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    Critics of The Importance Of Being Earnest

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    charradi myriam

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    Critics of The Importance Of Being Earnest

    Post by charradi myriam on Fri Nov 30, 2007 8:18 pm

    Character List

    John "Jack" Worthing: Jack is the play's protagonist and the play's most sympathetic character. He was found in a handbag on a railway line, and feels less at home in aristocratic society than does Algernon. He lives in the country but has invented a wicked brother named "Ernest" whose scrapes require Jack's attendance in the city.

    Algernon Moncrieff: Algernon, the foil to Jack, is a hedonist who has created a friend named Bunbury whose status as a permanent invalid allows Algernon to leave the city whenever he pleases. He believes this activity, "Bunburying," is necessary, especially if one is going to get married-something he vows never to do.

    Lady Bracknell: Lady Bracknell is the antagonist of the play, blocking both potential marriages. She embodies typical Victorian classism; she does not allow Gwendolen to marry Jack when she finds out he is an orphan, and she dislikes Cecily as a mate for her nephew Algernon until she learns that Cecily is wealthy.

    Gwendolen Fairfax: Gwendolen is Lady Bracknell's daughter, and is the object of Jack's romantic attention. Though she returns his love, Gwendolen appears self-centered and flighty. Like Cecily, she desires nothing but to marry someone named Ernest.

    Cecily Cardew: Cecily is Jack's ward and lives with him in the country. Young and pretty, she is favored by Algernon, who pretends to be Jack's brother Ernest. Cecily has heard about this brother, and has written correspondences between the two of them for months by the time she
    meets Algernon/Ernest. Like Gwendolen, she is only interested in marrying a man named Ernest.

    Miss Prism: Miss Prism is the Cecily's governess. She obviously loves Chasuble, though the fact that he is a priest prohibits her from telling him so directly.

    Lane: Algernon's butler delivers a number of droll lines which show that he is far from a passive servant.

    Chasuble: A rector, Chasuble frequently visits Jack's country house to see Miss Prism. Though he is celibate, he seems well matched for the educated Miss Prism.

    Merriman: Jack's butler, Merriman has a less significant role than Lane has, but in one scene he and another servant force the bickering Gwendolen and Cecily to maintain supposedly polite conversation.
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    Re: Critics of The Importance Of Being Earnest

    Post by charradi myriam on Fri Nov 30, 2007 8:20 pm

    Major Themes

    manners and sincerity:
    The major target of Wilde's scathing social criticism is the hypocrisy that society creates. Frequently in Victorian society, its participants comported themselves in overly sincere, polite ways while they harbored conversely manipulative, cruel attitudes. Wilde exposes this divide in scenes such as when Gwendolen and Cecily behave themselves in front of the servants or when Lady Bracknell warms to Cecily upon discovering she is rich. However, the play truly pivots around the word "earnest." Both women want to marry someone named "Ernest," as the name inspires "absolute confidence"; in other words, the name implies that its bearer truly is earnest, honest, and responsible. However, Jack and Algernon have lied about their names, so they are not really "earnest."
    But it also turns out that they were both inadvertently telling the truth (or
    most of it, at least). The rapid flip-flopping of truths and lies, of
    earnestness and duplicity, shows how truly muddled the Victorian values of
    honesty and responsibility were.

    dual identities: As a subset of the sincerity theme (see above), Wilde explores in depth what it means to have a dual identity in Victorian society. This duality is most apparent in Algernon and Jack's "Bunburying" (their creation of an alter ego to allow them to evade responsibility). Wilde hints that Bunburying may cover for homosexual liaisons, or at the very least serve as an escape from oppressive marriages. Other characters also create alternate identities. For example, Cecily writes correspondence between herself and Ernest before she has ever met him. Unlike
    real men, who are free to come and go as they please, she is able to control this version of Ernest. Finally, the fact that Jack has been unwittingly leading a life of dual identities shows that our alter egos are not as far from our "real" identities as we would think.

