Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1854 to his parents William and Lady Francesca Wilde. In 1871 Wilde entered Trinity College in Dublin where he excelled at his studies. Oscar Wilde wrote several books and plays. Here are some of his works include: The Picture of Dorian Gray , Lady Windermere”s Fan , An Ideal Husband, and his last but what some consider his greatest play The Importance of Being Earnest. Wayne,David 2002. The Importance of Being Earnest is a witty comedic smear of the rigidity and greediness of the Victorian era.
To begin we will look at some of the more important characters of the play to better get a feel for what will be happening in the play itself. We will start with Jack Worthing the play’s protagonist. Is a responsible young man who leads a double life. At his country estate at Hertfordshire, Jack is known as Jack. In London he is known as Ernest. As a baby, Jack was found in a handbag in the cloakroom of Victoria Station by an old man who adopted him and made Jack guardian to his granddaughter. Jack is in love with his friends cousin Gwendolen Fairfax. sparknotes. com/lit/earnest/characters. tml . Next is Algernon Moncrieff who is Jacks friend who like jack has invented a imaginary friend who appears to be very sick.
His friend “Bunbury” allows him to escape from boring or unpleasant things. sparknotes. com/lit/earnest/characters. html. Next is Gwendolen Fairfax whom is in love and obsessed with Jack”s alter ego Ernest. She is Algernon”s cousin and the daughter of Lady Bracknell. Gwendolen is the model of high fashion and high style. sparknotes. com/lit/earnest/characters. html. Lady Bracknell is Algernon”s aunt and Gwendolen”s hard charging mother.
Lady Bracknell epitomizes the greed and silliness of the British aristocracy, from her “list of eligible young men” she obliviously intends that Gwendolen marry should marry well as did her mother Lady Bracknell. sparknotes. com/lit/earnest/characters. html. The Importance of Being Earnest opens to a unrealistic highly stylized world to which everyone is witty and speaks in elegant tones. In fact Lane”s first line “I didn”t think it polite to listen, sir”Hall. To Read Literature. p. 889. Is actually a insult to Algernon”s piano playing skill encased in polite elegant speech.
We can further see the unrealistic Victorian world where servants stealing their masters champagne is a everyday happening. www. gradesaver. com/classicnotes/titles/earnest/section3. html One of the purposes of the scene is to set up the joke of the cucumber sandwiches. This scene uses food as an allusion to other appetites in this particular scene it is the idea of sex. The way Algernon eats the sandwich shows his “insatiable appetite, his preoccupation with food, and his habit of wantonly indulging himself politely suggest other forms of voraciousness and wanton self-indulgence. gradesaver. com/classicnotes/titles/earnest/section3. html.
This idea comes to life in the early conversation between Jack and Algernon where they are debating whether Jack should have a cucumber sandwich or bread and butter. Here again food is used as a allusion to social presumption. Algernon may eat the sandwich because he is Lady Barcknell”s nephew and jack cannot because he is not. www. gradesaver. com/classicnotes/titles/earnest/section3. html Next we find about the double life that Jack leads is amusing but represents something a little dark about Jack”s persona.
This reveals the divide between public and private life in Victorian England. We learn of Jack”s double life when his friend Algernon begins to ask Jack where he has been. Algernon opens his assault with the line: “I believe it is customary in good society to take some slight refreshment a five o”clock. Where have you been since last Thursday. “Hall. To Read Literature. p. 890. He asks Jack several more questions about Jack”s whereabouts getting Jack”s customary reply: “In the country”Hall. To Read Literature. p. 890.
But Algernon knows Jack is lying through the evidence of Jack”s cigarette case which Jack had left at his previous engagement with Algernon. With this knowledge Algernon lets Jack slip deeper and deeper into his lies. We know about Algernon”s “Bunbury” form our reading. Algernon”s bedridden friend Bunbury merely gets Algernon out of social inconveniences. Jack”s alter ego Ernest is a bit more dark in the fact that Jack must deceive the closest people around him. www. gradesaver. com/classicnotes/titles/earnest/section3. html. Now is the scene when Jack/Ernest professes to his love Gwendolen.
