The Importance of Being Ernest – Act 1
How are the characters of Algernon and Jack/Ernest created for the audience? They are presented to within a high class of society, with a lack of consideration or care for the lower classes. Both are bored by their high society lives and “stiff” lunches/meetings that they must attend, so have created alter egos which they use to have fun in a different place. Algernon has invented a sick friend called Bunbury, who he sometimes must spend long lengths of time “looking after”, and when in the country, Jack becomes Ernest.
What is the effect of the interchange between Algernon and Lane? It sets the scene in terms of the large difference in classes. Algernon feels that as a lower class, Lane should “set an example”, suggesting he very much feels it is Lane’s responsibility to look after him. Lane addresses Algernon as “Sir”, showing the formality within the household. Lane sees his purpose as to serve Algernon, and regards his own personal life as “not a very interesting subject”. The effect of the interchange is it reveals a lot about Algernon’s character – showing he is very much living in an upper class world and has barely any dealings with the “real world”. It also sets the scene for the comedy between Lane and Algernon.
Examples of different types of humour and how they work
Algernon: “Anyone can play accurately – but I play with wonderful expression”. – This is following Aristotle’s theory that comedy is laughing at those less fortunate than you. Algernon does not realise the ridiculousness of the statement, as he is not used to people correcting him or telling him what he is saying is wrong. It is funny for the audience, because they understand how ridiculous what he is saying is, and it is comic that he doesn’t understand it for himself and feels he is making a proud, intelligent statement. Lane: “I didn’t feel it polite to listen, Sir.” – This is comic because it contradicts with when Algernon then asks Lane why he drank the champagne. Lane has a strange idea of what he should and should not do, and it is comical that listening to piano playing is disallowed whereas drinking Algernon’s wine is acceptable – and he makes no attempt to hide it. Algernon: “Well, I wish you would offer one. I happen to be more than usually hard up.” – This is comical because Algernon is suggesting that Jack gives him the reward for finding the cigarette case – even though he had been looking after the cigarette case the whole time. It is also comical for Algernon to describe himself as “hard up”, when he is living in a lavish house enjoying a afternoon tea. This would have been especially comical to audiences of the time, as there was a very significant divide between rich and poor. Jack: “Some aunts are tall, some aunts are not tall. That is a matter that surely an aunt may be allowed to describe for herself.” – Jack is desperately trying to argue that the note found in his cigarette case is not from a lover but from a family member. It is comical in the way he is trying to trick Algernon, and the ridiculous excuses he is making to try and talk his way out of having to explain a story.
Lane: “I have often observed that in married households the champagne is rarely of a first rate brand” – This is suggesting that in marriage men make less effort to buy fine goods and impress people. It suggests people in a sense let themselves go in marriage – something which would not appeal to someone who loves fun such as Algernon Algernon: “It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal.” – This is suggesting that the fun and flirtatiousness of being in love end when the idea of marriage comes up. It becomes less about the relationship and more about the formalities, and people have to try less hard to impress each other. Algernon: “If you ever get married, which seems to me extremely problematic, you will be very glad...
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