As Dorian reflects on his callous rejection of Sybil Vane after her disastrous performance of Romeo and Juliet, Wilde uses hyperbole to characterize Dorian’s suffering from watching the play:
She had been shallow and unworthy. And, yet, a feeling of infinite regret came over him, as he thought of her lying at his feet sobbing like a little child. He remembered with what callousness he had watched her. Why had he been made like that? Why had such a soul been given to him? But he had suffered also. During the three terrible hours that the play had lasted, he had lived centuries of pain, aeon upon aeon of torture.
Dorian has obviously not suffered “aeons” of torture in a mere three hours, but by phrasing it as such—exaggerated into hyperbole—Wilde is able to better emphasize the bewildering disgust that Dorian feels at Sybil’s performance and his own reaction. This is a central moment in Dorian’s character development, as he wrestles with the discomfort he feels after treating Sybil so cruelly even as he feels her performance has caused him such agony. Dorian’s ultimate decision to cast Sybil aside underscores just how far he is willing to go with his new hedonistic mindset: he sees one bad play as utterly inexcusable, and it does not occur to him that his reaction and treatment of Sybil will drive her to suicide.