This scene showcases the gender roles being reversed. In fact in Victorian society the female is supposed to be weak and submissive to the superior male who should be aggressive and authoritative. Jack falters when the big moment of proposing to his love Gwendolen. Jack line is after some conversation with Gwendolen: “Well… may I propose to you now? “Hall. To Read Literature. p. 890. Now is when afore mentioned gender role reversal occurs when Gwendolen takes control of the entire situation when she says: “I think it would be an admirable opportunity.
And to spare you of any possible disappointment, Mr. Worthing, I think it only fair to tell you quite frankly beforehand that I am fully determined to accept you. “Hall. To Read Literature. p. 890. This role reversal upsets the whole concept of moral duty, which by the way is a cornerstone of Victorian morality. www. gradesaver. com/classicnotes/titles/earnest/section3. html Now we come to the interview of Jack by Lady Bracknell. Lady Bracknell in represents the top rung of Victorian society. Wilde uses Lady Bracknell’s interview of Jack to make fun of the values of London society. “www. sparknotes. com/lit. html. I drew this from the fact that Lady Bracknell”s first questions are not about income or family but whether or not Jack smokes. The fact that she asks such a random question as that is amusing. The less amusing side of Lady Bracknell”s personality shows when she questions Jack about his parents Jack explains the fact that he lost both of his parents. Lady Bracknell”s reply is: “Both… that seems like carelessness. ” Hall 900.
This heartlessness was common with the social elite of the Victorian era. www. classicnotes. com. Act II opens at Jacks estate in the country. We meet some new characters in this part of the play, Cecily and Miss Prism. Miss Prism is Cecily”s ward which is just someone to look after her. Earlier in Act I Jack mentioned that his brother Ernest got into “scrapes” or misfortunes, Miss Prism thinks that these “misfortunes” are immoral or bad . These misfortunes are what make Cecily want to meet with with Ernest she wants to meet a truly evil person. www. radesaver. com/classicnotes/titles/earnest/section3. html.
The difference between Algernon”s “Bunburying” and Jack”s alter ego becomes apparent when Jack announces to everyone that Earnest has died in Paris of a “severe chill”. Jack has now gone a little overboard with his dual identities now. He comes decked out in full mourning gear, this is a very elaborate affair as with most everything attached to Victorian society. Jack has now gone way to far with his lies. Jack unlike Algernon and his friend Bunbury has lied to the closest people around him.
It is true that Algernon approached Cecily pretending to be someone different, but Algernon has not became the identity that he has created as Jack had become. Jack basically has become, for all his good intentions, a common liar. http://www. gradesaver. com/classicnotes/titles/earnest/section4. html In the second part of Act II the are two major conflicts that of the two friends Jack and Algernon and the two strangers Gwendolen and Ceciley. The conflict that ensues between Jack and Algernon occurs when Algernon tells Jack that he thinks Ceciley is a “darling”.
Jack being Ceciley”s guardian is very offended by one Algernon being disguised as Earnest and for speaking of Ceciley as a “darling”. Algernon has taken full advantage of Jack”s ruinous position. Jack is very angry at Algernon and sends him away on the next train. Next is Ceciley”s immature infatuation with Earnest in her diary. This fictional relationship has gone to the point where she and Earnest are engaged to be married. She is very like Gwendolen on the fact that she has taken complete control of her romantic life. The other similarity is that Ceciley is also obsessed with the name earnest.
In the final Act of the play we see some more of the social minded Lady Bracknell in her interview of Cecily and asking her “if she is any way connected with any of the larger railway stations in England”. In the end Jack had become his fictional brother Earnest. Through out his years of deceiving his friends Jack had become more Earnest than Jack. In conclusion I think this “comedy of manners” is an excellent and witty mockery of the social and moral doldrums that was Victorian life. I would highly recommend this any one looking for a comedy to preform.