The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)
The Importance of Being Earnest Text Version
The Importance of Being Earnest Audio Version
scar Wilde, in full Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, (born October 16, 1854, Dublin, Ireland—died November 30, 1900, Paris, France), Irish wit, poet, and dramatist whose reputation rests on his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), and on his comic masterpieces Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). He was a spokesman for the late 19th-century Aesthetic movement in England, which advocated art for art’s sake, and he was the object of celebrated civil and criminal suits ending in his imprisonment (1895–97).
The Importance of Being Earnest Analysis
Oscar Wilde’s farcical comedy The Importance of Being Earnest mocks the culture and manners of Victorian society, relying on satire and a comic resolution to make that mockery more palatable to viewers. Even the subtitle of the play, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People, aptly captures Wilde’s tongue-in-cheek take on the cultural milieu to which he was subject. The play’s characters, representing that milieu, rely on deception and hypocrisy as tools for obtaining what they want, underscoring the superficial nature of Victorian society. Appearances matter to the characters, while the truth does not, and the play’s conflicts stem from the deceptions and hypocrisy of those characters.
The Importance of Being Earnest Discussion Questions
- Why does Jack establish two different identities for himself? What does this decision say about Jack and the society in which he lives?
- What do we make of Gwendolen’s obsession with marrying a man named Ernest? Why would Wilde give his characters such strange ideals?
- What do you think Algernon means when he says, “the very essence of romance is uncertainty?” Is he being ironic? In what ways does the action of the play support this statement?
- Reflect on Jack’s relationship with Algernon; they are best friends, and yet Algernon did not even know Jack’s real name! Moreover, neither seems all that troubled by this fact. Should they be? Are you?
- Based on Lady Bracknell’s conversation with Jack, what sort of person do you think she is?
- Compare and contrast Jack’s interactions with Cecily and Ms. Prism in the country and his interactions with Jack and Gwendolen in the city.
- What does the conversation between Ms. Prism and Gwendolen reveal about their characters? What role do you think Ms. Prism will play in the story?
- Compare Cecily and Gwendolen’s diaries with Jack and Algernon’s secret identities. Why do the characters seek these little escapes from reality?
- What can we infer about Jack’s views on religion from his hasty decision to be re-baptized? What about society’s views on religion?
- How do Cecily and Gwendolen act differently once Merriman enters the room? Why do you think they act this way?
- When Algernon tells Cecily that he lied so that they could meet, she declares, “I don’t [believe him.] But that does not affect the wonderful beauty of his answer.” What is Wilde’s opinion about honesty?
- Why does Lady Bracknell finally allow Gwendolen to marry Jack? What do you think would have happened if she had not allowed the marriage?
- Think back to Algernon’s claim that marriage dooms relationships because “the very essence of romance is uncertainty.” Does the play prove or disprove Algernon’s point? Do you think these marriages will succeed after the end of the play?
- The last line of the play is Jack declaring that he has just realized the “vital importance of being earnest.” Is he being ironic? Has anyone in the play really learned any sort of moral lesson?
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