Summary and Analysis
The theatre is crowded when Dorian, Basil, and Lord Henry arrive. When Sibyl appears onstage as Juliet, Lord Henry thinks she is one of the "loveliest creatures" he has seen, fawn-like in her grace and innocence. Her performance, however, is worse than disappointing. She seems listless and artificial; in fact, she is absolutely awful.
Dorian is more disgusted than embarrassed by Sybil's acting. Lord Henry and Basil leave, as does half the audience, but Dorian sits through the entire play.
In the greenroom after the play is finished, Sibyl seems overjoyed at her dismal performance and expects Dorian to understand that she can no longer act because she has found true love in real life. She intended to be outstanding, she says, but because Dorian has taught her "what reality really is," she no longer can believe in the fake world of plays. She asks Dorian to take her away so that they might begin their life together.
Dorian's response is cold and filled with disgust: "You have killed my love," he mutters. He loved her because she was a great performer, he says. Now he finds her "shallow and stupid" and can barely stand her.
Sibyl is distraught. Apologizing for her bad performance, she pleads with Dorian to give her another chance. Sobbing, she falls to the floor and begs him not to leave her. As she cries hysterically, she begins to recount her brother's threat to kill anyone who harms her, but she shakes off the thought, reminding herself out loud that the threat was just a joke.
Dorian is annoyed with Sybil and tells her that he cannot see her anymore. Abruptly, he leaves. Dorian wanders the streets until near dawn and then returns home. Passing through his library toward his bedroom, he notices the portrait that Basil painted of him. He is startled and puzzled, but he goes on into his bedroom. He begins to undress but pauses and returns to the library to look at the portrait. To Dorian, the face in the portrait has slightly changed, taking on a look of cruelty around the mouth. Going to the window, he sees a bright dawn. He looks again at the painting. The "lines of cruelty round the mouth" are still there, even more clearly than before. Looking at his reflection in a mirror, Dorian looks fresh and youthful. Suddenly he recalls the wish he earlier made at Basil's studio, that he might remain the same while the picture took on the "lines of suffering and thought," the various signs of corruption and age that Dorian's life might bring him. He thinks that such a wish could never be fulfilled. Surely it is impossible.
Still, there are the cruel lines about the mouth in the portrait. Dorian begins to wonder if he really has been cruel to Sibyl. However, he convinces himself that he is not to blame for the situation. Sibyl is to blame because she disappointed him and made him endure the three painful hours of her terrible performance. Eventually, he convinces himself that Sibyl hadn't really loved him, and he concludes that he needn't be concerned about her at all.
Dorian is more concerned about the changed portrait than with Sibyl. It occurs to Dorian that every sin he commits will be reflected in the face on the canvas. He vows never to sin again so that the painting, like himself, will never change. He vows to use the portrait as his conscience; the danger of hurting the portrait will keep him from committing sins. He will refuse to see Lord Henry or at least will ignore Lord Henry's "subtle poisonous theories." He will return to Sibyl, apologize, and marry her. He pulls a screen in front of the painting and walks outside. The chapter ends as Dorian repeats Sibyl's name into the dawn.
In Chapter 7, Dorian's narrative supercedes all others in the novel. From now on, it will be his story, not Lord Henry's. The novel becomes more dynamic because Dorian's character grows — changes — while Lord Henry's remains unchanged.
The change in Dorian's character in this chapter is dramatic. Dorian begins the chapter as a dedicated lover. Then, in a few short pages, he becomes a disgusted critic, a heartless deserter, briefly a contrite sinner, and then finally a lover rededicated to Sibyl — not because he loves the woman, but because he fears hurting himself and the portrait. Even though the chapter ends with Dorian intending to do "his duty" by being honorable and marrying Sibyl, his honor is false because it is based on selfishness. His "honorable intentions" are simply a continuation of his soul's degradation. The number and degree of changes that Dorian goes through in this chapter, most of them negative changes, hint at the turn his nature will take in the rest of the book.
Chapter 7 also introduces an element that will reoccur throughout the story: the changing of the portrait. By the end of the chapter, the reader understands that the portrait will symbolize the state of Dorian's soul and spirit. Wilde will use the portrait to help develop his characterization of Dorian for the rest of the book.
Dorian's special relationship with his portrait continues the Faust theme. His wish about the portrait suggests a pact with the devil. Dorian's desire to escape the "poisonous theories" of Lord Henry indicates that he sees his mentor as an evil, devil-like influence, but, like Faust, Dorian seems eager to benefit from the fruits of his pact, namely the eternal youth that the portrait offers him.
Miranda a leading character in William Shakespeare's The Tempest.
Caliban a savage who is half-man, half-beast in The Tempest.
tawdry gaudy; cheap; vulgarly ornamental.
listless lacking energy or effort.
Good pilgrim . . . holy palmer's kiss a quote from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene 5, 99–102.
Thou knowest . . . speak tonight a quote from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2, 85–87.
elocution the art of public speaking.
Although I joy . . . when next we meet a quote from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2, 116-22.
Portia a leading character in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.
Beatrice a leading character in William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.
Cordelia a leading character in William Shakespeare's King Lear.