The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays: Lady Windermere's Fan; Salome; A Woman of No Importance; An Ideal Husband; The Importance of Being Earnest [NOOK Book]


Oscar Wilde was already one of the best known literary figures in Britain when he was persuaded to turn his extraordinary talents to the theatre. Between 1891 and 1895 he produced a sequence of distinctive plays which spearheaded the dramatic renaissance of the 1890s and retain their power today.

The social comedies, Lady Windermere's Fan, A Woman of No Importance, and An Ideal Husband, offer a moving as well as witty dissection of society and...
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The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays: Lady Windermere's Fan; Salome; A Woman of No Importance; An Ideal Husband; The Importance of Being Earnest

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Oscar Wilde was already one of the best known literary figures in Britain when he was persuaded to turn his extraordinary talents to the theatre. Between 1891 and 1895 he produced a sequence of distinctive plays which spearheaded the dramatic renaissance of the 1890s and retain their power today.

The social comedies, Lady Windermere's Fan, A Woman of No Importance, and An Ideal Husband, offer a moving as well as witty dissection of society and its morals, with a sharp focus on sexual politics. By contrast, the experimental, symbolist Salome, written originally in French, was banned for public performance by the English censor. His final dramatic triumph was his 'trivial' comedy for serious people, The Importance of Being Earnest' arguably
the greatest farcical comedy in English.

Under the General Editorship of Dr Michael Cordner of the University of York, the texts of the plays have been newly edited and are presented with modernized spelling and punctuation. In addition, there is a scholarly introduction and detailed annotation.
ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780191609053
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford
  • Publication date: 2/23/1995
  • Series: Oxford World's Classics Series
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 646,110
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Peter Raby is Senior Lecturer and Head of the Drama Department at Homerton College, Cambridge.


Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on October 16, 1854, to an intellectually prominent Dublin family. His father, Sir William Wilde, was a renowned physician who was knighted for his work as medical adviser to the 1841 and 1851 Irish censuses; his mother, Lady Jane Francesca Elgee, was a poet and journalist. Wilde showed himself to be an exceptional student. While at the Royal School in Enniskillen, he took First Prize in Classics. He continued his studies at Trinity College, Dublin, on scholarship, where he won high honors, including the Demyship Scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford.

At Oxford, Wilde engaged in self-discovery, through both intellectual and personal pursuits. He fell under the influence of the aesthetic philosophy of Walter Pater, a tutor and author who inspired Wilde to create art for the sake of art alone. It was during these years that Wilde developed a reputation as an eccentric and a foppish dresser who always had a flower in his lapel. Wilde won his first recognition as a writer when the university awarded him the Newdigate Prize for his poem "Ravenna."

Wilde went from Oxford to London, where he published his first volume of verse, Poems, in 1881. From 1882 to 1884, he toured the United States, Ireland, and England, giving a series of lectures on Aestheticism. In America, between speaking engagements, he met some of the great literary minds of the day, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Walt Whitman. His first play, Vera, was staged in New York but did poorly. After his marriage to Constance Lloyd in 1884 and the birth of his two sons, Wilde began to make his way into London's theatrical, literary, and homosexual scenes. He published Intentions, a collection of dialogues on aesthetic philosophy, in 1891, the year he met Lord Alfred Douglas, who became his lover and his ultimate downfall. Wilde soon produced several successful plays, including Lady Windermere's Fan (1892) and A Woman of No Importance (1893). Wilde's popularity was short-lived, however. In 1894, during the concurrent runs of his plays An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, he became the subject of a homosexual scandal that led him to withdraw all theater engagements and declare bankruptcy. Urged by many to flee the country rather than face a trial in which he would surely be found guilty, Wilde chose instead to remain in England. Arrested in 1895 and found guilty of "homosexual offenses," Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labor and began serving time in Wandsworth prison. He was later transferred to the detention center in Reading Gaol, where he composed De Profundis, a dramatic monologue written as a letter to Lord Alfred Douglas that was published in 1905. Upon his release, Wilde retreated to the Continent, where he lived out the rest of his life under a pseudonym. He published his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, in 1898 while living in exile.

During his lifetime, Wilde was most often the center of controversy. The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was serialized in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1890 and published in book form the next year, is considered to be Wilde's most personal work. Scrutinized by critics who questioned its morality, the novel portrays the author's internal battles and arrives at the disturbing possibility that "ugliness is the only reality." Oscar Wilde died penniless, of cerebral meningitis, in Paris on November 30, 1900. He is buried in Paris's Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Good To Know

To make ends meet, Wilde edited the popular ladies' periodical Woman's Day from 1887 to 1889.

When in exile on the Continent, Wilde was forced to live under the alias Sebastian Melmoth.

It is rumored that Wilde's last written words were found in his journal, left behind in the Left Bank flophouse where he died: "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has got to go."

