The Importance of Being Earnest Pretensious Characters

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In the traditions of comedy, the country characters have fewer pretensions than those from the town. To what extent is this presented as true in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’?

In the Victorian era, society was built on set values concerning education, morality, marriage, property, and class. Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ addresses these topics in a style characteristic of a comedy of manners exposing the imprudence of society’s customs; projected through the characters he has created, this allows the audience to compare the pretensions of country characters to that of those from the town. Many people believe that in this play script, the town characters are far more susceptible to pretentious behaviour. However, others would disagree stating the playwright has cleverly created two groups of characters who may live in two different worlds, but both prove to be equally prone in succumbing to affectation.

One of the key features of dramatic comedy is that “human endeavour is often seen as being pretentious […] and therefore it should be exposed as foolish”. Wilde accomplishes this through most of his characters, perhaps most evidently in Cecily Cardew. The playwright first introduces us to this young woman at the beginning of the Second Act where we see her slighting the importance of education many times, commenting that German is not a “becoming language” and repetitively refers to the subjects she studies as “horrid”. She is a character who is solely concerned about what is “most fashionable” ultimately leading us to conclude this is a rather materialistic woman. However under closer inspection, some critics have interpreted Cecily’s watering the flower garden instead of studying German grammar as an indication of Cecily’s “love of nature and her disdain for tedious socio-academic expectations of society”. Critics have suggested that Cecily is perhaps the most realistic character within the play as she does not speak in epigrams as...
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