The Importance of Being Earnest is one of the most important plays written by Oscar Wilde. The setting takes place in London during the present time of its production, February 1895 in the Victorian Era. Both main characters, John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, find an escape from their everyday lives through a pseudonym or false identity. John, usually referred to as Jack, uses the name of Ernest to retreat into the city from his life in the country with his eighteen-year-old ward Cecily. The story begins with Jack informing his friend, Algernon, that he is planning to propose to his first cousin, Gwendolen. Upon hearing this news, Algernon confronts Jack, who he knows as Ernest, with his discover of Cecily. When Jack ultimately tells Algernon about his false identity in the city, Algernon also confesses to having a pseudonym for the country. The plot unravels after Gwendolen accepts Jack’s proposal, under the name of Ernest, and Algernon decides to also use the identity of Ernest to meet Cecily at Jack’s country home. The conflicts arise when everyone ends up at Jack’s home, each knowing each other by a separate name.
Oscar Wilde, the scholarly illustrative of the supposed Yellow Nineties, remained toward the end of the nineteenth century and sneered at the Victorian age. He mocked Victorian values most especially in The Importance of Being Earnest, presumably his most prevalent work. Turning on the play of words in the title, the dramatization additionally mocks the general concept of sincerity, a prudence to which the Victorians joined the most extreme centrality. To buckle down, to be genuine, straightforward, and open, and to live sincerely was the Victorian perfect. Wilde not just caricaturizes false reverence and sham prudence, he likewise taunts its real vicinity.
Victorian society is the "highlight" of human nature's flaws. In the play "The Importance Of Being Earnest" Oscar wild points out the incredibly outdated sense of social interaction within upper class society. Small problems are emphasized with ignorance. While matters of true importance such as marriage, are treated as minuscule. Victorian culture preferred fashion over morals. They refused to show "real emotion"
In The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde uses wit to undermine the societal expectations of women. Set in England during the late 19th century, the play shows the shallow and trivial attitude of the upper-class Victorian society. This status-driven society favors men, creating a dissatisfying life for women. The male characters, particularly Algernon Moncreiff, uses wit to show superiority over women. Yet, Cecily Cardew’s wit and cleverness best Algernon at his own game. Although often interpreted as a sign of farcical psychosis, Cecily’s diary actually reveals her true intelligence and dominance over Algernon.
The plot of “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde, performed by Shem Productions is a Victorian melodrama where Jack Worthing, the protagonist, lives by a phantom name ‘Ernest’ in London, and by his original name in the country. This further leads to a series of misunderstandings among his friends, family and girlfriend.
Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest reveals the difference between the behaviors of the upper class and lower class. Wilde presents his readers a discussion on the ideologies that separated the lower and upper classes. The lower class is less ostentatious and is more respectful. Wilde throughout the play continues to mock the pride and dissimulation of the aristocracy.
‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is often represented as being a comedy of manners- Wilde defines the text as ‘a trivial comedy for serious people’, which instantly raises questions on the purpose of the play itself. Dr Tracy Sanders states that “the comedy of manners is a style of comedy that reflects the life, ideals and manners of upper class society”, which undoubtedly links to the play. On the surface ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ could be classed as a sophisticated comedy of manners which disregards any sincerity, it is characterised by sarcasm, stock characters and the typical comedic resolution which is marriage. Yet in opposition to this, hidden amongst the humour are underlying principles of the play which arguably portray fundamental elements of darker humour, concerning gender, society, and marriage, which have invoked the questions of the true intention of the play. Many critics have claimed that the play is Wilde’s criticisms of society in the Victorian era and is mainly a sharp attack to convey serious social messages.
Archer once said, “What can a poor critic do with a play which raises no principle, whether of art or morals, creates its own canons and conventions, and is nothing but an absolutely willful expression of an irrepressibly witty personality?” These words by archer help to reveal what Wilde intended to show in this play. Wilde in response to his play said, "we should treat all the trivial things of life seriously, and all the serious and studied things of life with sincere and studied triviality (2).” Despite the depiction of humor, the play is one of the best plays of the 19th century compared to other British plays. The characters of this play live by the words of Wilde, they treat all serious matters as jokes, and vise versa. This paper through the analysis of themes such as identity, the importance of marriage and social class, will reveal the greed as well as hypocrisy that hide under the Victorian politeness which invites audiences and readers to consider moral principles. All the aristocrats of the play have a crucial role in using deceit to make this possible.
Maxims and Masks: The Epigram in "The Importance of Being Earnest"
Oscar Wilde frames "The Importance of Being Earnest" around the paradoxical epigram, a skewering metaphor for the play's central theme of division of truth and identity that hints at a homosexual subtext. Other targets of Wilde's absurd yet grounded wit are the social conventions of his stuffy Victorian society, which are exposed as a "shallow mask of manners" (1655). Aided by clever wordplay, frantic misunderstanding, and dissonance of knowledge between the characters and the audience, devices that are now staples of contemporary theater and situation comedy, "Earnest" suggests that, especially in "civilized" society, we all lead double lives that force upon us a variety of postures, an idea with which the closeted (until his public charge for sodomy) homosexual Wilde was understandably obsessed.
The play's initial thrust is in its exploration of bisexual identities. Algernon's and Jack's "Bunburys" initially function as separate geographic personas for the city and country, simple escapes from nagging social obligations.
Subtitled "A Trivial Comedy for Serious People," The Importance of Being Earnest jokingly criticized Victorian manners and morals and attacking the society of the rich and luxurious. Oscar Wilde incorporated his own beliefs and ideology into the play by alluding to Victorian society "lets duplicity led to happiness." It is this "happiness" Wilde's play focuses on by concentrating the theme of the play on marriage.