    critique of marriage as a social tool:
    Wilde's most concrete critique in the play is of the manipulative desires
    revolving around marriage. Gwendolen and Cecily are interested in their mates, it appears, only because they have disreputable backgrounds (Gwendolen is pleased to learn that Jack was an orphan; Cecily is excited by Algernon's "wicked" reputation). Their shared desire to marry someone named Ernest demonstrates that their romantic dreams hinge upon titles, not character. The men are not much less shallow-Algernon proposes to the young, pretty Cecily within minutes of meeting her. Only Jack seems to have earnest romantic desires, though why he would love the self-absorbed Gwendolen is questionable.
    However, the sordidness of the lovers' ulterior motives is dwarfed by the
    priorities of Lady Bracknell, who epitomizes the Victorian tendency to view
    marriage as a financial arrangement. She does not consent to Gwendolen's
    marriage to Jack on the basis of his being an orphan, and she snubs Cecily
    until she discovers she has a large personal fortune.

    idleness of the leisure class and the aesthete:
    Wilde good-naturedly exposes the empty, trivial lives of the aristocracy-good-naturedly, for Wilde also indulged in this type of lifestyle.
    Algernon is a hedonist who likes nothing better than to eat, gambol, and gossip without consequence. Wilde has described the play as about characters who trivialize serious matters and solemnize trivial matters; Algernon seems more worried by the absence of cucumber sandwiches (which he ate) than by the serious class conflicts that he quickly smoothes over with wit. But Wilde has a more serious intent: he subscribes to the late-19th-century philosophy of aestheticism, espoused by Walter Pater, which argues for the necessity of art's primary relationship with beauty, not with reality. Art should not mirror reality; rather, Wilde has said, it should be "useless" (in the sense of not serving a social purpose; it is useful for our appreciation of beauty).
    Therefore, Algernon's idleness is not merely laziness, but the product of
    someone who has cultivated an esteemed sense of aesthetic uselessness.

    farce:
    The most famous aspect of Oscar Wilde's literature is his epigrams: compact, witty maxims that often expose the absurdities of society using paradox. Frequently, he takes an established cliché and alters it to make its illogic somehow more logical ("in married life three is company and two is none"). While these zingers serve as sophisticated critiques of society, Wilde also employs several comic tools of "low" comedy, specifically those of farce. He echoes dialogue and actions, uses comic reversals, and explodes a fast-paced, absurd ending whose implausibility we overlook because it is so ridiculous. This tone of wit and farce is distinctively Wildean; only someone so skilled in both genres could combine them so successfully.
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    Re: Critics of The Importance Of Being Earnest

    Post by charradi myriam on Fri Nov 30, 2007 8:24 pm

    Summary and Analysis of Act I, Scene 1

    Act I - Part 1:
    In Algernon Moncrieff's stylish London flat in 1895, his butler, Lane, arranges afternoon tea. After playing piano in an adjoining room, Algernon enters. He says that while he does not play with accuracy, he plays with "wonderful expression." He asks Lane if he has prepared the cucumber sandwiches for Lady Bracknell's arrival, then takes two of the finished sandwiches and sits on the sofa. They discuss marriage and Algernon expresses the opinion that it is "demoralising" before he excuses Lane. After he muses on the lower class's inability to set a good example for the upper class, Lane brings in Ernest Worthing (who is listed as "John Worthing" in the cast list and "Jack" in the body of the play, although both Lane and Algernon believe his name is Ernest), who has just returned from the country.
    When Jack discovers that Lady Bracknell--Algernon's aunt--and Gwendolen, her daughter, are coming to tea, he reveals he has come to London
    to propose to her. Algernon ridicules the notion of marriage, vowing he will
    never marry, while fending Jack off from the cucumber sandwiches (which
    Algernon gladly eats). Jack joins him on the sofa, and Algernon says before
    Jack can marry Gwendolen, he has to clear up the issue of Cecily. Algernon
    calls Lane to bring in Jack's cigarette case; he shows that the inscription is
    from someone named Cecily. Jack says she is his aunt, and that he wants the case back. Algernon is doubtful, since she has written "'From little
    Cecily, with her fondest love to her dear Uncle Jack.'" Jack says his name
    is Ernest in town and Jack in the country. Algernon says he has always
    suspected Jack was a "Bunburyist," and now he has proof.
    Jack explains that Thomas Cardew, who adopted him, willed Jack to be guardian to his granddaughter, Cecily. Cecily now lives at Jack's place in the country under the guidance of her governess, Miss Prism. Since Jack must maintain a high level of morality to set an example, he needs an excuse to get into town.
    Therefore, he has invented a ne'er-do-well younger brother named Ernest who lives in Albany.
    "Ernest's" constant problems require Jack's attendance. Algernon
    confesses that he has created an invalid friend in the countryside, Bunbury,
    for when he needs to get out of town. Jack insists that he is through with
    "Ernest," but Algernon maintains that he will need him more than ever
    if he marries.

