Arthur Pinero wrote The Second Mrs. Tanqueray in 1893 after penning several successful farces. Playing on the “woman with a past” plot that was popular in melodramas, Pinero steered it in a more serious direction, centering the play around the social consequences arising when Aubrey Tanqueray remarries in an attempt to redeem a woman with a questionable past.
The play’s structure is based on the principles of the “well-made play” popular throughout the 19-century. But just as Wilde manipulated the conventions of the “well-made play” to produce a new form of comedy, so did Arthur Pinero manipulate it, forgoing the happy ending to produce an elevated form of tragedy.
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray was first performed in 1893, at the St. James Theatre, London, at a time when England was still resisting the growing movement in Europe towards realism and the portrayal of real social problems and human misconduct. But while it was regarded as shocking, it ran well and made a substantial profit. Theatre historian J. P. Wearing phrased it thus: “although not as avant-garde as Ibsen’s plays, Tanqueray confronted its fashionable St. James’s audiences with as forceful a social message as they could stomach.”
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