Famous author and playwright Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” is a brilliant comedic play written in 1895. The play is a comedy of manners and takes place in London and the estate in Hertfordshire. The main protagonist of the play is Jack Worthing, a leading character in the play. Jack Worthing’s conflict in the play is living a double life as both Jack and Ernest. Jack pretends to others in the play that he has a brother named Ernest, although his best friend Algernon knows him as Ernest rather than Jack. When Jack leaves the estate and goes to London for different periods of time he goes by Ernest and that’s when his double life begins. Oscar Wilde’s comedic play showcases different types of comedy making it such a diverse play. These elements incorporated benefited the storyline as it was very intriguing to the reader.
Firstly, the author incorporates romantic comedy as well as satirical comedy in the play.
For example, the portrayal of romantic comedy is through marriage. Conflicts of marriage stem from both Gwendolen Fairfax along with Cicely wanting to marry a man with the name Ernest because of their infatuation with the name and its dominance.
Jack Worthing shows interest in Gwendolen Fairfax, as well as Algernon’s infatuation with Cecily. Also, there is young love through Cicely who is young and has not yet come of age to get married, she needs the blessing of her guardian Jack. In the play Jack is having a conversation with Lady Bracknell who is the mother of Cicely, he says “I beg your pardon for interrupting you, Lady Bracknell, but this engagement is quite out of the question. I am Miss Cardew’s guardian, and she cannot marry without my consent until she comes of age. That consent I absolutely decline to give” (Wilde 48). This passage said by Jack Worthing to Lady Bracknell proves that Jack is the guardian of Cicely, so he’s in control over who and when she can marry because she also is not of age yet.
Cicely is very young and states in the play to Lady Bracknell that she is eighteen years old (Wilde 49). The reason for her asking about her age is because she was questioning why Cicely’s legal coming of age was thirty-five. Jack Worthing used Lady Bracknell’s concerns for both Alberon and Cicely’s marriage and used it to his advantage by proposing a plan to her. Jack suggests if she accepted the consent for him to marry her daughter Gwendolen, he was willing to reconsider and consent to Cicely’s marriage to her nephew Alberon (Wilde 50). Jack used his guardianship title to persuade his way to marry Gwendolen by giving her mother an ultimatum.
The reason for Lady Bracknell’s disapproval of him and why she did not accept him was due to his story of how he was found by the late Mr. Thomas Cardew in a handbag at Victoria Station (Wilde 16). Wilde’s use of satirical comedy in the play is distributed throughout the play, some parts of the scenes included sarcastic humor as a sign of criticism. In Act II both Gwendolen and Cicely sit down for tea in the garden. Cicely offers Gwendolen some sugar with her tea and Gwendolen replies “No, thank you. Sugar is not fashionable anymore” (36). This saying irritated Cicely and caused her to add many sugar cubes to her tea. Satirical comedy makes fun of society and one’s behavior in a humorous way. Therefore, this line actively demonstrates satire in the play. Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” takes place during the Victorian era when one’s social class impacted one’s behavior. Gwendolyn defining “sugar” as not being fashionable was an insult to Cicely making it seem as if she herself was not fashionable. The author incorporated satire comedy to mock society and one’s social class.
Brilliant playwright Oscar Wilde integrated dominant lead roles in his play, “The Importance of Being Earnest” to help illustrate his main message and purpose of the play. Jack Worthing who plays a protagonist in the play is living a double life as Jack and Ernest. Both Jack and Alderon are living an artificial life and trying to be someone they’re not. Their dishonesty caused conflict in the play because of the lies and deception. ( British Literature Wiki). Algernon plays a witty character by adding an amusing and witty remark, in Act I of the play Algernon says “You don’t seem to realize, that in married life three is company and two is none” (Wilde 10).
This line means that two people in a marriage isn’t enough because you’ll feel alone, in comparison to if there were three. Although this passage may show him as being arrogant because he is justifying infidelity, the remark was said in a playful way as well as other witty remarks and sayings he has in the play.
Lady Bracknell plays a leading female role to portray aspects of satirical comedy. Lady Augusta Bracknell plays a powerful role and is a prime example of an elderly upper-class woman with a high social class. Which can also explain her behavior in some of the scenes. For example, not accepting Jack as her daughter made him be seen as unworthy of Gwendolen, also looked down on him because he didn’t know who his parents were.
Her arrogance also reflected on her daughter making them a prime example of satire comedy in the play.
In conclusion, Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” is a fascinating comedic play that showcases different types of comedy making it unique and diverse. In this reading response, we discussed how the author has incorporated different types of comedy such as romantic comedy as well as a satirical comedy. It has done so by taking an in-depth look at the text and analyzing different techniques and terminology discussed in class and proving them with examples from the play to explain author Oscar Wilde’s uses of them in his comedic play. Overall, Oscar Wilde’s play was very diverse and intriguing play, and I would definitely recommend it.
- “The Importance of Being Earnest.” British Literature Wiki, https: sites. del. edubritlitwikithe-importance-of-being-earnest.
- Wilde, Oscar, et al. The importance of being earnest. Music for pleasure, 1954.