Importance of Being Earnest Act 1 Notes

Topics: Victorian era, Victoria of the United Kingdom, Upper middle class Pages: 3 (1125 words) Published: October 30, 2014

Importance of Being Earnest
Act 1
Characters immediately establish the tone and social context of the play. References to “Lady Bracknell”, “Mr Moncrieff’s manservant” and the “governess” indicate that play involves wealthy upper class. The characters are of course constructs – Wilde uses them merely as mouth pieces to express/parody value judgements about morality and Victorian ideals of duty and virtue. Premise of the play is creation of a paradox – explores inability/impossibility of being earnest/moral whilst claiming to be so. Wilde highlights hypocrisy, and shallow double standards of Victorian age through the creation of a stylised, superficial world. Set design.

Flat is in “Half Moon street” – which is located in fashionable part of London. AO2 - Lang – room is “luxuriously” and “artistically” furnished. Set mirrors the audience’s (upper middle class) own homes. Mocks them? Entices them? AO3 - Does set design follow conventions of Victorian naturalistic (AO4) drama with elaborate set design, real furniture and attention to detail? OR

Is it a parody? Artificial representation to reflect the one- dimensional “trivial” qualities of the characters and their antics and in turn of the audience themselves? Exchanges between Algernon/Lane

Comic, light hearted, witty banter which sets the tone of the play.Presents a reversal of expected norms (INVERSION) since there is an equality of wit seen between the social classes.“Really if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?” Lane is supposedly in role of deference but his wit contradicts this. He seems to mimic master’s style He pretends to see and hear nothing. Insults hidden in polite exchange “I didn’t think it polite to listen” – creates comedy. Algernon’s statement “I don’t play accurately... but I play with wonderful expression..” highlights Victorian pre- occupation with appearance. Style over substance. AO4 References to cucumber sandwiches – cliché. Height of...

References: to weather” charming day” reflect English middle class pre-occupation with it. Hollow, pointless.Gwendolen’s insistence that Jack proposes again and goes down on one knee amplifies sentiment that love/marriage are merely an exercise.
Use of humour through dramatic irony “But don’t you really mean to say that you couldn’t love me if my name wasn’t Ernest?”
Concept of orphan – common theme in Victorian literature (Dickens)
Epigram – Two parts:
The outrageous statement “The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her if she is pretty.
Outrageous explanation which is true “..and to someone else if she is plain.”
TASKS:
Make a list of all other epigrams in Act 1
Essay: How does Wilde satirise traditional upper class Victorian values in Act 1
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