The Importance of Being Earnest

Report
THE IMPORTANCE
OF BEING
EARNEST
A Trivial Comedy for Serious
People
1895
THE IMPORTANCE OF
BEING EARNEST
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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
Manners
and
Sincerity
• Manners and Sincerity
• Idleness of the Leisure Class
• Dual Identities
Dual
Identities
Themes
• Critique of Marriage as a Social Tool
• Love
• Foolishness and Folly
Idleness
Critique
of
Marriage
Love
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.
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.
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
 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
 Lady Bracknell, mother of
Gwendolyn
 Gwendolyn Fairfax, wants to
marry a man named “Ernest”
 Cecily Cardew, Jack’s ward
 Miss Prism, Cecily’s
governess
SETTING
Time: Present, around 1890
Place(s): London (“the City”),
Jack’s estate in the country,
the village church
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
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
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
VICTORIAN FASHION
LITERARY VOCABULARY
Comedy – light-hearted literature with humor and a happy
ending (often a wedding or engagement)
Satire – literary writing that uses humor 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 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
utilizing two distinctly different meanings for the same
word or two similar sounding words
A PUNNY TITLE
Meet Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing.
Both characters are a type of character Wilde created
called the “Dandy.”
Like Wilde, Algernon and Jack are witty, educated,
effeminate, avid followers
of the latest fashion and represent the Victorian upper
class.
They both adopt a fictional identity named Ernest to
shirk their responsibilities and escape to go on vacation
in the city or the country.
Ironically,
just
so happens
that
thefictional
word earnest
means
"serious"
Neitheritthe
audience,
nor the
other
characters
of the
play can and
compliment
character
as being
honest,
serious
or sincere.
"sincere."
Earnesteither
is used
as a pun
for one
of the
lessons
of the play.
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

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