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The comedy in ‘Importance of Being Earnest’ focuses on the aristocratic classes at the turn of the 19th century, the time when the play was written and set. Whilst creating humour by mocking their absurdities i. e. moral and social values and ideas, he also provides the audience the witty banter of the idle rich and their somewhat ridiculous lifestyles and attitudes to enjoy. These idle rich seem to revel in making trivial matters important and important matters trivial. Wilde uses a range of techniques to simultaneously mock aristocratic Victorian society and to create humour: dramatic irony; the dialogue and language of the characters i.
e. puns/wordplay, paradoxes and their witticisms; the significance of the themes at the time of the play and today; the actions of the characters; characterisation and the development of the increasingly ridiculous plot, which all culminates in the discovery that Jack was the baby in the handbag. The play begins in a realistic atmosphere for the time that the play was set; the characters behave and talk in the leisurely, pointed and conscious manner of their day. The bachelors only relax when they are alone. We see their idle nature almost immediately through the character’s trivial preoccupation with food, one of the themes of the play.
In the first few lines of dialogue in the opening scene, we witness Wilde’s witty way with words and the consequent humour he creates in the scene. Algernon, avoids admitting that he plays poorly and claims that he plays with ‘wonderful expression’, as though doing so were more transcendent. He emerges to be quite a conceited character and it seems that Wilde intends him to represent the pompous nature of the rich, rather like Lady Bracknell does. Algernon’s dialogue is always polished and his quips, paradoxes and unorthodox attitudes provide quite a lot of the humour in the play.
Sometimes, what the characters say might sound intelligent but in fact, is silly. It is hidden by the sophisticated sentence structures. Wilde’s use of language is rarely simple: as Gwendolen says, it is ‘style not sincerity’ which is important, i. e. he cares more for a statement being clever rather than true. The characters in ‘The Importance Of Being Earnest’ are all language conscious. The sentences they speak are perfectly formed and a reflection of how aristocrats would like to speak, not how they did speak at the time. They all try to sound intelligent.
At all times, even at tense times, the characters prioritise the upholding of a fake mask of politeness. An example of this is when Lady Bracknell says ‘rise from this semi-recumbent posture at once’. Again it is a mockery of Victorian aristocrats. Both Dr Chasuble, who is somewhat pedantic, and Miss Prism show an explicit interest in the language they use, they repeatedly state where their metaphors are drawn from: ‘Were I fortunate enough to be Miss Prism’s pupil, I would hang upon her lips. I spoke metaphorically – my metaphor was drawn from bee. ‘