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  The Truth, The Whole Truth. The Lord Alfred Douglas Story  
 

The play was written in 1995. It received two performances, at The Hawth Studio Theatre in Crawley, the town where Lord Alfred Douglas is buried. It was the only work on Wilde at that time to be challenging the popular view of Lord Alfred Douglas as the villain of the Oscar Wilde story.

This short theatre piece only requires two actors. The action of the play takes place in the courtroom of The Old Bailey, where Oscar Wilde was tried and sentenced in 1895. The central character is Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde’s lover and the son of the notorious Marquis of Queensberry. The latter is famous for his boxing rules, known as the ‘Queensberry Rules’ and for his ignoble action in securing Wilde’s imprisonment by having him followed by private detectives when he discovered that his son was having a relationship with the famous playwright, Oscar Wilde. I shall henceforth refer to Lord Alfred as ‘Bosie’, his childhood nickname.

The Character of Bosie / Some Background

Bosie was haunted by the horror of the Wilde trials all his life and spent the remainder of that life writing books about Wilde. He became a ferocious litigant and would sue anyone who said anything about him that he felt to be untrue. He often found himself under attack from Wilde’s friends, the most notable being Wilde’s literary executor Robert Ross, with whom he was involved in a long and bitter feud in the years following Wilde’s death. He and Ross were bitter enemies and the feud they fought only ended with Ross’s death in 1918. What affected Bosie most deeply was the disclosure of De Profundis, the letter Wilde had written to him from his prison cell in Reading Gaol in 1897. The letter, as well as dealing with Wilde’s struggle to come to terms with his downfall, also contained a bitter attack on Bosie, whom Wilde at that stage blamed for his downfall. Ross published it in abridged form in 1909, maintaining that he had sent a full copy to Bosie, though the latter always denied having received it and certainly had not read it.

The full contents of the letter were revealed to Bosie in the Ransome trial of 1913, when Bosie took legal action against Arthur Ransome (of Swallows and Amazons fame) for some remarks he had made about Bosie in a biography he was writing of Wilde. The letter was cited by the Defence, in support of Ransome’s allegations that Bosie had been instrumental in Wilde’s downfall. Thus, Bosie became angry and embittered for many years, turned against Wilde’s memory and wrote Oscar Wilde and Myself, his reply to De Profundis. After a spell in Wormwood Scrubs for libelling Winston Churchill, he mellowed and died having forgiven Wilde. To his dying day Bosie believed that if he had been allowed to enter the witness box his testimony could have saved Wilde. 

The time: late 1930s, after Bosie had begun to mellow towards Wilde.

Duration of piece: approximately 50 minutes, depending on pacing.

Summary of the play

Bosie revisits The Old Bailey, scene of Oscar Wilde’s trial over thirty-five years ago. Wilde died in 1900 but Bosie is still struggling to make his peace with Wilde’s memory. ‘Ghosts’ from his past appear in the court, including those of Justice Wills, the Judge who sentenced Wilde, and Bosie’s father, the Marquis of Queensberry, with whom Bosie had always had a troubled and difficult relationship. Hamlet-like, he wrestles with the ghost of his father onstage, both verbally and physically, as he plays out the struggle to make peace with his father’s ghost. At the play’s conclusion the ghost of Wilde appears to him. Bosie explains how he had come to The Old Bailey to try and let go but could not. They hold hands in the witness box and together they recite the famous ‘Love that Dared not Speak its Name’ speech, that Wilde had uttered in the original courtroom hearing. This time Bosie gets his wish and goes into the witness box with his lover to tell the empty courtroom of their love. At the end of the speech Wilde takes the green carnation from his lapel and throws it into the centre of the stage. The spotlight goes down on the two men, as they quietly leave the stage, leaving the green carnation, symbol of homosexual love, at the centre of the stage.

Some extracts

Act One, Scene Two.

(Bosie has been reading through some reviews of a play about Oscar Wilde in which, yet again, he figures as the villain. The reviews are not flattering.)

He addresses the audience in a challenging manner.

Douglas: You have an image of me that has been impressed upon you for decades. I cannot change that. It is too late now, for me to speak. You have been lied to, just as I was lied to – about that letter – you know the one, the letter Oscar wrote to me from prison, De Profundis.’ Yes and I’m sure you believed it was I who destroyed Oscar Wilde – when in fact it was those bastards!!

But it is so much easier to blame me. After all, I am that wicked selfish youth that loved him and then abandoned him, am I not? It must be me, go on then, blame me. Blame me because I am selfish, distorted by evil. Oh, but what of them, those who were really to blame? Oh, well…they were stainless and pure and virtuous.