Wilde is buried in the Paris cemetery of Père Lachaise; there, he keeps company with other famous artists, including Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 16, 1854
    2. Place of Birth:
      Dublin, Ireland
    1. Date of Death:
      November 30, 1900
    2. Place of Death:
      Paris, France

Read an Excerpt


SCENE - Morning-room in Algernon's flat in Half-Moon Street. The room is luxuriously and artistically furnished. The sound of a piano is heard in the adjoining room.

[Lane is arranging afternoon tea on the table, and after the music has ceased, Algernon enters.]

ALGERNON: Did you hear what I was playing, Lane?

LANE: I didn't think it polite to listen, sir.

ALGERNON: I'm sorry for that, for your sake. I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life.

LANE: Yes, sir.

ALGERNON: And, speaking of the science of Life, have you got the cucumber sandwiches cut for Lady Bracknell?

LANE: Yes, sir.[Hands them on a salver.]

ALGERNON: [Inspects them, takes two, and sits down on the sofa.] Oh! . . . by the way, Lane, I see from your book that on Thursday night, when Lord Shoreman and Mr. Worthing were dining with me, eight bottles of champagne are entered as having been consumed.

LANE: Yes, sir; eight bottles and a pint.

ALGERNON: Why is it that at a bachelor's establishment the servants invariably drink the champagne? I ask merely for information.

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!

LANE: I believe it is a very pleasant state, sir. I have had very little experience of it myself up to the present. I have only been married once. That was in consequence of a misunderstanding between myself and a young person.

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.

LANE: Thank you, sir. [Lane goes out.]

ALGERNON: Lane's views on marriage seem somewhat lax. Really, if the lower orders don't set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility. [Enter Lane.]

LANE: Mr. Ernest Worthing. [Enter Jack.] [Lane goes out.]

ALGERNON: How are you, my dear Ernest? What brings you up to town?

JACK: Oh, pleasure, pleasure! What else should bring one anywhere? Eating as usual, I see, Algy!

ALGERNON: [Stiffly.] I believe it is customary in good society to take some slight refreshment at five o'clock. Where have you been since last Thursday?

JACK: [Sitting down on the sofa.] In the country.

ALGERNON: What on earth do you do there?

JACK: [Pulling off his gloves.] When one is in town one amuses oneself. When one is in the country one amuses other people. It is excessively boring.

ALGERNON: And who are the people you amuse?

JACK: [Airily.] Oh, neighbours, neighbours.

ALGERNON: Got nice neighbours in your part of Shropshire?

JACK: Perfectly horrid! Never speak to one of them.

ALGERNON: How immensely you must amuse them! [Goes over and takes sandwich.] By the way, Shropshire is your county, is it not?

JACK: Eh? Shropshire? Yes, of course. Hallo! Why all these cups? Why cucumber sandwiches? Why such reckless extravagance in one so young? Who is coming to tea?

ALGERNON: Oh! merely Aunt Augusta and Gwendolen.

JACK: How perfectly delightful!

ALGERNON: Yes, that is all very well; but I am afraid Aunt Augusta won't quite approve of your being here.

JACK: May I ask why?

ALGERNON: My dear fellow, the way you flirt with Gwendolen is perfectly disgraceful. It is almost as bad as the way Gwendolen flirts with you.

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 business.

JACK: How utterly unromantic you are!

ALGERNON: I really don't see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why, one may be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then the excitement is all over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty. If ever I get married, I'll certainly try to forget the fact.

JACK: I have no doubt about that, dear Algy. The Divorce Court was specially invented for people whose memories are so curiously constituted.

ALGERNON: Oh! there is no use speculating on that subject. Divorces are made in Heaven - [Jack puts out his hand to take a sandwich. Algernon at once interferes.] Please don't touch the cucumber sandwiches. They are ordered specially for Aunt Augusta. [Takes one and eats it.]

JACK: Well, you have been eating them all the time.

ALGERNON: That is quite a different matter. She is my aunt. [Takes plate from below.] Have some bread and butter. The bread and butter is for Gwendolen. Gwendolen is devoted to bread and butter.

JACK: [Advancing to table and helping himself.] And very good bread and butter it is too.

ALGERNON: Well, my dear fellow, you need not eat as if you were going to eat it all. You behave as if you were married to her already. You are not married to her already, and I don't think you ever will be.

JACK: Why on earth do you say that?

ALGERNON: Well, in the first place girls never marry the men they flirt with. Girls don't think it right.

JACK: Oh, that is nonsense!

ALGERNON: It isn't. It is a great truth. It accounts for the extraordinary number of bachelors that one sees all over the place. In the second place, I don't give my consent.
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Table of Contents



Chronology of Oscar Wilde's Life and Work

Historical Context of The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays

The Importance of Being Earnest

Lady Windermere's Fan

An Ideal Husband



Interpretive Notes

Critical Excerpts

Questions for Discussion

Suggestions for the Interested Reader

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Customer Reviews

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( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2003

    Made for the stage, but plays well without it.

