Story of the Play: An Ideal Husband
play begins in the home of Sir Robert Chiltern and his wife Gertrude,
who are entertaining. As the butler introduces guests, the Earl
of Caversham searches for his good-for-nothing son, Lord Goring
and finds the charming Mabel Chiltern. Lady Markby introduces Mrs.
Cheveley, just arrived in London from Vienna, and Lady Chiltern
realizes she and Mrs. Cheveley attended school together. Mrs. Cheveley
is eager to meet Chiltern, who works in the Foreign Office, and
claims politics are her only pleasure, and mentions a mutual friend,
Baron Arnheim, recently deceased. When Goring arrives, Mrs. Cheveley,
a widow, is pleased to learn he is a bachelor. Lady Basildon and
Mrs. Marchmont discuss husbands before going in to supper. Left
alone with Chiltern, Mrs. Cheveley mentions the Argentine Canal
Company, in which she has invested heavily. Chiltern calls it a
swindle. He is planning to report this to the House of Lords the
next day, discourag¬ing government investment.
Mrs. Cheveley asks Chiltern to withdraw his report; she will pay
him with a letter that has come into her possession, a letter Chiltern
wrote to Baron Arnheim encouraging him to buy Suez Canal shares
three days before the government announced its own purchase. The
Baron made a fortune and Chiltern’s career was launched. Mrs.
Cheveley will make the letter public if Chiltern doesn’t support
the Argentine scheme, which will allow her to make her own fortune.
Distraught, Chiltern agrees, and Mrs. Cheveley leaves.
A few minutes later, Goring and Mabel find a diamond brooch, which
Goring keeps, asking Mabel not to mention it to anyone. Lady Chiltern
confronts her husband about supporting the Argentine scheme, telling
him Mrs. Cheveley was sent a way from school for being a thief.
Chiltern says no one should be entirely judged by their past and
his wife disagrees. She asks him if he is telling her the whole
truth, rhapsodizes about his upright moral character, and claims
if he were to change, she would leave him. Chiltern writes a letter
to Mrs. Cheveley withdrawing his suppport of the Argentine scheme
and Lady Chiltern praises his ideals.
The next day Chiltern discusses his predicament with Goring, explaining
how Baron Arnheim lured him into revealing the Suez Canal information.
Goring encourages Chiltern to fight Mrs. Cheveley, revealing he
was briefly engaged to her years ago. When Lady Chiltern returns
from a Women’s Liberal Association meeting, Goring tells her
to come to him any time for help. Goring and Mabel make a date to
ride together in the morning, and Mabel complains to Lady Chiltern
about Tommy Trafford, who has a bad habit of proposing marriage
to her. As Mabel leaves, Lady Markby and Mrs. Cheveley arrive, asking
about a lost brooch. After talking about their husbands and sipping
tea, Lady Markby leaves Mrs. Cheveley alone with Lady Chiltern.
The ladies argue and Mrs. Cheveley tells Lady Chiltern about her
husband’s past transgression. Lady Chiltern cannot stand to
see her ideal husband revealed as a fraud, and the scene ends in
disgrace, shame and tears.
Later that day, after a serious discussion about the triviality
of his buttonhole, Goring receives a letter from Lady Chiltern,
who says she is coming to him. When the Earl arrives to order Goring
to marry at once, Goring takes him into another room, instructing
his butler to expect a visit from a lady. A lady arrives and is
shown into the draw¬ing-room, where she finds a letter, which
she appropriates. As Chiltern arrives, Goring gets rid of his father
and learns the lady is in the next room. Goring leads Chiltern into
a conversation about how much he loves his wife who Chiltern fears
will never forgive him. Hearing a noise in the next room, Chiltern
enters it to discover – Mrs. Cheveley. Goring tries to buy
back Chiltern’s letter; her price is that he marry her. Goring
declines. Mrs. Cheveley mentions her lost brooch and Goring reveals
he found it, which he places on her wrist as a bracelet, accusing
her of stealing it from his cousin. Mrs. Cheveley cannot remove
the bracelet, not knowing the secret of the clasp, and fears arrest.
Goring offers to Marcia Pizzo and Cat Thompson forget the matter
if Mrs. Cheveley will give him Chiltern’s letter. Desperate,
she complies and Goring burns the letter. A triumphant Mrs. Cheveley
then reveals she has the letter Lady Chiltern sent to Goring, which
reads like a love letter.
Goring goes to see the Chilterns, but finds his father instead,
and promises to become engaged before lunch. The Earl praises Chiltern’s
speech denouncing the Argentine Canal scheme. Mabel ignores Goring,
saying she will never speak to him again since he failed to meet
as arranged. Goring helps Lady Chiltern deal with the stolen “love”
letter and Chiltern’s desire to retire from public life because
of his past, then asks his friend Chiltern for a favor, which is
refused on the grounds that Goring’s morals are lax since
he hid Mrs. Cheveley in his drawing-room. Luncheon is served as
Goring becomes engaged to a woman who avows that an ideal husband
would be a terrible thing to have.
Marin Shakespeare Company v 2014