Oscar Wilde’s last and most famous play, debuted in London on February 14, 1895.
At the time, Wilde was at the height of his success. But just a few months later his boyfriend’s father sent an insulting letter calling him a “somdomite” – yep, he misspelled it. A humiliating trial was set in motion, and Wilde was convicted of “gross indecency” and sentenced to two years of hard labor.
“Life is too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it,” wrote Wilde in one of his first plays, Veraor The Nihilists. Long interested in the combination of the serious with the trivial, Oscar Wilde experimented with different proportions of each in his plays like a baker trying to get the perfect sugar to salt ratio in chocolate chip cookies. By the time Wilde wrote The Importance of Being Earnest he had perfected his recipe.
The Importance of Being Earnest is funny all the time. There is nothing earnest about this play, at least on the surface. It’s a satire of the Victorian era, when an intricate code of behavior governed everything from communication to sexuality. The most important rules applied to marriage – always a popular topic in Victorian plays, and one that interested Wilde, who was married to a woman but sexually involved with men.
During the Victorian period, marriage was about protecting your resources, and keeping socially unacceptable impulses under control.
a. Can you find examples of this?
b. Read about The Victorian Times, which characteristics are mocked in this play?
c. Aesthetic Movement: make a list of the most important characteristics.
d. Explain the term “Bunburying”.
e. Describe different scenes in which people are eating or drinking.
f. Two faces: Lane, Algernon, Jack. Explain.
e. Explain these quotations:
1. “. . . my ideal has always been to love some one of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence. The moment Algernon first mentioned to me that he had a friend called Ernest, I knew I was destined to love you.”
2. “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.”
3. “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.”
4. “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”
5. “You can hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dream of allowing our only daughter – a girl brought up with the utmost care – to marry into a cloak-room, and form an alliance with a parcel?”
How is Algernon an example of the Aesthetic Movement? In which way do Algernon and Jack mock The Vistorian society?