Wilde's Importance of Being Earnest and Weschler's Boggs

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Wilde's "Importance of Being Earnest" and Weschler's "Boggs"

At first glance, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and Lawrence Weschler’s Boggs: A Comedy of Values treat the issue of art’s function in converse ways. Wilde, the quintessential Aesthete, asserts that art should exist for the sake of beauty alone. Boggs, on the other hand, contends that art should serve a practical function: it should wake individuals from their sleepwalking by highlighting essential, overlooked aspects of society. Fascinatingly, neither Wilde nor Boggs firmly adheres to his ostensible artistic purpose. Wilde’s Importance of Being Earnest, although it showcases certain Aesthetic elements, incisively critiques Victorian society. The play is not a functionless work of pure beauty. Conversely, Boggs’ project clearly serves an instructional function while it simultaneously revels in its own beauty. Moreover, Boggs himself is often uncertain of what his art represents and does. When placed side-by-side, The Importance of Being Earnest and Boggs queer the division between Aestheticism and Functionalism, suggesting that both schools are unattainable ideals. In doing so, the two texts elucidate a holistic conception of art that fuses aesthetic value to social critique. Aesthetic beauty coalesces with function.

Historically, Wilde was a staunch—even notorious—advocate of Aestheticism: a doctrine popular throughout Europe in the late nineteenth century which held that “art exists for the sake of its beauty alone, and that it need serve no political, didactic, or other purpose” (Britannica). Indeed, David Cooper in his Companion to Aesthetics argues that the doctrine “asserts not merely that a work of art should be judged only on ...

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... [pleasure, beauty]” (GP 799) were most valued in the fourteenth century, and as we have seen, they still are today. Art must be beautiful and purposefully inspire thought.

Works Cited

"Aestheticism." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2005. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 30 Nov. 2005 .

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Riverside Chaucer. Ed. Larry D. Benson. 3rd ed. Boston: Houghton, 1987.

Cooper, David, ed. A Companion to Aesthetics. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995.

Foster, Richard. “Wilde as Parodist: A Second Look at The Importance of Being Earnest.” College English 18.1 (1956): 18-23.

“Functionalism.” American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed. 2000.

Weschler, Lawrence. Boggs: A Comedy of Values. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1987.

Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays. Ed. Richard Allen Cave. New York: Penguin, 2000.

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