A literary classic is a work of the highest excellence that has something important to say about life and/or the human condition and says it with great artistry. A classic, through its enduring presence, has withstood the test of time and is not bound by time, place, or customs. It speaks to us today as forcefully as it spoke to people one hundred or more years ago, and as forcefully as it will speak to people of future generations. For this reason, a classic is said to have universality.
Oscar Wilde [1854-1900] wrote in a variety of literary forms and genres, including poetry, short stories, plays, fairy tales, comedies, and literary criticism. Among his well-known works are The Picture of Dorian Gray , Lady Windermere’s Fan , and The Importance of Being Earnest . The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde’s comical play, written with satirical wit and sarcasm, has lasted through the years, showing many generations the beauty and ease of his writing ability. In referring to this play, Wilde stated: “It has as its philosophy…that we should treat all the trivial things of life seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality.”
8.Compare and Contrast Play vs. Film: Importance of Being Earnest
Watching a reproduction of a classic in a different format, such as a play turned to a movie, enhances the understanding of the original work by giving the audience a different perspective of what the author originally intended to show. Also, it may solidify the original intention of the author, since movies are technologically rich and more dynamic than plays. Hence, that which is funny and new in a play may result more funny and more new in a movie.
The Importance of Being Earnest was like the “Mega Movie” of its day. It was THE most important and popular play of 1895. Everyone who was somebody went to the St. James’s theater on Valentine’s day for its premiere. Even those reporters and critics who had a grudge against Wilde since his 1890 publication of The Picture of Dorian Gray had to give credit where credit was due: the witty dialogues, the situational irony, and the peculiar comments of The Importance of Being Earnest deserved the praise that they got from all Victorians.
However, that was 1895. A lot of the humor that Wilde employs in his dialogue is colloquial and typical of that time period. Some of the language is over-used since it is meant to be a comedy of manners set in a fashionable part of the very fancy London West End. Therefore, the modern, American reader may find it very hard to connect the humor that Wilde used with today’s use of monikers, sarcasm, and irony.
The film The Importance of Being Earnest had a very impressive cast that included British luminaries Colin Firth and Ruper Everett as Jack and Algy. This was the same effect that, in 1895, George Alexander and Allan Aynesworth caused in his audiences due to their own popularity.
The benefit of having a powerful cast interpret so convoluted characters such as Jack and Algy is that the actors in the movie are able to say more, express more, and have more freedom to use non-verbal cues to help the audience understand the humor. Also, since the actors do not have to follow the strict parameters set by stage directions, they can avoid any potential misrepresentation of the character by adding on more traits that enforce what Wilde originally intended. For instance Everett made Algy even more libertine and used his voice to emphasize the extent to which Algy REALLY did not care about measuring the consequences of his actions.
Moreover, the female actresses gave a wonderful rendition of the typical aristocrat snobby debutantes and their mothers, and the characteristic oblivion of the upper-classes was even more evident in film that they could ever be in theatrical form. Therefore, the freedom of the actors to re-interpret their roles outside of the parameters placed by Wilde’s stage directions certainly help the audience to perceive the character from a more, in-depth perspective, hence allowing them to understand the characterization better.
9.What does it mean to be true to one’s self in The Importance of Being Earnest? in what ways our self is a product of nature? and in what ways is it nurtured?
Nature versus Nurture is the debate that has always puzzled everyone, from scientists to philosophers. Are we genetically and physically prone to be and behave in a certain way, or is our upbringing what ultimately determines our fate?
In the play The Importance of Being Earnest the debate of nature versus nurture would apply to the characters of Algernon and Jack in a very interesting way. Algernon, always well-bred and belonging to a family of aristocratic pedigree, has never lacked a thing in his life. Yet, he has developed bad behaviors in which he lives above his means, over eats, and does his best to never hold responsibilities. He is careless about his family, or his obligations. He also leads a happy double life.
Contrastingly, we have Jack: No less mischievous than Algernon, he is not aware that he is actually Algernon’s older brother, and a part of the Moncrieff family. Yet, although he grew up without his natural family around him, he still developed quite similarly to Algernon in terms of his tendency to over eat, overspend, and cause trouble. However, Jack was able to develop a sense of responsibility over Cecily and her estate, which is what sets him apart from Algernon.
This being said, would Algernon and Jack developed with more similarities had they been raised together? Or was their behavior already bound to occur simply because they belonged to a specific bloodline? Since it is nearly impossible to come up with an accurate answer, it is safe to argue that both men were the products of their own decision making processes and that both nature and nurture certainly must have played a role in such them. They are equally important
10.In The Importance of Being Earnest what do we learn about Algernon’s relationship with his servant Lane from their conversation about marriage?
Act I of The Importance of Being Earnest begins with Algernon Moncrieff playing his piano, whether “accurately” or not, while his manservant, Lane, enters the scene. While the two men only engage in dialogue in Act I, and this is not an extensive dialogue, a lot can be inferred from the level of tolerance that both men display toward each other, even when the things they talk about are on the harsh side, maybe even demeaning from one part to another.
