MiniReview: "The Judas Kiss" by David Hare

Even in the ever-stimulating company of Oscar Wilde, young Bosie just wants to have fun with a sexy Italian. Freddie Fox as Lord Alfred Douglas and Tom Colley as Galileo Masconi in a 2012 London revival.

What is it?

A play, written by David Hare, first presented in 1998.


What’s it about?

It dramatizes two episodes in the life of Oscar Wilde: the day he has to decide whether to leave England or to stay and be arrested for gross indecency; and the day two years later when his young lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, is deciding to leave Wilde alone and penniless in Italy. The third major character is Robbie Ross, Wilde’s former lover and faithful friend.


The life of Wilde is such a playground for queer thought, isn’t it?

Yes, and I must say, it’s not something I know a lot about. If nothing else, the play has encouraged me to read a good biography of Wilde. I feel as though I’m always on the receiving end of other people’s interpretations of him. But yes, the whole business of him being prosecuted and his life being ruined because he was gay—it’s a powerfully symbolic morality tale … or something. But what is it? Wilde was an extremely complex character, not always terribly likeable. One interpretation is that he martyred himself for love, but is love worth martyring oneself for? I get the impression here of Wilde wilfully running to his own doom. Is that even love? Or something more … or less?


So how does David Hare deal with all this?

Hare’s play is eminently readable, intelligent, captivating. Frankly, all three of the main characters seem to be caught in dilemmas partly of their own making. The play left me with more question than answers. Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas), for example, is a favourite target for gay people; he’s generally seen as having manipulated Wilde for his own ends and then, once he’d had enough, he abandoned him and went on to live a life of stuffy heterosexual respectability. In this play, though, he just comes across as a flawed human being. But so does Wilde, to my reading. But I kept feeling that I was supposed to be siding more with Wilde.


It kind of bothered you, this play, huh?

I want to like it more than I actually do. I get the feeling that Hare is more interested in exposing English duplicity and hypocrisy than in exploring gay love (or even just “love”). The writing is wonderful in revealing the subtle power games being played. But I didn’t get a strong sense of these characters truly loving one another, or at least feeling something for one another. It’s all a bit cold and cerebral.


I’m puzzled as to whether you’re going to give this one some stars (using the Michelin-guide 3-star system)

1 star. An intelligent look at an important episode in LGBT history. 

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