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). Wilde continues to bring light to the downfalls of Victorian high society and the prejudices that come with them through the actions of his characters and their dialogue throughout the play.
The Importance of Being Earnest is considered a comedy of manners, or “a comedy concerned with the social actions and behavior of members of a highly sophisticated, upper-class society. Such comedy emphasizes wit, whether true or false…” (Bacon). As a comedy of manners, the play accomplishes its goal of revealing the shallow mindset of the Victorian high society through satirical, yet critical, tone. In his book, Oscar Wilde, Erickson refers to the play as “Wilde’s comic masterpiece” (Ericksen, 145). When critiquing the play, the Times correctly noted a quality in the language of The Importance of Being Earnest that foiled every expectation: “Mr. Oscar Wilde’s peculiar vein of epigram does not accord too well with flippant action. Its proper vein is among serious people, or so we have been taught to t...
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...cteristics. Lady Bracknell says of Jack’s confession to his tendency to smoke, “I am glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation of some kind” (Greenblat, 539-540). She goes on to take interest in such things as his knowledge and education, finances, and family standings.
Despite some critics’ attempt to describe Wilde’s work as one “which imitates nothing, represents nothing, is nothing, except a sort of rondo capriccioso,” one cannot deny the fact that, in his drama, Wilde attempts to accomplish larger goals (Ericksen, 146). Wilde exposes the prevailing class prejudices of nineteenth century England through the character, values, and dialogue of the characters. By the end of the drama, the audience is left wheezing from laughter, but they are also left with the importance of being Ernest and the question “where is the importance in being earnest?”
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