The men’s discussion of topic of marriage, one of Wilde’s favorite points of mockery, stems from a discussion about champagne. The idea behind juxtaposing champagne to marriage is to bring out the irony behind courtship: the feeling of ecstasy caused by the drunkenness of love is as ephemeral as the drunkenness caused by alcohol. Hence, the question is: is love a real feeling or a passing emotion?
Lane. I attribute it to the superior quality of the wine, sir. I have often observed that in married households the champagne is rarely of a first-rate brand.
Algernon. Good heavens! Is marriage so demoralising as that?
Back to the relationship between Lane and Algy, notice the flat affect in the conversation between the two. Even when the men seem to agree in most of the things that they discuss, it is clear that the men do not match. Lane is older and middle class while Algy is fashionable, young, and wild. This is an uncommon practice among upper class Victorians, who would want a servant to match and serve as their shadow; someone who would know their tastes, and indulge their whims.
However, it is clear that Algernon lived above his means. He did not have “ready money”, had lots of creditors, ran high bills, and tended to run out of town whenever responsibilities reached him. The conclusion out of all this is simple: Lane is the only manservant Algernon could afford. The fact that the men were unfit for each other makes their flat relationship make sense. Algernon did not care for Lane any more than Lane cared for Algernon.
Algernon. [Languidly.] I don’t know that I am much interested in your family life, Lane.
Lane. No, sir; it is not a very interesting subject. I never think of it myself.
Algernon. Very natural, I am sure. That will do, Lane, thank you.
Another role that Lane fulfills is that of an accomplice. Lane is obviously so attuned to Algy that he finishes the lies that Algernon starts. He easily follows along Algernon’s lie about the cucumber sandwiches that were intended for Lady Bracknell, but that Algernon ate himself. Lane is also aware of Algernon’s Bumburying and even knows the wardrobe that Algernon prefers to use when he goes about town leading his double life.
Hence, it is clear that, although the men are awkwardly matched in terms of age, lifestyle, and experience, Lane neither condones nor condemns Algy’s comments or behaviors regardless how demeaning or amoral they are. The men may very well be interdependent on each other: while Algernon provides Lane a home and a salary, the latter in turn provides a non-listening ear and a quick alibi for whatever trouble Algernon gets into. It is the perfect match for Algernon’s lifestyle, at least.
That’s an interesting question, in that the motivations of everyone in this play are what push the plot forward. Not every play is like that; many have external events providing the main push for the action. But in this play, while there are silly coincidences and events which do move the plot along, the motivations of everyone are so clearly the point of the play that the events seem less important.
Jack Worthing wants more than one thing; he wants to go to town and be a gad-about, and generally get up to no good, but also to preserve his reputation and be a good example for his young ward Cecily. So, because he wants to have it both ways, he invents his fictitious brother Earnest to cover up his indiscretions.
Jack also wants to marry Gwendolyn Fairfax. Gwendolyn wants to marry Jack. Lady Bracknell, Gwendolyn’s mother does not want Gwendolyn to marry Jack because he is “unsuitable”. Lady Bracknell’s motivations are to protect her daughter and to uphold convention.
Cecily wants to marry Algernon. Without getting too much into the complications of the play, Algernon wants to marry Cecily, but when he meets Cecily and falls in love with her he is posing as the (fictitious) brother of Jack, Earnest. You can imagine the hijinks which ensue, but the motivations of both Algernon and Cecily are to marry each other. Algernon has a secondary motivation which results in his fictitious friend Bunbury. He has created this imaginary friend so that he can get out of social obligations, especially avoiding his aunt Lady Bracknell.
The Reverend Chasuble wants to marry Miss Prism. Miss Prism wants to marry the Reverend Chasuble. There are some complications because Miss Prism has a slightly scandalous past (involving Lady Bracknell), but Miss Prism’s and Rev. Chasuble’s desires are essentially simple.
As you can see, Lady Bracknell is, essentially, the fly in the ointment for everyone. When her desires are resolved everyone else’s are, too. Wilde plotted this comedy perfectly, with everyone’s wants dependent on someone else’s. When the snags are removed, everything comes out right in the end.
12.What is the significance of the title “The Importance of Being Earnest”?
It’s kind of ironic since none of the characters are earnest, but beyond that, I’m not entirely sure.
Oscar Wilde’s wildly popular play The Importance of Being Earnest calls upon a long English theatrical tradition epitomized by William Shakespeare: the use of double and sometimes triple meanings. On one level, you may say that the characters are not “earnest” in their behaviors; that they are all frivolous and irresponsible. This would be on the satircal level; the level at which Wilde is poking fun at the ridiculousness he sees in English society of his day.
