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How does Oscar Wilde use language in "The Importance of Being Earnest" to criticize the hypocrisy of Victorian society?

P5/Extended Essay Presentation
by

Jessica Fra

on 12 March 2014

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Transcript of How does Oscar Wilde use language in "The Importance of Being Earnest" to criticize the hypocrisy of Victorian society?

Oscar Fingal O'Flathertie Wills Wilde

* 16th October 1854
† 30th November 1900


"The Importance of Being Earnest"
had its debut performance in London on 14th February 1895

Wilde's last and most famous play
Introduction
Content/Theme
Tone/Mood
flippant
witty
satirical
Audience - Now & Then

by Jessica Frach
How does Oscar Wilde use language in "The Importance of Being Earnest" to criticize the hypocrisy of Victorian society?



Victorian upper/middle class
servants



students
people admiring Oscar Wilde & his works
everyone, who is interested

"Servants listen to conversations in drawing rooms and dining rooms. They hear people discussing my play, their curiosity is aroused, and so they fill [the] theatre. I can see they are servants by their perfect manners."
- Wilde
Purpose
criticize Victorian Society
make audience aware of Victorian vices

laugh at them
think about them
Stylistic Devices
symbols:
double life lead by Algernon & Jack
Ernest vs. earnest
fiction & writing
puns:
earnest & Ernest
involving words referring to travelling & ancestry
epigrams:
inversions of sayings/clichés
elegant inversion
paradoxes
Connection to my research question:
How does Oscar Wilde use language in
"The Importance of Being Earnest" to criticize the hypocrisy of Victorian Society?
Example:
Lady Bracknell claims that she "had no idea that there were any families or
persons whose origin was a Terminus" (Wilde, 2012, p. 80, ll. 20f.)
first station of a railway line
ancestry
shows her snobbishness
role model for Victorian superficial mindset
Structure
Act I
Exposition
Act III
Denouement
Act II

rising action
falling action
climax

"Freytag's Pyramid"
"Parallelisms":
Algernon & Jack invent an imaginary person to escape responsibilities
Gwendolen & Cecily want to marry a man called Ernest
they both keep a diary
both ladies can control the men around them
they are exchangeable
genre:
social comedy
satire
farce

married to
Constance Lloyd
had two sons:
Cyril
and
Vyvyan
Then:
Now:
Wilde makes the audience laugh at the shallowness of Victorian concerns & behaviour
Sources

Brookes, A. (2011). Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Movement, and the Cult of Beauty in Art and Design. Retrieved March 12, 2014, from http://www.cranleighdfas.org/rev1101.htm

Fish, H. (2011). The Importance of Being Earnest: Teacher’s manual. Berlin: Cornelsen.

Lišková, R. (2012). The Criticism of Hypocrisy in The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde. (Bachelor Paper). University of Pardubice
Faculty of Arts and Philosophy.

Norcross, A. (2007). The Importance of Being Earnest: Study guide. Retrieved March 12, 2014, from http://www.umass.edu/theater/pdf/earnestsg.pdf

Novelguide.com. The Importance of Being Earnest Study guide. Retrieved March 12, 2014, from http://www.novelguide.com/the-importance-of-being-earnest

Robbins, R. (2002). The Importance of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde. Harlow, Essex: Longman.

Shmoop Editorial Team. (November 11, 2008).The Importance of Being Earnest. Retrieved March 12, 2014, from http://www.shmoop.com/importance-of-being-earnest/

SparkNotes Editors. (2004). SparkNote on The Importance of Being Earnest. Retrieved March 12, 2014, from http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/earnest/

Van Kirk, S. CliffsNotes on The Importance of Being Earnest. Retrieved March 12, 2014, from http://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/i/the-importance-of-being-earnest

Wilde, O. (2012). The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People
(M. Pfister, Ed.). Stuttgart: Reclam. (Original work published 1899)

Today's importance of my research question:
"Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation." - Wilde
People dissemble & act hypocritical
due to social conventions/constraints
applies to both Victorians and contemporary societies
Mendacity & Hypocrisy
Marriage
Love
Gender roles
Society
Esteem

Reception - Now & Then
Then:
regarded as brilliant comedy
play did not seem to have any substance
critics could not criticize it due to its triviality
"I have not the slightest intention of criticizing Mr. O. Wilde's new piece at the St. James's: as well might one sit down after dinner and attempt gravely to discuss a soufflé. Its virtues were entirely bound up with its humour."
Review in the magazine "Truth" (21st February 1895):
Oscar Wilde himself called it "a delicate bubble of fancy" "written by a butterfly for butterflies"
Victorians liked his play because:
they could identify with characters (e.g. Lady Bracknell)
they recognized known places (e.g. Grosvenor Square)
Reception - Now & Then
Now:
still seen as a brilliant comedy
many different approaches to interpret it
criticism of Victorian society
the play as a gay play
because of:
Wilde's homosexuality
Susan Sontag's essay "Notes on Camp"
"Bunburying" as a code word for illegal sexual activity (=> homosexuality was forbidden)
possible pun: Earnest/uraniste
(uraniste= homosexual man)
Full transcript