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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

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the importance of being earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest

A Trivial Comedy for Serious People


the importance of being earnest1
TheImportanceof 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
  • Bridges Victorian period with Modern
  • Uses wit, puns, exaggeration, and wordplay to create humor

Themes to Identify

  • Manners and Sincerity
  • Idleness of the Leisure Class
  • Dual Identities
  • Critique of Marriage as a Social Tool
  • Love
  • Foolishness and Folly

The Aesthetic Movement

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.

  • Aesthete – One having or affecting sensitivity to the beautiful
  • Wilde's aesthetes are brilliantly witty, avoid work at all costs, and prize appearance above all else.
  • These are characters who can pull a perfectly phrased line right out of the air at a moment's notice and can do the same with a more material thing: a diary, for example.

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.

main characters
Main Characters
  • Lady Bracknell, mother of Gwendolyn
  • Gwendolyn Fairfax, wants to marry a man named “Ernest”
  • Cecily Cardew, Jack’s ward
  • Miss Prism, Cecily’s governess
  • John Worthing, aka “Jack,” aka “Ernest”
  • Algernon Moncrieff, aka “Ernest,” Jack’s friend
  • Lane, Algernon’s butler
  • Rev. Canon Chasuble, the preacher in the country

Time: Present, around 1890

Place(s): London (“the City”), Jack’s estate in the country,

the village church

victorian period
Victorian Period
  • Named for Queen Victoria of England
  • Queen from 1837-1901
  • Followed the reign of “Mad”King George
  • The culture was very moral and serious
  • Women were expected to be the “angel in the house”- to take care of their husband and family
queen victoria
Queen Victoria
  • Became Queen as a young girl
  • Married Albert, Prince Consort and adored him
  • After he died, she wore black for the rest of her life
  • Had nine children
  • Created a culture that valued family and stability
social norms
Social Norms
  • Manners were supremely important; people called on one another for formal visits
  • The upper class was well-educated, rich and respected families (“old money”); however, no amount of money can overcome poor manners
  • Modesty was key—women wore clothing that covered; young women were chaperoned until married, and it was considered bad manners to flaunt wealth
literary vocabulary
Literary Vocabulary

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

literary vocabulary1
Literary Vocabulary

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


A punny title

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.

literary vocabulary2
Literary Vocabulary

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


Dramatic Irony – the audience knows something a character does not

Situational Irony – the opposite happens of what is expected