The Importance of Being Earnest is set in late Victorian England, a time of social reform. Society was rediscovering art in its many forms yet as a consequence, The Upper class continued their program of suppressed inferiority. The lower classes were treated with disdain and disgust and the animosity between the groups was easily visible. Essentially, the late Victorian era was the beginning of a mini cultural renaissance, yet Upper Class society, which forms the basis of the play was rigidly controlled by a set of unwritten rules, a code of conduct as it may, in which all were expected to conform with.
This code referred to a number of things, including the way they ate, dressed, and spoke. The 19th Century saw many important alliances formed politically between Queen Victoria and her Prime Ministers. This was typified by her friendship with Benjamin Disraeli. Together they formed a number of political partnerships, none of which was more important than the Reform Act. The Reform Act greatly annoyed the upper class, which considered the idea of any man being allowed to vote as simply disgraceful.
The Victorian era saw legislation concerning labour and industry, which began to intrude on the power of the Upper class over the working class labourers. In fact by the late 1880s Lower classes were working less hours, while their wages continued to increase. This allowed many to enjoy luxuries that until then were considered only possible by the Upper Classes. Women, even the ones of the Upper Class were still considered unequal of men even at this stage in history, even though the monarch was a woman. Yet, towards the end of the 19th Century, Women rebelled against their stereotypes.
They began to seek smaller families so as to escape the child-breeding, household running typecast. Women became active in the social scene with charities, churches, local politics and the arts. Colleges became open to women in the 1870s and many pursued an education. However, Professional Careers were still “off limits”. The Importance of Being Earnest is a play in the comedy of manners style. The comedy of manners by definition is a witty, cerebral and dramatic form of comedy that satirizes the ways and disposition of a social class.
Style itself is a depiction of behavior, not just a shallow manner of expression. The Importance of Being Earnest depicts this to the absolute maximum. The play satirizes the ways of late Victorian upper class and their social etiquette. This satirical view is closely bound to the atmosphere of the time. The play itself deals itself with a typical Comedy of Manners storyline, the trivial social standards, love affairs and the aim of gaining the most money with the least effort. These subject matters are transfixed into a witty dialogue of which is usually a focal point of Comedy of Manners material.
The play criticizes and upholds the Upper classes ideals at the same time. Oscar Wildes satirical view of the Upper class is a paradox in itself as he was part of it. The Importance of Being Earnest also supports elements of the well-made play. Original productions of The Importance of Being Earnest were staged in conventional theatres in the confines of the Proscenium Arch. The actors performed in a fourth wall style, where essential the Actor/Audience is non existent, and the actors play only to themselves, as if there is a wall between them and the audience.
The Importance of Being Earnest used the ideas of realism and thrust them upon the stage. Ultra realistic props were used to create a world in which nothing seems out of place. Scenery was so intricately painted that the world seems unbelievably real. The Importance of Being Earnest has often being criticized for its emphasis on language, even to the stage where it could best be presented with minimal or no actor movement whatsoever. While many use this a reason to be critical, from a theatrical perspective the language is as close to perfect as you are ever likely to find.
Wilde creates this effect in a number of ways. Firstly, his use of the paradox as a comic device, although not widespread the joke of the paradox lies in its unpredictability, “I hear that her hair has gone quite gold from grief” or perhaps “An engagement should come on a girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter of which she could be allowed to arrange for herself”. The importance of the paradox here is not its ludicrousness, but the unanticipated wisdom that the statement actually makes.
Another of Wildes literary tricks is alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of consonantal sounds in words close together, particularly using letters at the beginning of words or stressed syllables. This can be observed in many of his phrases, which emphasise important sections of the plot. Wilde uses puns as another comic influence. A pun is a play on words, often uncovering multiple meanings. Wilde uses a mix of all of these methods to create a language, which is complex, yet incredibly enthralling.
During our production my role was to design tickets to suite our style of performance. There were a number of processes in which I had to go through to uncover my final finished product. Firstly, I research anything remotely to do with Victorian society and ticketing. This started with the looking into books and documents of the time and even finding older examples of Victorian work. This led into the first drafting process. After coming up with a design, some discussion was had in a group and we finalized the design and the wording that was to be printed on the tickets.
After some thought, I went with the gold cardboard which visually very impressive. Subsequently, I presented a finished product to the class and after some confusion about dates and times, I went into full-scale production. To save money, we printed the tickets on a laser printer instead of an actual printer, but the quality was surprisingly good. So after 2 weeks of refinement and a number of drafts the tickets were completed. The tickets themselves use a uniform old style font which is elegant yet still readable.