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Wilde's "trivial play for serious people" is a sparkling comedy of manners. This hilariously absurd satire pits sincerity against style, barbed witticisms against ostentatious elegance. Wilde's brilliantly constructed plot and famous dialogue enrich the appeal of his celebrated characters, as he turns accepted ideas inside out and situations upside down in this, his masterpiece.
The Student Edition offers a plot summary, full commentary, character notes and questions for study, besides a chronology and bibliography.
Like Dr. Johnson, but without the aid of a Boswell, Oscar Wilde is an author whose personality endures more vividly than most of his writings. I hasten to add that The Importance of Being Earnest endures, and so do some of Wilde's essays and "The Ballad of Reading Gaol." But, like Rasselas, "The Vanity of Human Wishes," and Johnson's other permanently interesting writings, they comprise a rather modest residue for a lifetime of literary work.
If Wilde's personality has outlasted most of the words be put on paper, it is still a personality intimately connected with his writing. If we may believe his friends, he expressed himself best and most characteristically in his high-spirited, infinitely resourceful, ingenious conversation. When he first came to London, he was an ostentatious "character" who affected an outlandish costume, but his true reputation overcame this notoriety, only to be eclipsed in turn by the scandal that ended his career.
Among his many friends, Wilde enjoyed the greatest distinction as a wit, as an irrepressible dazzler on all occasions. Max Beerbohm told S. N. Behrman: "Well, in the beginning he was the most enchanting company, don't you know. His conversation was so simple and natural and flowing--not at all epigrammatic, which would have been unbearable. He saved that for his plays, thank heaven." Fortunately, Wilde knew enough to preserve his witticisms, and not only the epigrammatic ones. If his rapt listeners did not include a Boswell, he compensated for this deficiency by being his own Boswell, preserving his wit in his literary work. Connoisseurs among his acquaintances preferred hisjokes and stories in the- form he gave them as he spoke, but we who are Wilde's posterity are beggars who cannot be choosers. Accordingly, we read his novel, The Portrait of Dorian Gray, and such plays as Lady Windermere's Fan and An Ideal Husband, seeking the occasional plum, the bright remark couched in Wilde's distinctive style. But the witticisms work best in a setting that is worthy of them, and they got such a setting only in The Importance of Being Earnest. Only this work, Wilde's last completed play, is a feast of such plums, the only one of his plays that is consistently written in his highest and wittiest style, the conversational style that belonged peculiarly to Wilde himself.
Invariably, wit comments upon its opposites, slowness of thought and infelicity of expression; implicitly, it ridicules. dullness and solemnity. In his previous plays, Wilde had softened his attack upon ordinary reality by creating some good, dun people who carried on the necessary business of the main plot. But The Importance of Being Earnest, being wholly dedicated to wit, presents good, dull people only to caricature them. The brightly burnished style of this play directly comments upon the drabness of ordinary speech, and, indeed, it defies the real world. Defiance was always part of Wilde's public attitude, but only in The Importance of Being Earnest was he so bold as to make this defiance plain from the beginning to the end of the play. Even his two plain speakers embody a highly stylized plainness, Philistinism cubed, as it were, and the one plainer speaker disappeared while the play was being cut for performance. As it stands, this comedy is the fullest embodiment of Wilde's lifelong assault upon commonplace life and commonplace values. It was inevitable that the conventional world should strike back at Wilde, at his character and his ideas, if not specifically at his play, but the speed and cruelty of the world's retribution surpassed expectation. Four days after the opening of his last and finest comedy, the succession of events began that brought about his disgrace, imprisonment, and exile.
Wilde's defiance, it should be understood, was deeply personal. It was not at all the product of any seriously considered social criticism, but, rather, it stemmed from an individualism supported by a philosophy of art for art's sake. I find it significant that George Woodcock, in the principal study of Wilde's social thought, discovers some trenchant, if incidental, social criticism in the earlier plays, but next to nothing of this element in The Importance of Being Earnest, accordingly, he dismisses Wilde's masterpiece with a single sentence. But this play is not only Wilde's masterpiece; it also has the virtue of expressing its author more fully than any of his other dramatic or narrative writings. Mr. Woodcock to the contrary notwithstanding, it does criticize society, but not from the usual standpoint of social reform. Wilde attacks society on aesthetic grounds, in this play as in his previous works. What he recommends to us, and by implication only, is not social reform, women's suffrage, or child-labor laws, but style--a style of life, of behavior, and of speech. By showing the height of wit and manners, he criticizes their absence. This may not sound much like anyoneelse's's kind of social criticism, but it is Wilde's critique! of society, and it fulfills the logic of his life as an artist up to that moment.
