Hypocrisy of the Aristocracy in The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

1421 Words6 Pages
Oscar Wilde satires the hypocrisy and stupidity of the strict Victorian aristocracy through the characters in The Importance of Being Earnest. It can be argued that the women of the play usurp the masculine power and this itself is what makes up the comedy as it would have been humorous to a patriarchal audience. Lady Bracknell is the archetypal of the absolute height of a society woman while both Gwendolyn and Cecily’s characters show potential of rivaling this type of power in the future. Arguably, Lady Bracknell is the character who exerts the most power and authority throughout the play. In this sense, the character’s social position within the upper class enables her to usurp the masculine power of the play. The playwright achieves this through the use of comedic techniques such as farce, witty word play and the theme of marriage.

Wilde portrays Lady Bracknell’s power and authority through the theme of marriage. The character’s own marriage clearly states who is in charge as seen in the line ‘Your uncle would have to dine upstairs. Fortunately, he is accustomed to that.’ Farce is used to create comedy because the fact that Lord Bracknell is ‘accustomed’ to dining upstairs suggests that this is a common occurrence. Compared to the modern audience, the Victorian audience would’ve interpreted this as more ridiculous since Lady Bracknell’s suggested power over her husband goes against the social codes of the time. It makes her seem more masculine in the eye of the Victorian audience. The idea of a woman with power was not fully accepted although Queen Victoria was on the throne. In many ways, Lady Bracknell is the primary representation of Victorian morality which Wilde suggests cared little of how good a person was as long as t...

... middle of paper ...

...ll’s power overtakes the other male characters like Algernon and Jack, who have their own personal unresolved crises in the start, putting them lower down the scale of the social group. There is the idea that Wilde portrays Lady Bracknell as the ideal figure for upper class women that both Gwendolyn and Cecily should aim to rival in the future. However, the playwright already demonstrates how the younger women in the play provide the main source of conflict, as they are the objects of affection, so the notion of the ‘New Woman’ may enable them to surpass the elder women’s, who still own patriarchal values, power in the society. At the same time Wilde is able to criticize the drama that not only the women but the whole of the upper class create from the details of each other’s personal affairs. Wilde’s ultimate point is that comedy reacts against social conformity.
Get Access