Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ can be perceived as either a seemingly satirical piece aimed at the upper class society of the 1890s with a darker nature underneath or as a play “which imitates nothing, represents nothing” and “is nothing.” (William Archer). However, I believe it is the former – a belief fuelled by the comedic features used in the interview scene between Lady Bracknell and Jack Worthing. Wilde convinces the audience to believing that there is something empowering and different about Lady Bracknell as she interviews Jack as opposed to her husband, demonstrating that women in her generation are in charge despite the ‘separate spheres’ debate.
One of the Oscar Wilde’s most loved, well known and successful play ‘The Importance Of Being Earnest’ was written during the summer of 1894 at Worthing, England. It was first performed on 14 February 1895 at the St James’s theatre, London. Jack Worthing, the play’s main character was found and adopted by a wealthy man, Thomas Cardew in a handbag at a railway line where he was accidentally abandoned as a baby. All the respect that has been given to him as acknowledged upper-class Victorian is only because of his adopted father’s wealth. As the protagonist of the play he is expected to be an earnest man to do justice to the title of the play, but it turned out to be that he is nowhere close to that. Wilde has used Jack’s character more to an instrument to represent a set of ideas or attitudes.
Every line, every character, and every stage direction in The Importance of Being Earnest is set on supporting Oscar Wilde’s want for social change. The Importance of Being Earnest was written during the late period of the Victorian era. During this period social classification was taken very seriously. It could affect working and living conditions, education, religion, and marriage. Wilde explores the issues of social class and turns it into a comedic play. He humorously criticizes Victorian manners and attacking the society of the luxurious life. The audience becomes self-aware as the characters reflect on themselves. Plays such as this become successful because of the backgrounds the writers come from and the experiences they have had. In The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde satirizes the Victorian society and the ironic differences between the lower and upper class.
According to two female characters in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Ernest is a name that is typically desirable for a husband and represents high social status and wealth. Earnest, on the contrary, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, means to be “serious, sincere”, or, in other words, honest (“Earnest”). Within the irony of the title of Wilde’s play itself, the hypocrisy of the high social class of the Victorian era is revealed. Wilde himself said of the play in one of his letters to Lord Alfred Douglas from Worthing, “The real charm of the play, if it is to have a charm, must be in the dialogue. The plot is slight…but…adequate” (Ericksen, 145).
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 idea of absurdity in Victorian times was embraced by some writers and looked down upon by others. Oscar Wilde embraced the absurd whole-heartedly. This is obvious, if not even the theme, of The Importance of Being Earnest. Not only is the word "absurd" used many times in the story, but the ridiculousness of the characters and their roles conveys the ideas of absurdity in the Victorian Era.
The morals of the Victorian Era gained renown for their strict socials roles that existed for both men and women. However, Oscar Wilde rejected these morals as he not only wrote characters but also acted as a character who flippantly disregarded the strict moral code. In his play The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde elicits a thoughtful laughter through the constant hypocrisy and non-sequitous behaviours of Lady Bracknell. Wilde uses her to explore the hypocrisy that he detested within Victorian Society, and through Lady Bracknell’s commentary on gender roles and marital roles, Wilde illustrates his own personal contentions with Victorian morals.
In the late nineteenth century many European, and especially British, authors, play writes and poets wrote about the inadequacies of the upper class. Often times the author will not blatantly express his feelings, but rather he will hide them behind the plot or characters in his story. In Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde mocks the values of the upper class. By fully exaggerating the flaws of the upper class, Wilde succeeds in expressing his beliefs that men and women of the upper class are shallow, foolish, and have no respectable values.
The Importance of Being Earnest is a play written by Oscar Wilde during the Victorian era. It is a farcical comedy in which the main characters live and maintain a fictional persona to escape their responsibilities. To which Oscar Wilde uses secondary characters within the play such as Lady Bracknell to humorously make her the tool of the conflict and much of the satire. She is the first and foremost a symbol of Victorian earnests and the unhappiness it brings as a result. Lady Bracknell was specially designed to represent Wilde’s opinion of the upper Victorian class repressiveness and traditional negativity. Hence minor characters such as Lady Bracknell play essential roles as they help both the plot and support the themes with assistance
The title is “The Importance of Being Earnest” and it had multiple meanings. The first meaning is the irony between earnest and the name Earnest. The meaning of earnest is honesty, which causes irony because the is opposite of what Earnest demonstrates in the play. In addition, Earnest was not honest about his identity in the play and was living a double life. The second meaning is the importance of being honest, which he realized when he discovered his name is actually Earnest.