The beginning of his life was surely conducive to individualism, if not to art. He was the product of an eccentric Dublin family--Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde, second son of a prominent physician, William Wilde, and Jane Elgee Wilde, who, as "Speranza," wrote articles and verses passionately urging liberty for Ireland. William Wilde was a notorious philanderer and the father of several illegitimate children; once his wife wrote a private letter chiding one of his former mistresses and was promptly sued by the lady in question in an action that anticipated Oscar Wilde's suit against the Marquis of Queensbury for libel by private correspondence. The dramatist was born October 16, 1854, but later so that he might seem even more of a prodigy than he really was, he represented himself as having been born in 1856, a year that is still sometimes recorded as the date of his birth.
|The Importance of Being Earnest||27|
|From Wilde's Letters||110|
|Excerpts from Four-Act Version||113|
|George Bernard Shaw: "An Old New Play"||132|
|Max Beerbohm: "The Importance of Being Earnest"||136|
|St. John Hankin: "The Collected Plays of Oscar Wilde"||140|
|James Agate: "Oscar Wilde and the Theatre"||152|
Posted January 14, 2011
I am very proud to say I read this play and to an extent, enjoyed it. I first heard of Oscar Wilde from another book and when I found this book by him as a possible choice for some required reading, I was ecstatic. Besides the name, Oscar Wilde was unknown to me. I had no knowledge of prior work, history, or even that he wrote plays, not novels. I was truly going out on a lim with this book. I was and was not disappointed in this book.
Eighteenth century literature is very strange to me, especially plays. The way of talking and the humor, I find hard to connect to. The characters are far to formal to the extent of being unrealistic. I do not know if that is just my culture and up bring of unbelievable informality or an overly cocky author trying to establish he position as a highly educated person. All conversation in this play seamed stiff and planned out. This for me was especially apparent when it should have been informal conversation if not very informal. Conversations between the to main characters (Algernon and Jack who are friends) just did not flow for me. Their characters did not flourish. Throughout this play I found that one specific characteristic was present in a characters and all to often became the hole character. I felt that they were all one dimensional, "paper" characters. That may have been what Wilde was after in this "Trivial Comedy for Serious People" but it was lost on me.
Although I did not enjoy the characters, I did find the story line and plot very interesting and original. I love how this play and the characters put so much emphasis on a name, a single word. I find this fascinating and that main reason I enjoyed this play. I think Oscar Wilde, with this play, captured the essence of the human love for words, spoken and written. Not only do we feel great emotion with words, we put so much importance in them. There are connotations, alternate meaning and, "forbidden" words. These have so much meaning to us. Meaning that we have put into them. The two main female characters do this with a name, Earnest. They have their minds made up that they will only marry a man with the name of Earnest. This is the plot of the story and for how simple it is, I find it very elegant and lovely.
With my likes and dislikes about this play, I must come to the parts I hate, about this book. Ending are meant to wrap it up. They make or break a book. There is no perfect ending but there are many bad endings. The Importance of Being Earnest has one of the worst I know. I hate to bad mouth a renowned piece of literature but for this, I truly feel I must. The fraise "Fairy Tail Ending" dose not cover this "perfect" of an ending. I would not mind if it ended happily but in the way it does, it makes me sick. To fully understand how poor the ending is you must read the book.
I know I have given a rather poor review for this book, but I must reinvigorate I did enjoy it. The Importance of Being Earnest is a fine read and I feel should be read. Some parts must be fought though but the final destination is good.
