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An Ideal Husband is an 1895 comedic stage play by Oscar Wilde which revolves around blackmail and political corruption, and touches on the themes of public and private honour. The action is set in London, in "the present", and takes place over the course of twenty-four hours. "Sooner or later," Wilde notes, "we shall all have to pay for what we do." But he adds that, "No one should be entirely judged by their past." Together with The Importance of Being Earnest, it is often considered Wilde's dramatic masterpiece. After Earnest, it is his most popularly produced play.
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Sir Robert Chiltern is a successful Government minister, well-off and with a loving wife. All this is threatened when Mrs. Cheveley appears in London with damning evidence of a past misdeed. Sir Robert turns for help to his friend Lord Goring, an apparently idle philanderer and the despair of his father. Goring knows the lady of old and plots to help his friend. Meanwhile, Miss Mabel Chiltern, Sir Robert's lovely younger sister, has desires and ambitions of her own.

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An Ideal Husband provides examples of...

  • Ambition Is Evil: Or if not evil, certainly the root of many moral and marital problems. Ambition causes Sir Robert's past lapse in judgement, a corruption which ultimately affords the wealth, influence, and luxury his present life allows.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: Mrs. Cheveley's price for the incriminating letter, if not Sir Robert's support in her shady business venture, is Lord Goring's hand in marriage.
  • Author Avatar: Lord Goring, and as usual for Wilde's avatars he gets all the good lines.
    • Given Goring's preoccupation with buttonholes, many productions go so far as to take the opportunity to give him Wilde's famous green carnation in at least one scene.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Mabel and Lord Goring.
  • Best Friends-in-Law: Though wary of his best friend's promiscuous ways, after realizing that Lord Goring is in love with his younger sister Mabel, Sir Robert happily consents to their marriage.
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  • Black and White Insanity: Lady Chiltern strongly exemplifies this at the beginning of the play, believing her husband to be utterly incorruptible and in love with him for it. Naturally, she overcomes this by the end of the play.
  • Blackmail: Mrs. Cheveley possesses an incriminating letter belonging to Sir Robert and attempts to blackmail him with it.
  • Blackmail Backfire: Unfortunately for Mrs. Cheveley, Lord Goring has a bejeweled brooch belonging to his cousin that was stolen by Mrs. Cheveley. They agree to trade. Even her final, vengeful attempt to destroy the Chilterns' marriage goes awry when Sir Robert misinterprets a letter written by his wife to Lord Goring as a request for his forgiveness. They reconcile, and by then Mrs. Cheveley is out of the picture.
  • The Casanova: Lord Goring, who refuses to marry because he gets bored with every woman he's ever met. He realizes, however, that he's in love with Mabel.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Mrs. Cheveley's lost diamond brooch.
  • Costume Porn: With so many highly fashionable characters, virtually every production gets this treatment.
  • Deconfirmed Bachelor: After spending the entire play insisting that marriage is not and never will be for him, he has a Love Epiphany and realizes he's in love with Mabel. They get engaged by the end of the play.
  • English Rose: Mabel is described as looking like one, though more spirited and rebellious than her innocent, dainty appearance may lead one to believe.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Lord Goring, naturally. He's the hero of an Oscar Wilde play.
  • The Ghost: Baron Arnheim. He's dead before the play begins, mutually known to both Mrs. Cheveley (he was her lover) and Sir Robert (his former mentor as a young ingenue), and very influential on the plot.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Mrs. Cheveley, Mabel, and even Lady Chiltern get a few of these.
  • Happily Married: Sir Robert and Lady Gertrude Chiltern, at least until the devious Mrs. Cheveley shows up.
  • Has a Type: Despite their numerous differences, Mabel and Mrs. Cheveley, the two women Lord Goring ever has feelings for, are beautiful, clever, flirtatious women.
  • Hidden Depths: Lord Goring.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Deconstructed. The most honest and well-respected characters fall prey to follies; Sir Robert fed his ambition with corruption, Lady Chiltern abandoned her husband. Lady Chiltern initially believes her husband to have this, hence his being "ideal."
  • Lady in Red: Mrs. Cheveley is frequently one.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Lord Goring, Confirmed Bachelor and notable flirt, is smitten with Mabel.
  • Men Are Better Than Women: An Ideal Husband states that, essentially, men are meant to go out into the world and do great things, while the most a woman can ask for is to help and support a great man.
  • Old Flame Fizzle: Mrs. Cheveley gets Lord Goring alone and seductively suggests that she and Lord Goring get married in return for the incriminating letter. They had been previously engaged, and Lord Goring had been in love with her. This time around, Lord Goring is disgusted by the idea, particularly because he knows that she harbors no real feelings for him.
  • Out-Gambitted: Lord Goring outwits Mrs. Cheveley's attempted Blackmail of his friend Sir Robert with an even cleverer plan of his own.
  • Proper Lady: Lady Chiltern.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: The Earl of Caversham.
  • Redemption Equals Affliction: Sir Robert manages to win over his wife and atone for his past corruption, but at the cost of the career he worked so hard to build.
  • Selective Obliviousness: Lord Goring about his feelings for Mabel until the very end of the play, even though Everyone Can See It, including Mabel.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Lord Goring.
  • Shipper on Deck: The Earl of Caversham very strongly encourages his son to propose marriage to Mabel. Whether or not it's because he recognizes how in love they are, or because he takes a liking to Mabel's spirited wittiness is up for debate.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Lady Chiltern is exclusively attracted to Lord Chiltern for his staunch morality.
  • Smug Snake: Mrs. Cheveley.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Mabel is a perfect example of one. Clever and pretty, she rejects countless suitors who she finds boring despite their eligibility in status and wealth. She's outspoken, bold, and highly flirtatious with the man she sets her sights on, and matches his considerable wit.
  • They Do: Lord Goring and Mabel.
  • The Three Faces of Eve: Lady Chiltern as the wife, Mrs. Cheveley as the seductress, and Mabel as the child.
  • Title Drop: Lady Chiltern frequently uses the word "ideal" when speaking of her husband, but the only time the full phrase "an ideal husband" appears is right near the end, after Lord Goring and Mabel get engaged:
    Caversham: And if you don't make this young lady an ideal husband, I'll cut you off with a shilling.
    Mabel Chiltern: An ideal husband! Oh, I don't think I should like that.
  • The Vamp: Mrs. Cheveley.

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