As I’ve been taking this course on Victorian literature, I’ve been studying Medieval texts through the idea of Medieval angels and demons. We’ve followed the development of the representations of these dichotomies through the morality plays, and then through to some early modern plays. In the morality plays, a playwright could actually show on stage the entities of God, Christ, and Satan, just not the actual sacraments. This stemmed out of the idea that, because the actors were all monks for the morality plays, if the sacraments were performed on stage, it wasn’t so much an act or show anymore, it could be considered the real deal. Past the Reformation, though, as drama evolved, and societal ideals changed, plays couldn’t have God, Angels, Demons, or Christ on stage. Charles Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus was one of the last of these plays that could do this, and the shift can be seen with Shakespeare’s plays. Because these entities couldn’t show up on stage any more, playwrights had to get a little more creative, and had to start representing these same ideas, just through the characters on stage. So no longer were there characters like Mephistopheles, but you could start to see angelic characters, like Desdemona, and demonic characters, like Iago.
Because of these readings, I have had a bit of a difficult time looking at the Victorian text, The Picture of Dorian Gray, without a sort of bias. In the beginning of the book, it starts with a beautiful garden, and a painter creating a work of art. This immediately harkened to the imagery of the garden of eden, and the creation of man. Basil, the painter, begins to talk about how he has “put too much of [himself] into it,” for him to be able to part with the painting, which just made me think of the idea of how in the Bible, God created man in his image. For the two men, Basil Hallward, the painter, and Lord Henry Wotton, the onlooker, to then go and argue in the beautiful garden, about this creation of an image of a man, really just solidified that imagery. In addition to this, Lord Henry continues to put down the church, and talk about vanity, and pride in one’s own image, not in any virtues. Lord Henry continues to make these seemingly outrageous claims, such as that he “like[s] persons better than principles, and [he] like[s] persons with no principles better than anything else in the world,” (Wilde, 12). Basil continues speaking the praises of Dorian, and continues to insist that he “[doesn’t] agree with a single word that you have said, and what is more, Harry, I feel sure you don’t either,” (Wilde, 12).
In his role of creation of an image of man, and insistence in the good of both this man, and in Lord Henry, I can’t help but see Basil Hallward take on a god like role in this text. He continues to try and stand by Dorian’s side, even as Dorian seems to fall from Basil’s grace, and listen more to Lord Henry. Lord Henry Wotton, on the other hand, keeps on tempting Dorian, and talking him into his shallow and materialistic way of thinking. Lord Henry seems to corrupt Dorian, just as the devil would have tempted and corrupted mankind, in the tradition of the morality plays from Medieval literature.