On another level, each of the characters is precisely earnest in following their convictions. Cecily is adamantly earnest in having fallen in love with her guardian’s rascally brother Earnest who lives and causes trouble in London. Gwendolyn is paramountly earnest in her conviction that she could never love anyone not named Earnest. Algernon is unjokingly earnest in and devoted to his need to be free to escape to the leisure of the country as a Bunburyist. John Worthing is wholeheartedly earnest in his ploy of escaping the tedium of the country by having an irresponsible brother named Earnest living in London who needs taking care of. Miss Prism…well…you get the picture.
Both Algernon and John adopt the name Earnest for rascally purposes that ironically gain them happiness and the loves of their dreams because both their loves have vowed never to marry anyone not named Earnest. So you can readily see how being Earnest would be extraordinarily important here. As it turns out, John Worthing is…or was…before he was put in the handbag…named Ernest, so for John, being Earnest takes on an added importance of birthright.
The importance of being earnest has satirical meaning as Wilde laughs at English society for being so adamantly earnest about irrelevancies. It also has story meaning as the story is moved along by the various characters’ earnestness in their, perhaps silly, convictions. It has plot importance because the conflict is in fact developed around the name Earnest and who will marry Earnest. It also has importance because the reverse-Bunburyism pulled by both John and Algernon adds witty humor and complications to the story. It is also important because the resolution of the play is in the discovery of John’s true identity.
13.In The Importance of Being Earnest, how does Oscar Wilde portray food both as a weapon and means of demonstrating one’s power?
Oscar Wilde, a well-known gourmand himself, said once
“The man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world.”
These words greatly apply to The Importance of Being Earnest, and the character of Algernon attests to that much. This is because Algy not only uses food as a substitute for his obvious hunger for life, money, and adventure, but also as his conduit for enforcing his power over others. Although Wilde does not directly employ food as a theme of dominance, it is in its subtle use that the reader can discover its clever treatment.
Food is used as a way to demonstrate power in several occasions. First, in Act I, Algernon eats the cucumber sandwiches that he orders for his aunt, Lady Bracknell, prior to her arrival. Similarly, he invites Jack (Earnest) to partake from the bread and butter that would be have been offered to his cousin Gwendolen. This action from Algy foreshadows his nature: he is careless, selfish, and quite proud of it. It equally shows that Jack (Earnest) is really no different.
Lady Bracknell also uses food for social dominance. Her main social duty consists of planning dinners where she can show off her “tastes” for music and arts. In reality, these dinners are typical upper class Victorian gatherings used by well-to-do ladies to find husbands for their daughters. Here, too, food means power.
Similarly, the famous “tea showdown” scene between Gwendolen and Cecily in Act III shows food as a social identifier of power. This is evident when, as country girl Cecily kindly offers city girl Gwendolen cake and sugar at tea, the latter shuns the offer saying that these items are “seldom seen” in fashionable homes. Cecily’s dumping lumps of sugar on Gwendolen’s tea and then serving her a huge slice of cake is the ultimate declaration of war between the two women.
Food also seems to be an important issue for Jack’s alter ego, Earnest, who presumably goes all over London running up huge restaurant bills that he, although able to, is not willing to pay. This is an indication of how food is used as a power tool that helps to differentiate one person’s standing from the other. It also shows how Jack’s alter ego Earnest loves to be bad and disruptive.
One final use of food occurs towards the middle of Act III, after the “tea showdown scene” between the women. When they find out that neither Algernon or Jack are the “Earnest” that they are both engaged to marry, the girls quickly enter back into the manor in hopes of being dramatically followed by the men who lied to them.Instead, Algeron and Jack stay behind eating the food that Cecily had first laid out for her tea. In Algernon’s own words, his reason is quite simple:
“When I am in trouble, eating is the only thing that consoles me… I refuse everything except food and drink. At the present moment I am eating muffins because I am unhappy. Besides, I am particularly fond of muffins”
Therefore, food is a tool of power in several instances: it allows Earnest to “be bad” by his superb consumption of it and his defiance to not pay it. It allows Algernon to offer it and then take it away at will, denoting his inherent selfishness. It identifies social class between Gwendolen and Cecily, and it also serves as a social medium to network among the upper classes such as in the case of Lady Bracknell. Moreover, food is the ultimate pleasure because it is available at all times. Algernon surely seems to enjoy it and Jack, as his equal, is no different either.
a.What is “bunburying,” and what is its significance in the play?
b.Give examples of puns from The Importance of Being Earnest?
c.How is satire evident in the importance of being earnest?
d.What is sentimental comedy? Can The Importance of Being Earnest be referred to as comedy which is highly melodramatic?
e.How would you describe the character of Lady Bracknell? How is she used to satirize the upper class?
f.How does Oscar Wilde use humour to deal with how people mask their identities?
g.How can comedy, such as The Importance of Being Earnest be used to not only mock but also critique power structures?
h.How do puns and paradoxes contribute to the satirical tone in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
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