    Plays are, as a rule, hard to read. It is hard to keep characters straight and stay interested. Wilde is a master of the genre, but you might find the characters continue to be confusing, especially as they become confused also. But it is worth the read. Stick with it. You will be amazed how funny and timely the play is. Wilde's insight into human nature and the nature of friendship (between two men or women) is uncanny. The play is also very short, around 70 pages, so you can read it without needing a nap. Times haven't changed that much, men and women still can't figure each other out. If you just hate to read plays, than see this one played out (that is how it was meant to be enjoyed) at you local playhouse, or in the movie form that recently was released.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2002


    The Importance Of Being Earnest was a very good book. I'm not a big reader because usually books do not interest me. After I finnished reading each part of the play I didn't want to put it down. Each character in the play had their own personality trate witch was good. If I had time to just sit and read a book, I would choose this book. It is also a short book, so it you dont have time to just sit and read. This would also be the book for you. It's only 66 pages long I loved it.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 11, 2013

    A very funny play about 2 men who are using the pseudonym Earnes

    A very funny play about 2 men who are using the pseudonym Earnest. Hilarity ensues when 2 different women both state that they could only marry a man who's name was Earnest.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2003

    Jillian Bedkowski, Student at NJCU

    'The Importance of Being Earnest' fits the title perfectly. I have found this book to one of the more enjoyable Restoration Comedies that I have read. The mere fact that the main character thought he was telling a lie to everyone when in reality he was only being 'earnest' and truthful with everyone. The author pokes fun at society and the mannerisms of the people of that time period and if you were to see it on a stage, you would understand as to why so many people love this play. The characters are so three-dimensional, you learn to care for them. Oscar Wilde holds you in suspense until the very last of why it is important to be earnest. He also waits til the very last page to find out if Jack really does have any parents or relatives. This story has plots of love, society, money, misleadings of other characters, marriage, and so much more. My favorite characters were Gwendolen and Cecily only because they kind of reminded me of myself. The minute the see each other, they assume they are going to become the best of friends, and in the end they do. For a while there, they did not like each other because they were marrying the same man. Cecily is one of the funnier characters to me and I feel resembles me the most because she only heard of Earnest and already she is in love with him and has been engaged to him and broken off the engagement. She has never even met him up until the day Jack's friend Algernon pretends to be Earnest. If you like Restoration Comedies, and a comedy of manners you are sure to love this book. Especially if you think it is important to be earnest.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2003

    An enjoyable piece of work

    The Importance of Being Earnest is by far one of the most brilliant plays I have read. Oscar Wilde has such amazing writing skills. Usually I have a hard time when it comes to reading plays but with this one I was able to immediately comprehend what I was reading and have fun with at the same time. Sometimes plays are so overdramatically written that I get bored with them easily but not with this one. I could not put this play down. Every time I finished a page I wanted to know more about what was going on. The characters were described so well that it helped me to visualize what each of them looked like. I became attached to these characters and wanted to learn more about them everytime I found out something new. I have never laughed so hard while reading a play like I did with this one. The characters are hilarious. Just when you think that you have their 'game' understood they turn around and play something else. Wilde's writing keeps you alert and makes you keep guessing what is going to happen next. The romantic story that is involved in this play is very sweet. You are able to understand that people who truly love one another will tell each other anything they can to win each other's heart, no matter what the risk. Throughout the play I really routed for both of the couples to work out. I would highly recommend this play to anyone who enjoys reading plays and even to the ones who have difficulty with plays. You will enjoy this play and it will be fun to read. This is one that will keep your interest and make you keep turning the pages even when you think you cannot read anymore. Be prepared for laughter because you will get a lot of laughs reading this play! Enjoy!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2003

    How important is to be Earnets?

    Oscar Wild's satire to aristocrats and mannerism best describes his play titled The Importance of Being Earnest. From it's dialog and plot your forced to ask if he was making fun of himself or people in general from it's off the top characters. Wilde himself called his play 'A trivial comedy for serious people' could it always have been a a serious play for trivial people that is for the reader to decide. I personally adored the play and found myself laughing at the characters not for how they acted but how much I saw myself in one or most of them. The idea of female characters loving a man not for who he and what he is but for his name. Yet the name in itself holds a double meaning for earnest is to be serious and honest. John who at the end of the play learns his name really is Earnest the whole time and with great satire adds that 'it is a terrible thing to find out that a man all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth' the humor in him is a better reason to enjoy this play along with the rest of the cast. Although one of Wildes last plays it is one of his best and most critiqued and I can't see why not. Earnest is truly a masterpiece and I advise those who have not read it yet to do so and those who have ... why not read it again.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    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.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2002


    this book was ok i was not all that interested in it. When i started to read it i would just daze off but as it got toward the end it started getting a little intersting.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2002


    The Importance Of Being Earnest is a very good play. It is confusing at first trying to keep the characters straight. Once you figue out who is with whom then the play is over. It did keep my attention trying to figue out what was going to happen next. I did relate very well to Jack being left in a handbag as a baby. That touched me.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted December 18, 2010

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