The Consequences of Confession

In the spirit of Lent, reading this play about the three trials of Oscar Wilde made me think about the sacrament of confession. While I was sitting in mass today, the priest gave his homily on the confession and how unique of a sacrament it is. Most of the other sacraments are concerned with something physical, like the washing in baptism or the body and blood when receiving the Eucharist, but confession is strangely void of these physical aspects because the completion comes with the receiving of forgiveness. Getting our sins off our chests provides a catharsis that comes to completion with hearing the words “you are forgiven”. In the same way, though Wilde denied his relations with these young men, he brings about his own demise to experience the relief of letting the truth come out. In the excerpts of “De Profundis” littered throughout the play, the audience learns how Wilde admits himself to be the author of his own destruction. 

His life, obsessed with pleasure, was finally catching up to him, and the way to cleanse himself of the sins he committed was by bringing about his own destruction. Throughout the play, it is obvious that Wilde is in an intellectual league of his own, from his responses to the examiner to the excerpts from his writings. If he so pleased, he had ample opportunities to flee his fate of imprisonment. That fact that he stayed seems to imply he was tired of suppressing his true self, and wanted the relief of letting everything come out before him. In his own decadent artistic way, Wilde has created a confessional booth open to the public, where he is on display, via the defense chair, and all his maltreatment of his relationships is being laid out before him. Even though does not believe his actions to be grossly indecent, he does assert that he has taken advantage of countless young men with no regard for the effects he had on them. Wilde is coming to terms with himself in a way that only he could. The publicity of his confessional may have sparked controversy, and Wilde may have regretted his actions in hindsight, but his initial attitude of come what may has these telltale symptoms of a man tortured by his actions ready to come clean and receive the relief of letting the mask fall. We all experience the crushing weight of guilt no matter the magnitude of our actions, and Wilde, being wholly imperfect himself, fell prey to the desire to relieve that weight. He sought forgiveness from society as a whole. He was fully aware how the upper class engaged in the same activities as him and got away with it all the time. What he sought was their forgiveness and acceptance when his skeletons came out of the closet, but ultimately, it was all in vain and he eventually lost his life to their decisions to make him an example. Only in God is forgiveness necessary, and if he had simply done his penance in private maybe we would have more Wilde writing to discuss today. But we all know Wilde was a pioneer for the queer identity. Whispered confessions behind a screen would never have the same effect on us as these trials do. Wilde gave his life for his art, and nothing is more dramatically artistic as a stubborn man falling from grace like Icarus from the sky.

2 thoughts on “The Consequences of Confession”

  1. Confession, and the spiritual catharsis of it, is a really interesting lens with which to view this play and all of Wilde the seems to be revealed therein. There is something so freeing about finally owning up to or fully living the truths of our lives, as you say, but I wonder how freeing Wilde felt his particular confession. Was it a freeing endeavor or a more painful extraction of the truth? I think some of the the denials within the trial that you point out speaks to some of the mixed nature of Wilde’s particular confession, the mingled pleasure and pain that seemed to so characterize his final few years, if not most of his life. If he hasn’t been so invested in the artistry of his own unmaking would that confession have been less painful? Or would it have happened at all?

  2. The connection with this play and the sacrament of Confession is a very interesting one, especially when one considers Oscar’s own opinions on his own culpability. I do not remember who in the play said it, but I remember a passage which concerns what Wilde believed he was guilty of during the trial, detailing that he never attempted to hide the fact that he was gay, but that he did not plead guilty because he did not believe that being gay was anything to feel guilt about. Normally, when one pleads not guilty, they are claiming to the court that they had not committed the crime in question, but in Wilde’s case, he seems to be challenging the very legitimacy of the crime itself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *