Sex, Lies, and a Sealed Fate: The Fourth Trial of Oscar Wilde

Alfred Douglas
Oscar Wilde


You have been selected as a juror in the fourth trial of Oscar Wilde.  After hearing summations from Wilde’s prosecutor and his defense attorney, you will be called upon to render your verdict.  After the verdict is returned, there will be an opportunity for you and other members of the audience to ask questions about the play, about the real trials, or about how the Wilde trials reshaped societal attitudes towards homosexuality, effeminacy, and the arts.

The Charge:  Oscar Wilde stands charged with being responsible for his own downfall, his conviction and imprisonment in 1895. 

The Prosecution:  The Prosecution will argue that Wilde’s downfall was brought on by his own failings—by weakness, indecision, miscalculation, dishonesty, and arrogance.

The Defense:  The Defense will argue that late-Victorian English society, with its intolerance of individuality, homophobia, and fascination with celebrity, is to blame for Wilde’s downfall--not Wilde himself.

Stipulations:  For purposes of this trial, the Prosecution and Defense have stipulated to the following facts:
1. Oscar Wilde engaged in consensual sexual activity with several young men in 1893 and 1894.
2. At the time of this sexual activity, Wilde was 39 or 40 years of age and his sexual partners ranged in age from 16 to the mid-twenties.
3. Each of the young men who had sexual activity with Wilde received money or gifts from him afterwards. 
4.Had Oscar Wilde engaged in sexual activities with females of similar ages, he almost certainly would not have been prosecuted.

Trial Format:  The prosecutor, law professor Doug Linder, will present the case for a verdict of “guilty.”  Law professor Rob Verchick, Wilde’s defense attorney, will then argue for a verdict of “not guilty.”  The prosecutor will close with a response to the arguments of the defense attorney.