.  One can actually visualize and hear Wilde’s wit or the Marquess of Queensberry’s tirades.  There is also the fact that Wilde himself was a playwright, making Kaufman’s choice to write a play feel very true to his subject matter.  Another negative, however, is that with a play it may be easier to dramatize or romanticize history.  While this can be useful in inspiring interest and care, it has the potential to neglect things as they truly were and put characters on a pedestal that they may be deserving of in some aspects of their lives, but undeserving of in others.

One thought on “Form of Kaufman’s “Gross Indecency””

  1. Hi Carrie! It’s interesting that you point out that Kaufman is channeling Wilde by writing a play over his trials. It’s challenging to channel or stay true to Wilde, as his playwriting is unique. One element of the play that I found interesting compared to Wilde’s own playwriting is stage directions. Kaufman’s stage directions are sparse compared to Wilde’s elaborate, poetic ones. Depending on the actor playing Wilde, the reader will not know how Wilde reacts to his sentence by saying: “And I? May I say nothing, my lord?” (127). This choice is interesting because it detracts from the romanticization of historical events that you bring up as a concern for the play format of the trials. I also think that Kaufman chose the format of the play because trials are similar to plays. During the trial, there is an audience shouting “shame” or applauding Wilde’s witticism, similar to the theater. Wilde was on trial in his plays to see how far he could push Victorian morality and his subversive views. It’s similar to the trial, even when the charges and stakes are higher.

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