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Posted December 4, 2013
This is such a brilliant play! Honestly it's simply hilarious and a must read for absolutely everyone! It's funny enough for reader's to be entertained throughout the play and it uses satirical prose to reveal a deeper meaning.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 12, 2013
Very smart conversations are had in this book. I think some of it was lost on me through the language. I liked this book regardless. The men were funny. The women were also funny. This was a kind and gentle book. I liked reading it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 14, 2013
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Posted September 5, 2011
I read this when i was in high school and instead of being bored to death my class found this thouraly entertaining and funny i recomend watching the movie :D
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Posted May 17, 2011
'The Importance of Being Earnest' is perhaps the most magnificent theatrical display of identity crisis since Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night' and just as humorous. In this play, two friends, Mr. Jack Worthing and Mr. Algernon Moncrieff who find themselves to be similarly engaged in the art of creating a pretend character who frequently needs their attention and calls them from home. Jack Worthing creates a fictitious brother, "Ernest" as an explanation to his young ward Cecily and members of his household for his frequent visits to the city. In turn, Algernon invents a friend, Mr. Bunbury, who requires his attentions in the countryside. While in the city, Jack assumes the identity of Ernest and his friend Algernon suspects that Ernest is not truly who he seems to be. Jack confesses to his lie and reveals that he has a beautiful young ward named Cecily in the countryside, prompting Algernon to visit Jack's house. Meanwhile, Jack proposes to Algernon's cousin, Gwendolyn Fairfax and by the time he arrives in his country home, he finds Algernon posing as Jack's made-up brother "Ernest" and trying to win Cecily's affections. When Gwendolyn goes to Jack's country house to see the man she knows as Ernest, confusion and hilarity ensue as the two men pretending to be Ernest learn the importance of being earnest.
This play is a must-read for fans of theater, comedy, or just literature in general. Clever, witty, and sophisticated without being meretricious, this is amusing to say the least and exemplary of good writing. Full of brio, this play is complex without being a soap opera and has themes as entertaining and classier than any contemporary reality TV show has to offer. It is short enough to be a great beach read for people desiring a more substantial yet light read.
Posted April 28, 2011
Jack: A young man with no parents. Has a ward - the daughter of the man who brought him up. Is entirely overprotective of her. Has a made-up brother named Earnest, a troublemaker who never actually existed and is, in fact, Jack. Is in love with his best friend's cousin, Gwendolyn.
Algernon: A young man whose parents have died. Has an aunt and a cousin, Lady Bracknell and the aforesaid Gwendolyn. Has a made-up friend, Bunbury, and sometimes tours the country in the guise of this Mr. Bunbury. Falls in love with Jack's ward and decides to meet her as soon as he can - putting aside the fake name of Bunbury and taking on the name of Earnest, stealing Jack's place as Jack's brother.
In this wonderful romantic comedy, nothing is what it seems, and Jack and Algernon must dig their way out of the little mess they've made for themselves so they can marry the women they love.
I read this play for school, but I would easily read it again...maybe, now. I was super impressed by the hilarity and perfection of this story. I laughed out loud at the quirky statements that make these characters who they are. I couldn't help but fall in love with Jack. I loved the simplicity and lightheartedness. Without a doubt, this is one of my all time favorite plays.
Using two words that I've already used, this book is "simply hilarious." I highly recommend it to ages fifteen and up. The reason for this is because I tried reading it in 9th grade and didn't get it at all. It makes much more sense now and I laughed so hard at a few statements that I remembered as boring and stupid. But at the right age, it is definitely worthy and easy read.
I had to read this in my senior year of high school. I am so glad that my teacher had this assigned. This play is so wity it will make you laugh out loud. The characters are so original and Wilde does such a good job of making you want more from them. This is a must read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 29, 2007
When I first picked up The Importance of Being Earnest, written b oscar wilde, i ad m doubts, cause 18th century plays werent my thing. but i read it anyway, remembering the hilarity of the first movie. Th play is set in England in the Victorian Era, and centers on two characters: Algernon 'Algy' and John Worthing 'Jack'. These two are complete opposites, while Algy is the one with a witty reply to whatever is said 'e.g. 'All women become like their mothers, thats their shame. Men dont, thats our shame'', Jack is the serious faced one who is clearl not funny, but made me laugh anyways. The play is about Jacks double-life as Ernest Worthing, and when Algy disguises himself as Ernest is when everything messes up. I recommend this play to anyone who has $1.25 and a little time onn their hands. The only thing that I should warn you about is that it has some weird language not commonly used today, and is also very short, so if you want a book for a long flight.. dont buy this play.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 5, 2006
Sheer wit! A wonderful plotline, with artistic and entertaining dialouge to fulfil every promised and unexpected twist. How he did it, I do not know, whilst most of us can say a witty thing only on the spur of the moment, this HAS BEEN WRITTEN DOWN! The bare fact of the thing - that people can have daggers for tongues merely by memorizing a script - is astounding in itself not to mention the humor and punchline of the play in its entirety. Happy Bonberry-ing!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 25, 2003
