Wit and Wilde

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Ignorance is bliss a simple, yet brilliant phrase commonly overlooked in today’s society. Is ignorance really bliss? In the plays Gross Indecency The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, by Moises Kaufman, and Wit, by Margaret Edson, show how this saying can and cannot be true. Kaufman uses the brilliant mind of an artist to show how his ignorance due to his superior intellect subsequently leads to his destruction, while Edson uses the character of a brilliant English professor dying of cancer to show how her above-average knowledge of the world leads to an exaggerated mental struggle before her death.

Gross Indecency uses the character of Oscar Wilde to show how his unique and brilliant understanding of human interaction leads to the destruction of his life as an artist and as an important pillar of society. Wilde falls under public scrutiny when he is tried for the crimes of gross indecency with young male members of the English society. The public views these relationships very literally, and begins to label Oscar as a homosexual; to him a term suiting to a lab rat. However, Oscar does not see himself in the same light. He views his relationships as beautiful works of art and reflects his feelings in several of his publications. Wilde’s ignorance about the crimes he was committing leaves him vulnerable to the prosecution because in his eyes, he cannot defend himself against a crime he feels he did not commit, thus he is slaughtered in court because he fails to see the seriousness of the accusations placed upon him. In his case, his ignorance of the laws of England led to his destruction. For him, ignorance turned out to be deadly.

Edson shows the exact opposite of Wilde’s case in her examination of the last portion of the life of Doctor Vivian Bearing, a brilliant professor whose understanding of the world around her is anything but ignorant. She has spent her entire life looking at everything around her in an overly literal light. Because she is able to bring the metaphysical down to the level of physical through thorough analysis, she is capable of understanding everything around her. This incredible understanding, however, turns against her in the final stages of her life. When she is in the hospital undergoing cancer treatment, she has a much better understanding about her physical and mental condition than would regular person due to her increased ability to understand the technical jargon of Dr. Kelekian and Jason. Because she is aware that her condition is leading to imminent death, she relinquishes any hope of recovery and maintains this negative attitude until her death. Had she been ignorant to the seriousness of her condition, she would have believed that she actually had a chance of survival when told so by the doctors. This positive attitude could have had a placebo effect on her and actually might have bettered her condition. I this case, her ignorance would have been bliss. However, Vivian is anything but ignorant, which destroys any hope for her survival because of her overly negative attitude.

We see here that ignorance can be either detrimental or beneficial, thus the question of ignorance being bliss remains unanswered. One must judge for oneself whether ignorance in one’s specific case would be bliss, because it could go either way depending on the individual circumstances of the situation.

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