The Ballad Of Reading Gaol

Available as a Digital Download and also as a CD exclusively from Marc Sinden Productions

Sir DONALD SINDEN CBE reads the full version of THE BALLAD OF READING GAOL by OSCAR WILDE

In 1895 Oscar Wilde, the famous poet, wit and author of four of the greatest comedies in the English language (Lady Windermere’s Fan; A Woman of No Importance; An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest), was found guilty of homosexual offences and sentenced to two years hard labour in prison. During his time in Reading Gaol a fellow prisoner, Charles Thomas Wooldridge (a “Sometime Trooper of the Royal Horse Guards”), was hanged on Saturday 7th July 1896 for the murder of his wife. This had a profound effect on Wilde. After his release he exiled himself to France where, either in Berneval or Dieppe, he wrote the poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol: a cry from the heart against the hideous procedure of capital punishment.

Due to the nature of Wilde’s own offence, it was thought expedient at the time to attribute his published works to “The Author of Lady Windermere’s Fan”. Indeed even Lady Windermere’s Fan was “by the Author of Lady Windermere’s Fan”! So when his poem was published by Leonard Smithers in 1898, the title page merely stated “By C.3.3.” (C was the cell block, 3 the landing and 3 the cell). It was not commonly known, until the seventh printing in June 1899, that C.3.3. was actually Oscar Wilde.

Oscar Wilde died, an outcast, in Paris at the Hotel d’Alsace on Friday 30th November 1900. He is buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery and his tombstone, sculpted by Jacob Epstein with lettering designed and cut by Eric Gill, reads:

And alien tears will fill for him
Pity’s long broken urn
For his mourners will be outcast men
And outcasts always mourn.

a verse from THE BALLAD OF READING GAOL

Donald Sinden, as well as being a distinguished actor with a string of successes in both the classical and commercial theatre, is an author of some note, whose works include two best-selling volumes of autobiography: A Touch of the Memoirs and Laughter in the Second Act and also The Everyman Book of Theatrical Anecdotes.

He was awarded the CBE in 1979 and Knighted in 1997 and is thought to be the last surviving person to have met and befriended Oscar Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, known as ‘Bosie’.

Audio recording Produced by Marc Sinden

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