The Importance of Being Earnest

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A Trivial Comedy for Serious People

Oscar Wilde mocked his audience while he entertained them. Perhaps his most loved and well-known work, The Importance of Being Earnest, satirises the manners and affections of the upper-class Victorian society. Satire is a literary tone used to ridicule or make fun of human vice or weakness, usually with the intent of changing or correcting the subject of the satirical attack. The play focuses on the elite, while making fun of the ludicrousness and extremity of their behaviour. By employing many different types of humour, including witticisms, sarcasm and irony, Wilde produced, arguably, the most popular and enduring pieces of social satire to ever surface from the Victorian era. The major target of Wilde’s disparagement in The Importance of Being Earnest is the values of the upper-class Victorian society, particularly the values of honesty and morality. The very title of the play is a pun attacking Victorian hypocrisy and insincerity; the name “Ernest” is supposed to be associated with kindness, sincerity and intense conviction, but instead both Jack and Algernon lie by using the name to obtain what they want. Throughout the entirety of the play, the characters comment on the Victorian rules and regulations and the sense of morality the people pretend to follow. Gwendolen quips “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.” Wilde is asserting that, in the Victorian era, appearing earnest is more important than actually possessing the attribute. Another example of this in the text is a memorable scene from the Second Act, where Cecily and Gwendolen bicker over “Ernest” while feigning politeness. They present themselves in overly courteous ways while harbouring conversely cruel attitudes. Wilde’s portrayal of Victorian society is irreverent, simply masked behind good appearances and excellent manners. Wilde also criticises the strict moral code and the restrictions it imposes on society. Jack...
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