From 11:00PM PDT on Friday, July 1 until 5:00AM PDT on Saturday, July 2, the Shmoop engineering elves will be making tweaks and improvements to the site. That means Shmoop will be unavailable for use during that time. Thanks for your patience!
We have changed our privacy policy. In addition, we use cookies on our website for various purposes. By continuing on our website, you consent to our use of cookies. You can learn about our practices by reading our privacy policy.
© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
An Ideal Husband

An Ideal Husband


by Oscar Wilde

An Ideal Husband Act 4 Summary

  • The setting is the same as Act 2: Sir Robert's morning room. Lord Goring is by the fireplace, bored. He can't find anyone to talk to, even though he has all this new information. Where is everyone?
  • Thankfully the servant James has some answers. Sir Robert's still at the office; Lady Chiltern hasn't left her room; but Mabel is around. Oh, and Lord Goring's father, Lord Caversham, is here, too.
  • Lord Goring doesn't want to deal with his father.
  • Too bad, here comes Lord Caversham. He's on this marriage thing again. And he has news. There's an article in the Times about Robert Chiltern.
  • Lord Goring has to know – what does it say?
  • Everything positive, of course. He made a brilliant speech denouncing the Argentine scheme. It's being called the turning point of his career.
  • Whew.
  • Lord Caversham takes up the parental advice thing again. Why doesn't Lord Goring go into Parliament? Why doesn't he get married? How about that Mabel Chiltern?
  • And here she is. Mabel ignores Lord Goring, as he stood her up for riding this morning. She wonders why Lord Caversham can't have a positive influence on his son.
  • Lord Caversham replies that he has no influence on his son at all.
  • Lord Goring asks if he should leave so they can talk.
  • Stick around, says Mabel. You might learn something.
  • But Lord Caversham has to go. He has an appointment with the Prime Minister. He can't take Lord Goring with him, as it's not the Prime Minister's day to see the unemployed.
  • Mabel plays hard to get until Lord Goring proposes. He soon pops the question.
  • It's her second proposal of the day. But this one she accepts.
  • They kiss. Lord Goring confesses he's a little over thirty. And very extravagant.
  • Mabel wants to tell Lady Chiltern.
  • So Lady Chiltern naturally materializes. Looking pale.
  • Mabel skitters out; she'll be in the conservatory under the second palm tree on the left. The usual palm tree.
  • Lord Goring gets straight to it. The letter's been burned, and Sir Robert is safe. But she's in danger now. Because Mrs. Cheveley has her letter and plans to paint it as a love letter. She's got to come clean, tell Sir Robert she was planning to go to Lord Goring late last night.
  • Lady Chiltern can't see how this will help the situation. Let's intercept the letter, she says.
  • But it's too late. Sir Robert comes in with the letter in his hand. He's reading it: "I want you. I trust you. I am coming to you. Gertrude." Apparently, Sir Robert thinks it's addressed to him.
  • What should she do? What should she do? She looks at Lord Goring. He seems to indicate that she should just go with it.
  • She does.
  • They make up. Lord Goring tactfully retreats into the conservatory.
  • Lady Chiltern takes this opportunity to fills in her husband: Lord Goring has destroyed the letter, so there is nothing to worry about.
  • Sir Robert is relieved. Instead of public humiliation, he's been lifted even higher. He proposes retreating from public life. Lady Chiltern thinks that's a great idea.
  • Lord Goring reenters with a new buttonhole flower made by Mabel.
  • Sir Robert thanks Lord Goring effusively for saving his life. How can he ever repay him?
  • Lord Goring has an idea. It involves someone who is standing under the usual palm tree…
  • But they are interrupted. Lord Caversham, shown in by Mason, is full of congratulations. The Prime Minister wants to offer Sir Robert a seat in the Cabinet.
  • Sir Robert is so proud and flattered that he almost accepts…until he sees Lady Chiltern's eyes.
  • He declines.
  • Lord Caversham is incensed. He appeals to Lady Chiltern. She approves of her husband's decision. And she wants him to write the letter declining the post right now. They exit.
  • Lord Caversham can't believe it. Go talk to Mabel, says Lord Goring. She'll cheer you up.
  • Mrs. Chiltern reenters and Lord Goring has at her. Why is she driving him from public life?
  • Excuuuse me?, she says.
  • It's speech time. Lord Goring has some advice for her, since she asked for it on that pink paper. Taking away Sir Robert's political career will emasculate him. She needs to forgive him, stop judging. She needs to accept him for who he is.
  • And then he adds some comments that we would find offensive today, but that were not back in the Victorian period. Lord Goring says that a man's life means more than a woman's. The realm of influence is larger. Her job is to love him and to support him in everything he does.
  • Lady Chiltern objects. Sir Robert is the one that proposed to leave office.
  • Sir Robert only suggested leaving office because he's willing to make the sacrifice for his wife, says Lord Goring. But Lady Chiltern shouldn't demand it; the man has been punished enough.
  • When Sir Robert comes in with the letter he didn't really want to write, Lady Chiltern tears it up.
  • And then – this is weird – she quotes the part of Lord Goring's speech in which he talks about men's lives being of more value than women's. (We'll talk about it in her "Character Analysis.") Anyway, she doesn't want him to give up public life.
  • Sir Robert is overcome. He hugs her, and thanks Lord Goring.
  • Lord Goring takes this opportunity to ask for Mabel's hand.
  • Sir Robert says no. He doesn't think Lord Goring loves her. Or rather, he thinks Lord Goring loves someone else. He tells the story of encountering Mrs. Cheveley at Lord Goring's house. He can't let Lord Goring marry Mabel if he's involved with that she-snake.
  • Now it's Lady Chiltern's turn to do some good. She confesses that Lord Goring had been expecting her. The letter Sir Robert read was meant for Lord Goring. They were just lucky Sir Robert didn't fall into Mrs. Cheveley's trap.
  • Apparently, all the confusion have been cleared up.
  • Mabel enters with Lord Caversham. They bring him up to speed. Lord Goring and Mabel are engaged, and Sir Robert will accept the seat in the Cabinet.
  • Lunch is served, says Mason.
  • Lord Caversham hopes Lord Goring will make an ideal husband, but Mabel doesn't like the sound of that. She would rather him be a real person.
  • Everyone exits except for Sir Robert. After a minute, Lady Chiltern comes in.
  • Sir Robert asks if she feels love for him, or only pity.
  • It's love, she replies, and only love.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...