In Oscar Wilde's 'The Importance Of Being Earnest'

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Intrinsic to the construction of an identity is the external presentation or performance of selfhood. Therefore, performance and selfhood are implicitly connected. However, the extent to which external performance is employed and its impact on the internal sense of selfhood has been presented both positively and negatively. Oscar Wilde represents identity as performative in his play ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ (1895), and suggests society should embrace the artifice of performative identity. In contrast, Mark Ravenhill, whose play ‘Handbag’ (1998) is a response to Wilde’s, also regards crucial aspects of identity as performative but criticises society for using it as a vehicle for consumerism. ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is a comedy…show more content…
The satire of 19th century society is prominent in characters like Lady Bracknell, evident in her commentary on Algernon, “He has nothing, but looks everything. What more can one desire?” This contrasted the expectations of 19th century standards but affirmed Wilde’s privileging of artificiality over truth. Furthermore, the play creates a sense of the unstable and subsequently liberating nature of performative identity, most evidently in it denouement. Throughout the play Jack has been using the alter-ego of Ernest in the city, thus creating a performed, fictionalised identity. This practice of “Bunburying”, as Algernon calls it, overturns 19th century standards of identity as being unchanging and based on truth. Wilde utilises the conventions of theatre to satirise these standards, especially through the use of speech prefixes, which reveal who is speaking to the performers of a play, but not to the audience. In ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ there is no character actually called Ernest. Instead, when Lane introduces “Mr Ernest Worthing” an actor playing Jack comes on stage and takes up the title. This falsehood is
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