“The Importance of Being Earnest” has been playing to packed audiences for over a hundred years. Why do you think it has remained so popular?
“The Importance of Being Earnest” was first performed in 1895. The year marked the beginning of Oscar Wilde’s “disgrace”. Lord Alfred Douglas’s father, the Marquis of Queensbury, began his campaign against Wilde. He was to die in 1900.
One of the main reasons that the play has been so popular for over 100 years is because of the plot. This situation comedy is so light-hearted and has a happy, and rather unrealistic ending. The mix-up about the three couples makes you come out of the play extremely pleased and happy with the way that your life is going, as well as being positive. The neat plan of Situation -> Chaos -> Resolution is seen as very clever to many people, making the way that the play was wrote appealing to any age group. Bunburying is one of the main causes of chaos in this play as this quote shows, Algernon Moncrieff is himself a keen Bunburyist. “That is absurd. One has a right to Bunbury anywhere one chooses.
Every serious Bunburyist knows that.” Yet, this is not the only factor that has contributed to making this amazing play last over 100 years. Another quotation, this time to show the resolution is the last line in the play “On the contrary, Aunt Augusta, I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest.”
All the characters in this play are very strong in their metaphysical behaviour. Well they have to be, to compete with Lady Bracknell’s caricature. Wilde has demonstrated what Lady Bracknell would have been like very well when she was younger in a mirror image, which is her daughter Gwendolyn. As this quotation shows, Gwendolyn can be just as rude and pompous as Lady Bracknell herself. “Personally I can not understand how anybody manages to exist in the country, if anybody who is anybody does. The country always bores me to death.”
Cecily is the proper young lady, who lives in the country, she is very well behaved, which is unlike her Uncle Jack and her fiancée Algernon Moncrieff. Both Algernon and Jack are men who love to be out on the town, they generally behave in the way that young men do. This is a quotation to show the way that Algernon thinks and talks. “Women only do that when they have called each other a lot of things first.”
Miss Prism is Cecily’s tutor, she appears at first to us as a rather strict teacher, but as soon as she sets her eyes on the rather remarkable Reverend Canon Chasuble, she completely melts under his gaze, and forgets about horrible German lessons.
However, it is not for these reasons that this enchanting play has lasted so long; it is because of the pure wit, humour and style of Oscar Wilde! He has succeeded in making a versatile play amusing from the first to the last word.
A major part of Wilde’s humour and wit is due to his impressive use of satire. Two topics, which are always under scrutiny by Oscar Wilde, are marriage and education. Wonderful amounts of satire come from the most ordinary and every day topics, producing some very humorous, up to date and interesting quotations. For example, Oscar Wilde seems to think that all marriages end in divorce from the image that you get from this quotation. “Divorces are made in heaven.”
Education which is also scrutinized by Wilde is shown to be inappropriate and not of use to anybody in the world of Lady Bracknell. This quotation highlights the truth of what Lady Bracknell thinks of education. “Education produces no effect what so ever.”
Dramatic irony is the perfect humour for the audience to share and join in with. From Algy to Jack, the light of this play comes alive through the some realistic and others not so true sections of dramatic irony. The pungent imagery of when Algy says “They’ll call each other sisters, after calling each other a lot of things first,” is a situation, which is as unique to “The Importance of Being Earnest” as it could get.
Another situation which includes dramatic irony is when Jack comes back telling everyone that his brother Earnest is dead, and next thing you know, Earnest turns up on the door step alive and well. These kinds of situation are unavoidable in plays such as this one.
Antithesis is commonly used to be easily remembered, especially for the short one-liners. The balancing effect makes it unusual and a huge asset to this play. “To lose one parent Mr. Worthing may be regarded as misfortune, but to lose both looks like carelessness.” Another example of a good antithesis quotation is “the good end happily, and the bad end unhappily”. Both of these are easy to remember, and so as soon as you have seen or read the play, you will probably find that you are using them over again and again, even in everyday life.
The title of this play, “The Importance of Being Earnest” is itself after all a pun. The suggestion pun, meaning a play of words having a different meaning is certainly correct in this situation. When you first look at the title of the play you might think to yourself, oh, this is about being serious. Yet this play is as far from serious as you could possibly get. Another pun is “You talk exactly as if you are a dentist giving a false impression.” The whole point being that the false impression can easily be interpreted in a different way, like this play.
However, Oscar Wilde is at his wittiest when using paradox, usually several to a page, so you are constantly laughing. Without the all important paradox, I doubt whether this play would have been able to function properly and lasted the amazing 100 years that it has, and hopefully continue to be popular for another a hundred. “Her hair has turned quite gold with grief” if you had not heard of this play you probably would be thinking to yourself, this is ludicrous, we all know that the expression is “Her hair has turned quite white with grief”, yet this is what Oscar Wilde deliberately wrote.
Paradox is a self- contradictory statement and found rather absurd and odd among most usual people. So if most people found the concept of it mad, then the person who was able to put several on a page must have been a genius. Another example of a paradox is “Washing one’s clean linen in public”, what wonderful as well as out of the ordinary quotations.
Thus, I have shown the many reasons why this witty, interesting and altogether astounding play has lasted as long as it has, and will keep on lasting. But the greatest reason must be Oscar Wilde’s wit and humour, and the way he expresses them.