The Duchess of Padua by Oscar Wilde.

1907 edition of The Duchess of Padua.
The Duchess of Padua was the second play Oscar Wilde wrote (following Vera) and was to be performed in 1883, however after some very complicated negotiations with Mary Anderson, the actress who Wilde wished to be the Duchess, she ultimately refused and the play was not performed until 1891 under the title Guido Ferranti. It didn't do as badly as Vera, which only managed a week of performance, but it didn't do much better: this lasted three weeks before it was shut down. Again, as with Vera, I think that was a little unfair, but I must admit it is wildly melodramatic.

The Duchess of Padua is Beatrice, the wife of Simone Gesso, the Duke of Padua. Guido Ferranti is a young man who has travelled to Padua to learn who is true father is: as a child he was left, we learn, with a man who he refers to as his uncle. Once in Padua Moranzone tells him his father, Duke Lorenzo, was murdered by the Duke and he must take his revenge. Moranzone show Guido what was once his father's knife, and then they contrive to get the Duke to accept Guido in the royal household. Once in, Guido then meets Beatrice and, of course, the two fall in love.

Guido and Moranzone plan that Guido should murder the Duke with Guido's father's knife, and one day Moranzone sends the knife as a signal that it is time to commit the deed. He has had second thoughts though, and decides instead on leaving the knife by the Duke's bedside to let him know he could have killed him. He does not anticipate, however, what the Duchess is prepared to do in the name of love.

The Duchess of Padua is a fantastic read and a great take on Jacobean drama. It reads almost like a modern Shakespeare play, Romeo and Juliet for example, or even Hamlet, and the title recalls Webster's The Duchess of Malfi. The style is deliberately Jacobean too, which somehow gives it more gravitas than perhaps it merited. But I did love it: Wilde in tragedy mode is criminally underrated.

And that was my 34th title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: Trojan Women by Seneca.


  1. hmmm don't know this one either... i wonder if a comprehensive edition of OW's plays has ever been published...?

    1. Yes, Wordsworth Classics have published his complete plays I believe (I can't find any plays missing from it at least). It's here on Amazon, just $3.39 :) I've just got two more of his plays to read - La Sainte Courtisane and A Florentine Tragedy - both of which are tiny!


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