The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Comedy: a dramatic work that treats themes and characters with humour and usually has
a happy ending.
New Comedy: depends on outrageous plots, mistaken identities, young lovers and
Comedy of Manners: focuses on the manners and customs of society and directs its
satire against characters who violate social conventions and rules of behavior.
“…It sends wave of laughter… but as a text for criticism it is barren and delusive…
what can a poor critic do with a play which raises no principle, whether of art or
morals…and is nothing but an absolutely willful expression of an irrepressibly witty
-William Archer, review of the first production 1895
For Wilde, the job of a critic is not to delve beneath the surface of art but to study that
surface and its representations
Inversion of Values
-Smoking is the opposite of idleness:
Lady Bracknell: [Pencil and note-book in hand.] I feel bound to tell you that you are
not down on my list of eligible young men, although I have the same list as the dear
Duchess of Bolton has. We work together, in fact. However, I am quite ready to enter
your name, should your answers be what a really affectionate mother requires. Do you
Jack: Well, yes, I must admit I smoke.
Lady Bracknell: I am glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation of some
kind. There are far too many idle men in London as it is. How old are you?
-Ignorance is good and education is dangerous
Lady Bracknell: I am pleased to hear it. I do not approve of anything that tampers with
natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is
gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in
England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a
serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor
Square. What is your income?
Lying and Art
- Gwendolen: Well, to speak with perfect candour, Cecily, I wish that you were fully
forty-two, and more than usually plain for your age. Ernest has a strong upright
nature. He is the very soul of truth and honour. Disloyalty would be as impossible to him as deception. But e