(Tidies up his papers, which are scattered on one of the desks in the courtroom).

As long as we fear God and go to church: we will all go to Heaven and be saved. They will end up in Hell. They will. There is a Judgement Day – and it is for people like them.

 

Act One, Scene Three .

(Looks around at witness box for some time)

Douglas: I came back here (pauses) – to reminisce (speaks in low voice). What would I say if I could (now almost whispering) call them all back?

I don’t hate him now. But I cannot love him as I did. I want to…but then I remember, I remember that letter. And I feel an aching longing. I can’t love him now, because he never loved me.

(Goes over to witness box)

I wanted to go into this box to defend Oscar Wilde. I could have saved him. He would never have gone to prison if they had called me as a witness. I wanted so much to go into this box. All my life I have re-enacted this desire.

(suddenly raising his voice) I blame that damned fool Sir Edward Clarke, Wilde’s solicitor. I made him promise to call me as a witness. He promised!   

 

Act 2, Scene One .

(In the witness box)

Douglas: What was lacking in my home was a father. My Mother’s spoiling would not have harmed me if my Father had been a real Father, and had taken even half as much interest in his children as he did in his dogs and horses. As it was, I scarcely ever saw him and when for the first time in his life he tried to exert his authority over me, in a very violent way – I am referring to the occasion when he suddenly ordered me to give up my friendship with Oscar Wilde – I defied him and he ruthlessly and deliberately ruined my life. All through my childhood the shadow of my Father lay over me, for though I loved him and had indeed a quite absurd admiration for his supposed heroic qualities, I could not be blind to his infamous treatment of my Mother, even long before she was driven to divorce him, which took place when I was sixteen.   

 

Act Two, Scene Three.

(Bosie enters witness box. The shadow of Queensberry falls over him.)

Douglas: I was twenty-four years old, with the world at my feet. It was all so sudden. It was as if the whole world had gone mad. Everyone was running, people ran through the streets, shouting. It was as if there had been some terrible plague, an epidemic, and everyone was afraid that they would catch it. Droves of people were leaving the country, making their way to where the boats at the harbour waited…it all happened so quickly. They were wolves and they were baying for his blood. I was hysterical. I wrote hundreds of letters, to the papers, to politicians, to everyone in public life – but the wolves, they wanted their sacrifice. There was moral panic, pure terror. No one could have reasoned with that. In all my attempts to defend Oscar, I seemed to end up only defending myself, answering only for what I was. It was useless but I had to try. Oscar pleaded with me to give up, to leave England, to save myself. I didn’t want to go. I was the last to leave. I would have died for him!

I am the son of the man who ruined Oscar Wilde, therefore my blood is tainted too. The sins of the Father visit upon the children. I carry his blood in my veins. The shadow of his sin hangs over me too – and no matter how much I try, I can never refute that. I carry the guilt my Father could never bring himself to feel, the hurt he could never understand. I carry the blame for what he did. I could not stop him. So why should I be condemned? (Moves closer to audience, confrontational).

You have that blood too, the blood of those jeering mobs in your veins. You have the stain of sacrifice, on your hands too. And you can never wash them clean. So – why should I be condemned? You cannot simply put all that onto me. You cannot negate responsibility and say, “it was not our Father who destroyed Oscar Wilde.” It was all your fathers – and Grandfathers, and Great Grandfathers. My Father was the mouthpiece for your predecessors’ moral prejudice. He would not have succeeded without their help.

(Exit from witness box)

   
Act Two, Scene Four.

(Bosie addresses an imaginary Wilde)

Douglas: All I wanted was for you to tell me I was still your own darling boy. I am sick and tired of being blamed for everything. I am tired of being angry, tired of fighting.

(Holds his hand out, as if he has seen Wilde)
 
I can see you still, in those Oxford summer days – your hands outstretched to me, in that carefree manner you had, your eyes full of love. Your lips trembling with stories – stories you never had the chance to tell, stories that were wrenched from you in the throes of pain and death. Soft, smiling. I can see you. I can hear you. I can almost touch you, across this wilderness of silence.

If you could walk into this room, here and now – you could sweep the shadows from our lives forever. The real reason I came back here was to try to let go. But I can’t.


The play concludes with the appearance of Wilde’s ghost. Both men enter the witness box, holding hands. Together they say ‘the love that dared not speak its name’ speech that Wilde gave in court back in 1895.
Curtain.
 
 
For a full script of this play, or to perform it, please mail@julia-wood.com