PENGUIN READERS Teacher Support Programme
The Importance of Being Earnest
Act 1, pages 1–6 (line 8): The play begins in the sitting room of Algernon Moncrieff ’s flat in London. Algernon is expecting a visit from his aunt, Lady Bracknell. Before she arrives, his friend, Jack Worthing, visits him. Jack declares that he intends to marry Lady Bracknell’s daughter, Gwendolen. Algernon points out that Jack has overlooked the problem with another girl called Cecily, who Jack pretends at first not to know, but later says she is an aged aunt of his. Algernon produces Jack’s cigarette box with the words ‘to dear Uncle Jack from little Cecily’ written inside, and remarks that the message doesn’t sound like one an old woman would write. Jack reveals that Cecily’s grandfather had looked after him when he was young, and, that when he died, he became young Cecily’s guardian. Algernon wants to know why Jack calls himself Ernest in town and Jack when he in his country house. Jack replies he has invented a younger brother called Ernest as an excuse to come to London and live a bad life from time to time. Algernon admits that he too has an imaginary friend, Bunbury. Whenever he is invited to a boring party, he tells the host that Bunbury is ill and he has to visit him. Act 1, pages 6 (line 9)–15: Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen arrive. Jack and Gwendolen sit down together while Lady Bracknell and Algernon go to the music room. Jack tells Gwendolen he loves her and she tells him she loves him, and especially his name, Ernest. Jack says he doesn’t really like the name Ernest, and asks her what she thinks of the name Jack. She doesn’t like it and so he resolves to change his name. He proposes to her. At that moment, Lady Bracknell enters the room, and wants to know what is happening. After informing the couple that she makes the decisions about her daughter’s future husband, she sends Gwendolen out of the room and begins to interrogate Jack. He tells her his age, financial status, that he had never known his parents, and that someone had found him, as a baby, in a large black handbag in Victoria railway station. Lady Bracknell is shocked, and will on no account allow her daughter to marry someone who had been found in a handbag. She leaves the room and Algernon comes in. Algernon mentions he would like to meet Cecily but Jack doesn’t want Algernon to meet the pretty, eighteen-year-old girl. Gwendolen returns, saying she still wants to write to Jack, at his country house. He gives her the address, which Algernon secretly writes down.
About the author
There was never a boring moment in the life of Oscar Wilde. A witty, intelligent, flamboyant figure on the late Victorian London scene, he was probably the first person to have become famous for being famous, or infamous, as his trial and imprisonment for homosexuality in 1898 revealed. Some commentators have remarked that he had a sort of split personality, a sinner and a saint at the same time, which contributed to his ability to see both sides of an argument and agree with neither. He left behind him a great number of quotations. One, which sums up his enthusiasm for life in all its manifestations, is ‘I can resist anything but temptation.’
Algernon lives in London and his friend, Jack, moves between London and his country house. Jack has invented a brother called Ernest, a name which he calls himself in London. He falls in love with Algernon’s cousin, Gwendolen, who is under the impression his real name is Ernest. Algernon goes to Jack’s country house and introduces himself as Ernest to Cecily, Jack’s adopted cousin. They fall in love. She believes she is in love with Jack’s brother, Ernest. The plot revolves around the two girls insisting on marrying Ernest, but of course Ernest doesn’t really exist. Jack decides to change his name to Ernest, to suit Gwendolen, but in the end it is not necessary. As a young boy he had been abandoned in...