The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays

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About the Author

Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854. He graduated from Oxford University in 1878 with a reputation as a brilliant scholar and quickly dazzled London society with his wit and his flamboyant dress. His first literary successes came in the 1880s with his lecture tour of America and the publication of his fairy tales. These were followed by five highly polished plays and The Picture of Dorian Gray, all completed during the ...
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Overview

About the Author

Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854. He graduated from Oxford University in 1878 with a reputation as a brilliant scholar and quickly dazzled London society with his wit and his flamboyant dress. His first literary successes came in the 1880s with his lecture tour of America and the publication of his fairy tales. These were followed by five highly polished plays and The Picture of Dorian Gray, all completed during the first half of the 1890s. After losing a slander suit over accusations of his homosexual behavior, Wilde was prosecuted and spent two years in prison. Following his release in 1897, estranged from his wife and children, Wilde moved to Paris, where he died in 1900.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780451525055
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/28/1985
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 4.24 (w) x 6.86 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854. He went to Trinity College, Dublin and then to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he began to propagandize the new Aesthetic (or 'Art for Art's Sake') Movement. Despite winning a first and the Newdigate Prize for Poetry, Wilde failed to obtain an Oxford scholarship, and was forced to earn a living by lecturing and writing for periodicals. After his marriage to Constance Lloyd in 1884, he tried to establish himself as a writer, but with little initial success. However, his three volumes of short fiction, The Happy Prince (1888), Lord Arthur Savile's Crime (1891) and A House of Pomegranates (1891), together with his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), gradually won him a reputation as a modern writer with an original talent, a reputation confirmed and enhanced by the phenomenal success of his Society Comedies - Lady Windermere's Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, all performed on the West End stage between 1892 and 1895. Success, however, was short-lived. In 1891 Wilde had met and fallen extravagantly in love with Lord Alfred Douglas. In 1895, when his success as a dramatist was at its height, Wilde brought an unsuccessful libel action against Douglas's father, the Marquess of Queensberry. Wilde lost the case and two trials later was sentenced to two years' imprisonment for acts of gross indecency. As a result of this experience he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol. He was released from prison in 1897 and went into an immediate self-imposed exile on the Continent. He died in Paris in ignominy in 1900.

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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

FIRST ACT


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

Contents

Introduction

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

Salomß

Notes

Interpretive Notes

Critical Excerpts

Questions for Discussion

Suggestions for the Interested Reader

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 14 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(4)

4 Star

(7)

3 Star

(2)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

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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

    student

    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

    Delightful

    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

    Earnest

    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

    Student

    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 February 20, 2010

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    Posted September 6, 2010

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    Posted December 18, 2010

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    Posted September 18, 2009

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    Posted July 22, 2009

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