The Importance of Being Earnest. A Trivial Comedy for Serious People 1895. The Importance of Being Earnest. Written in 1895 A play in three* acts Genre: comedy of manners Immediate hit when first performed Satirizes Victorian moral and social values
A Trivial Comedy for Serious People
Wilde was a leader of the Aesthetic Movement, which professed a belief in “art for art’s sake.” Art shouldn’t merely look to life or nature for inspiration, for art that too closely imitates life is a failure, according to Wilde.
Plays with characters who spoke and acted just like they would in real life were utterly boring to followers of Wilde’s philosophy.
Characters in the play can be divided into two categories: aesthetes and non-aesthetes.
Non-aesthetes are BORING, mundane
They have no sense of the delicate beauty of life and it takes a lot of hard work for them to get what they want. There is none of the easy wit or graceful appearance that is characteristic of an Aesthete.
Even their dress reflects their toils: the colors are earthy and mundane in contrast to the jewel-toned Aesthetes.
Time: Present, around 1890
Place(s): London (“the City”), Jack’s estate in the country,
the village church
Comedy– light-hearted literature with humor and a happy ending (often a wedding or engagement)
Satire– literary writing that useshumor to expose something or someone to ridicule
Comedy of Manners – a popular form of satirical drama often directed at peculiar social behavior featuring witty and polished dialogue and plots that frequently involved illicit lovers and cases of mistaken identity
Wit–using words to be clever and funny with language
Farce – a broad comedy, dependent on overblown speech, unbelievable situations, exaggerated characters, and, frequently, sexual innuendoes
Epigram – a short statement or poem with a witty turn of thought or a wittily condensed expression
Pun – an expression that achieves emphasis or humor by using two distinctly different meanings for the same word or two similar sounding words
Meet Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing.
Both represent a type of character Wilde created called the “dandy.”
Like Wilde, Algernon and Jack are witty, educated, effeminate, avid followers of the latest fashions of the Victorian upper class.
Both adopt a fictional identity named Ernestto shirk their responsibilities and escape to go on vacation in the city or the country.
Neither the audience, nor the other fictional characters of the play can compliment either character as being honest, serious or sincere.
Ironically, it just so happens that the word earnest means "serious"and "sincere."Earnest is used as a pun for one of the lessons of the play.
Protagonist – the main character
Foil – the character who contrasts the main character (the foil “reflects” the traits of the main character)
Blocking figure – A character, often old and cranky, who interferes with the romantic desires or the other main characters and provides comic action
Situational Irony – the opposite happens of what is expected