The use of comedy helps bring books, movies and plays to life. In some cases, it is even written around the idea of comedy itself. The play Importance of Being Earnest written by Oscar Wilde criticizes the aspect of the aristocratic life in the Victorian era by making fun of them with a term called satire. In the play, Wilde creatively uses three different types of irony. These being: verbal, dramatic and situational forms of irony. Each form of irony is used to mock the behavior and status of the characters, depending on their character and position in the society.
Verbal irony is shown in which a person says or writes something and means another, or uses words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of the literal meaning. The first for of irony is shown when Algernon accuses the protagonist, John/Jack Worthing, of being a “bunburyist”. A bunburyist is the invention of a person in which a person pretends to be in particular situations. These accusations of John are true considering that an imaginary younger brother named Ernest. In this situation, the irony is expressed when John meets Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen who seems to be in love with her at first sight.
At this part, John introduces himself as his made up brother Ernest, then displaying the characteristics of being strong, brave and sincere to attract Gwendolen. These actions John portrayed in this scene are that of being Earnest. This form of Irony is easier to understand when viewing the personas of John and Ernest separately. John makes up this lie in order to keep Gwendolen attracted to him and win her love after she says, “I pity any woman who is married to a man called John, the only real safe name is Ernest”.
The fact that John goes along with this lie is an indication of verbal irony, because in contradicting himself, he follows the definition of being earnest. Another type of irony used by Wilde that used in the play is dramatic irony. Dramatic irony is when the audience knows a particular fact that the other characters do not. This irony appears in the play when Ernest was talking to Algernon at the beginning of the play, Ernest told Algernon, who already had a clue that Jack was his real name, which is where the audience learns about he double life; Algernon always introduced Jack by his other name Ernest Worthing making everyone believe that Ernest was his actual name when his literal name is Jack.
Another example of dramatic irony in the story is displayed through Algernon’s fake identity Bunbury. Algernon tells his family and friends that his good fake friend, Bunbury is very sick which is the main excuse Algernon uses to escape from his daily life. Dramatic Irony is displayed in this scene due to the audience’s knowledge that Algernon’s fake friend “Bunbury” is just a made up character.
Algernon uses Bunbury not only as a made up friend but also as a worried excuse. In simple words, dramatic irony is expressed in the story when Jack and Algernon present their made up characters. There is also the form of situational irony, which is closely related to dramatic irony. It describes a difference between the expected result and the actual result in a certain situation. The situational irony is shown when the truth starts to unravel.
Jack finds out what happened to him as a child and why he does not know his parents. All the main characters somehow end up all in the same room. Lady Bracknell asks Ms. Prism about a baby she had wandered off years ago, her answer builds up the story linking events with evidences such as the bag misplaced in the train station; making the characters and the audience think that Miss Prism will turn out to be Jack’s mom but in the end Lady Bracknell just declares that Jack’s mom is her poor sister Mrs. Moncrieff making that scene very unexpected.
The irony continues to explain how Jack and Algernon turns out to be biological brothers. Like they were pretending to be earlier in the story to play out their game of Bunburyism. Jack’s reaction shows the proof of his happiness of his newfound brother. That same person that played his brother in their mind games with their friends and families. Irony has different uses that develop the value of entertainment in literature.
The three main forms of irony is present in the Importance of Being Earnest, where Oscar Wilde displays his creativity in telling a story by satirizing the trends of the Victorian era by just using characters; not actually talking about the Victorian era specifically in the play. Even though some of the characters lack knowledge about the forms of irony, the audience has all the information they need to interpret their own understanding behind the meanings of these ironies.
Courtney from Study Moose
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