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The importance of being Earnest

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Matteo Ferraro

on 4 February 2015

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Transcript of The importance of being Earnest

The plot
by Oscar Wilde
Two young gentlemen living in 1890's England have taken to bending the truth in order to put some excitement into their lives. Jack Worthing has invented a brother, Earnest, whom he uses as an excuse to leave his dull country life behind to visit the ravishing Gwendolyn. Algy Montcrieff decided to take the name 'Earnest' when visiting Worthing's young and beautiful ward, Cecily at the country manor. Things start to go awry when they end up together in country and their deceptions are discovered - threatening to spoil their romantic pursuits.

The marriage
The name and its translations
Muffins and cucumber sandwiches
Food is often mentioned in the play: Algernon is quite greedy.
Irony
Wilde criticizes the Victorian prudery through the dialogues between characters; what was important to them was not what they said but how they said it. Irony is so the dominant feature of the play that points out the contradictions of the society.
The importance of being Earnest
Commentary
a new novel of manner
The play reflects the world of the aristocracy that is also its audience: Wilde's age is exposed in an ironical way.
The tradictional English of the marriage plot is used by Wilde as a mirror of the Victorian-era: a period full of paradoxes and hypocrisy, where the marriage is just a tool for achieving a social stature.
The title of the play is a pun: Earnest (misspelling for 'Ernest') means serious, diligent, zealuos; it's also assonant to 'honest' ando so linked to 'honesty' that clearly isn't a quality of the main characters. In Italian language the title is often translated as 'L'importanza di chiamarsi Ernesto' , that overrides the pun, but rarely it is translated as 'L'importanza di chiamarsi Franco'.
Oscar Wilde
Aesthetism
Aesthetism was the research for the beautiful, a science through which men looked for the relationship between painting, sculpture and poetry, which were simply different forms of the same truth.
The rebel and the dandy
Oscar Wilde lived in the double role of rebel and dandy. According to Wilde, a dandy is different from a bohemian, since the former rejects the bourgeois mentality and he is also an aristocratic whose elegance is symbol of the superiority of his spirit ; the latter shares his life with the rural or the urban world.
"Art for Art's Sake"
This is a moral imperative for Oscar Wild. He thought just "Art as the cult of Beauty" could prevent the murder of the soul. He also saw the artist as an alien in the Earth, so he wrote just for himself and not for the public. But this concept of superior being inevitably turned him into an outcast.
Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854, son of a surgeon and of a literary woman. He studied at first in Dublin at the Trinity College and then in Oxford, where he became a disciple of Walter Pater, the Theorist of Aestheticism. In 1881 he went to New York, where he was known for his irony, his attitudes and his poses.
Life
When he came back to Europe, he married Costance Lloyd in 1883, but 8 years later, he met the young and beautiful Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie) with whom he had a homosexual affair. For this reason he was prisoned and sentenced to two-years of hard labour. When he was released, he was refused by his wife, thus he went into exile in France, where he died of meningitis in 1900.
Works
1881:
Poems
1880s:
The Canterville Ghost, Lord Arthur Savile's Crime, The happy Prince and other tales
1891:
The picture of Dorian Gray
1895:
The importance of Being Earnest (a commedy of manner)
Other works
1893:
Salomè (written in French)
1905:
De Profundiis (published posthumously and written while he was in prison)
1898:
The Ballad of Reading goal
Wilde's wit
This is one of the most incredible characteristic of Oscar Wilde's style. His wit, his intelligence and his humorism are presented in Aphorisms. Actually Wilde didn't make a collection of aphorisms, he just writes in his works some sentences with a provocative and intrepid language to shock public.
"I can resist everything except temptation."
"Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes."
"Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike."
Oscar Wilde thought life was the meant for pleasure and pleasure was the indulgence in the beautiful, so his interests in clothes, boys or words didn't have any moral stance.
He said "There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all." Thus he refused the didactism of Victorian Age.
Full transcript