The Ballad of Reading Gaol is a famous poem by Oscar Wilde, written after his release from Reading prison on 19 May 1897. Its main theme is the death penalty. Wilde was found guilty of homosexual offences in 1895 and was sentenced to two years hard labour in prison, being transferred to Reading, Berkshire in November 1895. During his imprisonment, a rare thing occurred: a hanging.
Trooper Charles Thomas Wooldridge was someone that Wilde had seen many times during his imprisonment. He had been found guilty of slitting his wife’s throat with a razor. It inspired in Wilde’s mind an illustration of the way we are all malefactors, all in need of forgiveness. According to Wilde the greater the crime, the more necessary charity. His final vision of the world is not frivolity, but one of suffering.
Although Wilde never hid his authorship of the poem, it was published under the name 'C.3.3.', which stood for building C, floor 3, cell 3, at Reading. This ensured that Wilde's name (by then notorious) did not appear on the front cover.
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