The Importance of being Earnest is a great book, I enjoyed reading every minute of it. I think it is funny, interesting and very creative. In addition, it has a wonderful storyline, significant characters, and a unique title. Oscar Wilde did a wonderful job writing it. The book is easy to read and very entertaining. I honestly could not put the book down because form the beginning it grabbed my attention and held on to it until the very end. Wilde is a master of surprises; the book is a delight to read because it was filled with a lot of unexpected twists and turns. The storyline is very easy to follow however in keeps the readers guessing because it is filled with a lot of unforeseen situations, as the story unfolds the readers gain more knowledge about the characters. The storyline was well written from start to finish, there is absolutely no boring moments in the book. By the end of the book, all questions are answered and an enlightening discovery is unveiled. All of the characters in the book have a significant role. They have well developed personalities and lot of sarcasm. Wilde gave each character a significant role in addition to making them witty and humorous. I found all of the characters to be amusing during the course of the play. As the play moves along most of the characters discover that they are connected to each other in a significant way. I think the title of the book is very unique and very attractive to readers, when I glanced at it for the first time I became very curious about what is so important about being earnest and I am sure other people said the same thing. Wilde selected a title that captured the essence of the entire book and I think that is magnificent. In conclusion, I think the book is a masterpiece, I like everything about it. I look forward to reading more books by Oscar Wilde in the future. I gave this book a four star rating and I am going to recommend it to my close friends and family.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 14, 2003
In Oscar Wilde's 'The Importance of Being Earnest,' there were many examples of human nature and reality displayed throughout the reading. We liked this book because it was easy to understand and it made us laugh. Although it was written over a hundred years ago, there are many parts in the book that still apply to human nature today. For example, Lady Bracknell was so serious 'or earnest,' that she never really enjoyed the good things in life. On the other hand, Jack and Algernon were more light hearted in going about their life. Because of this, they were rewarded with love. People who take life too seriously don't seem to enjoy themselves, whereas those who are care free and don't worry too much seem to get the benefits. In our world today, we are influenced by those around us, as were the characters in this book. Algernon and Jack always seemed to be going behind each other¿s backs to make themselves feel like they were better than one another. Because of these acts they became suspicious of one another's secrets, which eventually lead them to finding out the truth. In the end they both got what they wanted and learned a little more about themselves that they never knew before. The themes found in this book are still applicable to life today while you get a good laugh, making it enjoyable to read. We definitely recommend this book to all!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 13, 2003
I go to an amature drama group. It is coming to our 80th anniversary and we want to do something spectacular. Several plays have been suggested but my friend's favorite was 'The Importance of Being Earnest'. Since I am on study leave for my GCSE's I thought I'd download the script and have a read. I Knew Oscar Wilde was good, but I never knew he was this good! This play has everything! Humour, Romance, twists and (best of all) a part I could be chosen for! My favorite quote from the play is 'Jack: I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to town expressly to propose to her. Algernon: I thought you had come up for pleasure? I call that buisness.' I really recomend this book to anyone who wants a good laugh. This is comedy at it's best. I hope we get to do it...Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 3, 2002
This book is a perfect example of how people in society potray themselves as dignified individuals while keeping the realization that they play an important role in society. They adjust themselves to fit their own standards, and live up to their character and gender roles of their class and time.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 19, 2002
I never knew of Oscar before I was asked to play Lane and Merriman in the Importance, and I can say as a 13 yr old english actor I have never had so much fun and enjoyment out of a single play. the wit is inbetween the lines and Lady Bracknell among others has some fantastic lines including the infamous 'HANDBAG' one. I thoroughly enjoyed this script from one of the best!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 1, 2002
Being the last work of a great writer it does perfect justice to his name and leaves a lasting impact before the curtain is down finally. Oscar Wilde has weilded his mighty pen in this play with its full power and churns out a biting satire on middle class hypocrisy of Victorian England. But as it is true for all great literature this play transcends itself from the limitation of space and time and becomes a classics for all ages and places. I strongly recommend this play for all theatre lovers and stage production as it will be a delightful presentation. However even simply reading of this play is as much a matter of great joy. It is certainly a great value for one's time and money so much so that its worth is really invaluable. It is certainly a literary classics and in this play Wilde is at his best.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 25, 2001