A Summary and Analysis of Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

Here’s a question for you: which great work did Oscar Wilde write while imprisoned in Reading Gaol? Not The Ballad of Reading Gaol – that was written while he was in exile in France following his release from prison – but De Profundis, his long letter to his former lover, Lord Alfred Douglas.

The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898) sees Wilde reflecting on the nature of sin, crime, love, and hatred in a long poem that has given us a number of famous lines, ‘Each man kills the thing he loves’ being the most memorable. You can read The Ballad of Reading Gaol here before proceeding to our summary and analysis of the poem below.

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