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The Importance of Being Earnest
English IV, AP and Dual Credit
Oscar Wilde and the Comedy of Manners
- Satirizes the manners and affectations of a social class or social classes.
- Developed in some aspects in Ancient Greece, further present in the works of French dramatist, Moliere, and made famous by Wilde’s play.
- The plot typically revolves around some sort of scandal that ultimately plays “second fiddle” to the witty dialogue
- Deception, disguise, mistaken identities are all important to these sorts of comedies.
- Ends happily and aims at making the audience laugh at the frivolity and hypocrisy of humanity in general.
How it works in this play. . .
- The Importance of Being Earnest is an enlightening example of comedy of manners as it makes fun of the behavior of Victorian aristocracy which attaches great value to hypocrisy, frivolity, superficiality, artificiality and money mindedness.
- The upper class society judges things by appearance and the present play makes us laugh at those values by turning them upside-down through a language which is satirical, funny and witty.
- Different characters in the play embody those values and provide us insight into the upper-class society of the Victorian period.
- The play centers on the questions of identity, love, marriage and money.
- Exposing the Victorian upper class society as a sham.
- Their concerns of propriety and goodness are bound up in lies and deception.
- In the end, Wilde argues that social position does not make one pure or “earnest.”
- Note the areas in which Wilde uses irony, satire, etc. to expose the truth about these people. He cleverly satirizes a society that gives priority to appearances.
The Aesthetic Movement: For Love of Beauty
- a movement that celebrates beauty for beauty’s sake.
- Became a chief focus of literature and art in the late 19th century. (it’s easy to see how Romanticism gives rise to the movement—it is a celebration of beauty!)
- “All art is quite useless.”—Dorian Gray
- This statement encompasses the notion of the movement. Art does not exist for the purpose of shaping morality or society—it exists for beauty’s sake alone.
- Morality and aestheticism are often viewed as enemies.
- Still, Wilde does not seem to promote the narcissism or hedonism typically associated with the movement—he seems to recognize and believe in the need for personal restraint, one’s ability to control one’s actions.
Wilde has often been considered the “darling” of the Aesthetic movement.
Slide 7 Slide 8
For example, marriage. . .
- Both women have fixated on the importance of marrying someone called Ernest. The fact that the name is more important than anything else demonstrates Wilde’s attitude to the superficiality of Victorian morals around marriage.
- This is enhanced by the use of the joke around the name Ernest, when the two men pretending to be called Ernest are not being earnest.
Still, it’s often in good humor. . .
- Wilde himself indulged in the lifestyle of triviality which Algernon does and as such he mocks it in good spirit.
- Algernon’s interest in trivial things such as cucumber sandwiches reveals him as a character who successfully cultivates aesthetic uselessness.
Famous Wilde Quotes
- “The truth is rarely pure and never simple”
- “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield it”
- “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
- “Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them as much”
- “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”