Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, the son of an eye-surgeon and a literary hostess and writer (known under the pseudonym "Speranza"). After studying at Trinity College, Dublin, Wilde went to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he achieved a double first and won the Newdigate prize for a poem Ravenna.
While at Oxford he became notorious for his flamboyant wit, talent, charm and aestheticism, and this reputation soon won him a place in London society. Bunthorne, the Fleshly Poet in Gilbert and Sullivan's opera Patience was widely thought to be a caricature of Wilde (though in fact it was intended as a skit of Rosetti) and Wilde seems to have consciously styled himself on this figure.
In 1882 Wilde gave a one year lecture tour of America, visiting Paris in 1883 before returning to New York for the opening of his first play Vera. In 1884 he married and had two sons, for whom he probably wrote his first book of fairy tales, The Happy Prince. The next decade was his most prolific and the time when he wrote the plays for which he is best remembered. His writing and particularly his plays are epigramatic and witty and Wilde was not afraid to shock.
This period was also haunted by accusations about his personal life, chiefly prompted by the Marquess of Queensberry's fierce opposition to the intense friendship between Wilde and her son, Lord Alfred. These accusations culminated in 1895 in Wilde's imprisonment for homosexual offences.
While in prison, Wilde was declared bankrupt, and after his release he lived on the generosity of friends. From prison he wrote a long and bitter letter to Lord Alfred, part of which was afterwards published as De Profundis, but after his release he wrote nothing but the poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol.