Celebrated Victorian playwright Oscar Wilde once wrote "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth." This is exactly the strategy that Wilde himself employed and used it to the fullest while exploring the follies and double-standards of the society in which he lived in his most memorable and famous play, The Importance of Being Earnest…
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The importance of drama and the attention that newly released plays got from the society can be gauged from the fact that in London alone there were 50 theatres. It is believed that Wilde wrote this play in Worthing, where he was on a brief vacation and the version of the play that was enacted was a briefer version, cut down on the advice of George Alexander; the actor-manager at St. James. Wilde had already written three other plays that had become instant successes. His third play An Ideal Husband had opened only a month before and was still being performed at the Haymarket Theatre, just a few blocks away from St. James. The play is set in the Victorian era in which it was written and relates the story of two very idle young men from upper classes who are leading a double life. Wilde introduces the character of Jack Worthing, a resident of Hertfordshire, where he lives a pious life taking care of his ward, the pretty Cecily Cardew. Cecily is the daughter of Thomas Cardew who found Jack in a hand-bag at a railway station and later brought him up. This same Jack, who is an epitome of uprightness, has invented and imaginary brother Ernest to whom he attributes all kinds of misadventures and vices and in order to free him from the scrapes that Ernest has a tendency to get into, he visits London, where he assumes the name Ernest for himself, quite often to enjoy the fashionable society and the freedom that the social atmosphere of London affords. He is also on the verge of proposing to Gwendolen Fairfax when his deception is discovered by Algernon Moncrieff_ Jack's friend and another character who leads a double life similar to Jack's. Algernon has invented a character called Bunbury, a nonexistent friend who is on his death-bed and is breathing his last most of the time. Algernon uses Bunbury whenever he wishes to escape from his relatives' company and visit the countryside. The double identities and the deceptions are revealed to all when Algernon visits Jack at Hertfordshire and proposes to Cecily. At this moment not only the real identities of the two heroes are revealed but also the fact that Jack is not the son of some unknown workman or clerk but is the son of Lady Bracknell's sister and is Algernon's elder brother.
The play boasts of an array of memorable characters. Jack and Algernon appear to be wonderful examples of idle, frivolous and foppish young men, with plenty of time at hand and no other productive activities to indulge in except frequenting theatres, visiting clubs, flirting with women and squandering inheritances. Although the play does focus more on Jack and his life yet Algernon comes out as someone more memorable with abundant dialogues of black humor and characterized by a roguish charm. Cecily and Gwendolen give the play an element of hilarity as Wilde characterizes the two women as vain, petty, coquette and devoid of any consistency and seriousness of conduct. Lady Bracknell provides the much needed antagonism and an obstacle in the way of the young lovers whereas, Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble serve to remind the audiences of the insincerity and hypocrisy of those who consider themselves enlightened, religious and moral.
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(“The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde Book Report/Review”, n.d.)
Retrieved from https://studentshare.org/performing-arts/1517021-the-importance-of-being-earnest-by-oscar-wilde
(The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde Book Report/Review)
“The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde Book Report/Review”, n.d. https://studentshare.org/performing-arts/1517021-the-importance-of-being-earnest-by-oscar-wilde.
"Oscar Wilde's perfectly charming and witty manner of expression will enchant you in more ways than one. He is a master storyteller and drifts through the story like a gentle summer breeze through odour filled roses, giving you the feeling that you can literally smell the flower he is describing." (Oscar Wilde).
In the plays, Dr. Faustus and Importance of being Earnest, what strikes us is the presence and absence respectively of conventional morality. Marlowe’s novel is concerned with the Faustian myth where a person sells his soul to the devil in order to gain something great.
The ways in which we interpret dramatic works largely depend on our experience of theatre practices and on our familiarity with genre conventions. Our ability to laugh at antics of a stock character or watch with pity and compassion a tragic hero's downfall is defined by our awareness of certain cultural codes, norms and traditions.
If we used this same premise to examine the characters within the plays of "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by William Shakespeare, would the characters have matched into a love connection
First looking at Wilde's lampoon of Victorian high society, in "The Importance of Being Earnest," we can take the two sets of love interests, Gwendolen and Jack and Cecily and Algernon to see if how they match.
Cecily indignant at Gwendolen's accusations of entrapment suggests, "This is no time for wearing the shallow mask of manners. When I see a spade I call it a spade." Gwendolen sardonically responds, "I am glad to say that I have never seen a spade. It is obvious that our social spheres have been widely different".
He was considered as the core of a circle of artists and poets which conservative society saw as aesthetes and decadents. He is commonly celebrated for his gay life, but this is merely a single facet in the multitude of personas the complexity that was Oscar Wilde.
Wilde's dramatic repute rests more or less completely on The Importance of Being Earnest (1905), which is one of the finest examples of light and humorous satire in modern drama (Donohue, Berggren, pp. 90-98). Wilde's aesthetic intention varies significantly from the realists with whom he was a contemporary; the satire expressed in the Importance of Being Ernest is at once more pervasive and less bitter than the sharp social criticism of Ibsen or Shaw.
The placement of reason-driven social and career pursuits as the arena of men and the home or the domestic as that of women during the Victorian era, resulted in very conflicted notions of sex and sexuality. While the best of what the era's take on the power of love, whether sublime or tragic could be gleaned at least from Elizabeth Barret-Browning's Sonnets (passionate and sublime love of a woman) and Alfred Lord Tennyson's Lady of Shalot (where the poet's tone is all at once, objective, sympathetic and in awe of women's domestic lot) --- the conflict is evident in Aurora Leigh and Locksley Hall.