The green carnation is a former secret symbol of same sex love with an association to the theatre.
The Theatre Festival board liked the idea of reclaiming this historic symbol and adopted it as the Festival emblem in 2004. Here is a brief ouline of the flower’s past:
According to the book, The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde by Neil McKenna, Parisian gays began to wear an artificially dyed green carnation in 1891 as a secret symbol of their sexual preferences.
At the premiere of Lady Windermere’s Fan in February 1892 Wilde arranged it that a number of men in the audience would wear a dyed green carnation to arouse public curiousity.
Wilde later went on to claim that it was he who invented the artificial carnation. In 1894 a supposed work of fiction was published called the green carnation. However, it was widely known that the book was more a ‘documentary’ on the life of Oscar Wilde and his partner Bosie. According to the same book –
‘The green carnation to which we have referred is a white carnation, dyed by plunging the stem in an aqueous solution of the aniline dye called malachite green. The dye ascends the petals by capillary attraction, and at the end of twelve hours they are well tinged. A longer immersion deepens the tint.’
The association between the green carnation, theatre and gay identity continued even after the trial and death of Oscar Wilde. For example consider the song ‘Green Carnation’ from the 1929 musical ‘Bitter Sweet’ by Noel Coward –
”Pretty boys, witty boys,
You may sneer
At our disintegration.
Haughty boys, naughty boys,
Dear, dear, dear!
Swooning with affectation…
And as we are the reason
For the “Nineties” being gay,
We all wear a green carnation.”
—Noel Coward, 1929 , Bitter Sweet