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The Importance of Being Earnest

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Sharon Vogel

on 16 October 2013

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Transcript of The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest
Summary
Oscar Wilde:
Characters
Jack Worthing:
Gwendolen Fairfax
Cecily Cardew:
- A decadent who championed "art for art's sake."
- A very celebrated playwright during his time.
- An Irishman and a convicted homosexual
- "All Art is quite useless"
- "We should treat all the serious things of life trivially and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality"
- A variety of works: "Salome," "The Happy Prince and Other Tales," "The Picture of Dorian Gray"
The Article:
Satiric Strategy in "The Importance of Being Earnest"
By Otto Reinert
"...Wilde puts the fine art of epigram to serious purposes: it participates in the total meaning of the play" (Reinert, 14).
Proper, distinguished man in society, despite his unknown origins. He is described by Algernon as being serious about everything. Jack falls in love with Algernon's cousin Gwendolen, yet his engagement to her is made difficult due to his "bunburying".
Algernon
Moncrieff:
A man who never takes life seriously, is constantly eating, and is often apt to go "bunburying" when civilized life bores him. He meets Jack Worthing's niece, Cecily, by pretending to be Jack's wicked brother Earnest, and the two fall in love.
A woman of sophisticated, cosmopolitan upbringing and the daughter of the stern Lady Bracknell. She is keen on marrying a man named Ernest and enjoys the latest fashions in clothing and food alike.
Colin Firth as Jack, 2002
Rupert Everette as Algy, 2002
Jack Worthing's young ward who hates paying attention to her studies, (particularly German), loves to write in her diary, and dreams of meeting her Uncle Jack's wicked brother Earnest.
Reese Witherspoon
as Cecily, 2002
Act 2
Lines 498-640
Act 2:
Lines 703-790
The Muffin-eating scene:
Colin Firth and Rupert Everett as Jack and Algy, 2002
Frances O'Connor as Gwendolen, 2002
-Jack’s double life
-Jack’s interest in Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen
-Algernon’s double life
-Algernon’s surprise visit and pretense at being “Ernest”
-Algernon’s interest in Jack’s ward, Cecily
-tangled conflict of pretenses
-resolution and multiple engagements
“The play’s merit is that it is all farce, capable of serving as a lucid image of the non-farcical reality that is kept strictly outside the play” (Reinert 15)
Algernon himself personifies this as he is “shocked at convention” (15)
“What the accumulation of paradox adds up to is an exposure both of hypocrisy and of the unnatural convention that necessitates hypocrisy” (16)
“In elegant accents of pompous bigotry, Wilde’s puppets turn moral values upside down” (16-17)
“To be serious about everything is to be serious about nothing; that is, to trifle. Algernon charges Jack (unfairly, as it happens) with a failure to discriminate among life values, to see that monotone of attitude blunts the spirit and deadens joy. And this is precisely Wilde’s charge against Victorianism” (17)
“The plot, as it were, makes a fool of respectability and proves the two Bunburyists “right” in their escapade” (18)
Mockery of Victorian values
"What on earth you are serious about, I haven't got the remotest idea. About everything, I should fancy. You have such an absolutely trivial nature."
"...but I have not been christened in years!"
"Science is always making wonderful improvements in things."
Judy Dench as Lady Bracknell, 2002

Our Rendition of The Play
“It insists on being acted straight, for if we should feel, even for a moment, that the characters are aware of what absurdities they are saying, the whole thing vanishes” (Reinert 15)
“The frivolous banter accomplishes something serious. It exposes the polite cynicism that negates all values save personal convenience and salon decorum” (16)
"The home seems to be the proper sphere for the man. And certainly once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties he becomes painfully effeminate" (517-519)
"It would distress me more than I can tell you, Dear Gwendolen, if it caused you any mental or physical anguish, but I feel bound to point out that since Ernest proposed to you he has clearly changed his mind"(584-586)
“The Importance of Being Earnest is one sustained metaphor, and esthetic detachment is the only mood in which it can be intelligently enjoyed” (Reinert 15)
Thank you for your "esthetic detachment"!
Works Cited
Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. The Norton Anthology of Drama. Volume Two: The Nineteenth Century to the Present. Ed. J. Ellen Gainor et al. New York: Norton, 2009. 255-303. Print.

Reinert, Otto. Satiric Strategy in the Importance of Being Earnest. College English. Vol. 18, No. 1. National Council of Teachers of English, 1956. Accessed 10/10/2013. pp 14-18. Web.
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