The play begins in the flat of Algernon Moncrieff, an English bachelor. Visited by his friend Jack Worthing, though Algernon and everyone else in London know Jack as “Ernest.” Jack says that he has come to town to propose to Gwendolen Fairfax, the daughter of Lady Bracknell, first cousin of Algernon. Algernon tells Jack that he refuses to give his consent for him to marry Gwendolyn until Jack can explain why the name Cecily inscribed in Jack’s cigarette case. After making up a story, Jack finally admits to Algernon that Cecily lives in the country.
Jack also admits to Algernon that his name is not Ernest but rather Jack, which is what everyone at his country Manor House calls him. Algernon jokingly accuses Jack of “Bunburying,” practice of pretending that he has a friend in some other part of the world, which gives one an excuse to leave whatever part of the world where he currently is. Algernon explains that he himself has an imaginary friend called Bunbury who frequently gets sick, giving Algernon an excuse to get out of London social obligationsOrder now
Gwendolyn and Lady Bracknell arrive at Algernon’s flat for tea. Algernon tells Lady Bracknell that, due to the illness of his friend Bunbury, he must leave London, and as a result will not be able to attend her dinner that night. He distracts her in a different room for a while so that Jack can propose to Gwendolyn. Jack tells Gwendolyn that he loves her, and she replies that she loves him too, particularly because he is named Ernest, a name that “seems to inspire absolute confidence.
” Jack, knowing that his name is actually Jack, gets worried, and privately resolves to get baptized and change his name. Gwendolyn, meanwhile, accepts his proposal.
Lady Bracknell announces that Gwendolyn may not marry Jack until she gives her approval. Algernon and Gwendolyn leave while Lady Bracknell interrogates Jack to determine how suitable a husband he is. She is pleased with his answers until she asks him about his parents. When Jack admits that he was abandoned by his parents and found in a handbag by a Mr.
Thomas Cardew in Victoria Station, Lady Bracknell is horrified. She refuses to let her daughter marry a man with no knowledge of who his parents are, and suggests to Jack that he “find some relatives.” Gwendolyn returns, having heard of Lady Bracknell’s disapproval, and agrees to meet Jack at his country estate to figure out what to do. He gives her the address, which is overheard and copied down by Algernon.
Setting the scene at Jack’s country estate, where, Cecily, is learning German and geography at the hands of Miss Prism, a tutor. Miss Prism, in between teaching Cecily, likes to flirt with, Dr Chasuble.
While she is taking a walk with him, Algernon, pretending to be Jack’s brother Ernest, arrives to meet Cecily. The two show an immediate romantic interest in one another,
Ms. Prism and Chasuble return from their work and meet Jack as he arrives back home from the city. He is dressed in mourning in order to keep up the lie that his brother, who does not actually exist, has died. While speaking with Chasuble and Prism, Cecily comes out of the house and sees Jack, and quickly informs him that his brother has returned. Jack is shocked and angered when his “brother” Algernon comes out of the house.
As the others exit to allow the two reunited brothers time to resolve their differences, Jack tells Algernon that he must leave the house at once.
When Cecily returns Algernon proposes to her, she accepts his proposal, although she tells him that she particularly loves him because he is named Ernest, a name that “seems to inspire absolute confidence.” Cecily, in fact, has been pretending in her journal to be engaged to “Ernest” ever since she first found out that her guardian had a brother. Algernon grows secretly worried about the fact that he is not named Ernest.
Gwendolyn arrives to see Jack, but in the meantime she talks with Cecily, whom she has never before met. Gwendolyn is surprised to hear that “Ernest” has a ward but has .