    Analysis
    Algernon's throwaway quip to Lane that "anyone can play [piano] accurately but I play with wonderful expression" is a good thumbnail of Wilde's philosophy of art. Wilde was heavily influenced by Walter Pater and the other aesthetes of the Victorian age. They believed art should concern itself only with its aesthetic qualities, that art should exist for art's sake alone. Therefore, art should not be a straightforward representation of reality--it should not be "accurate," as Algernon would say--but rather it should be an extension of its creator's artistic styles. Hence, it should have "wonderful expression."
    Wilde, through the skeptical Algernon, makes an immediate critique of marriage as "demoralising," and throughout the scene the best bon mots are
    reserved for mocking that most traditional romantic covenant. Wilde is the
    master of the epigram, a concise, typically witty or paradoxical saying. His
    skill lies not only in coining wholly new epigrams, but in subverting
    established ones. For instance "in married life, three is company and two
    is none" captures the monotony of monogamy by playing it against the
    commonplace "two is company, three's a crowd."
    That Wilde chose "Bunbury" as the name for double identities may prove telling. Wilde is one of history's most famous homosexuals, convicted in 1895 for homosexual sodomy with Lord Alfred Douglas ("Bosie"). Prior to that, Wilde made greater attempts to hide his sexual orientation, even marrying a woman. Does Wilde connect his characters' need to Bunbury to his own dual identities: the public heterosexual and the private homosexual? Some critical attention has been given to the word "Bunbury." Separating "bun" and "bury," some read it as a description of male-to-male intercourse.
    Indeed, it has been confirmed that there are several allusions to London's homosexual world intended for Wilde's contemporary, homosexual audience. However, we can read a homosexual subtext into many of the lines now: "Nothing will induce me to part with Bunbury. A man who marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of it." Aside from continuing the motif of intercourse with the word "part," Algernon clearly relates the need for an alter ego to the oppressive sexuality of marriage.
    Another staple of the play is its humorous depiction of class tensions. Lane, the butler, is given his fair share of droll sayings, and even Algernon seems to recognize that the lower class has more power than they seem to: "If the lower orders don't set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?" But this is not a serious play, and all the conflicts are quickly resolved through humor; when Algernon is upset over his depleted supply of champagne, Lane deflates the discussion of class and turns the topic to marriage.
    We see two great symbols of the upper class here. The sofa is the center of the leisure class's idleness, a comfortable place to while away the afternoon without work. Wilde himself would spend hours in deep thought upon his sofa, but in this play he makes the sofa a place for social chatter. The cucumber sandwiches also become a motif for the hedonism of rich. Algernon supposedly saves them for Lady Bracknell, but he cannot resist devouring them himself.
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    Re: Critics of The Importance Of Being Earnest

    Post by charradi myriam on Fri Nov 30, 2007 8:28 pm

    Summary and Analysis of Act I, Scene 2

    Act I - Part 2:
    Lane introduces Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen. Algernon express horror that there are no cucumber sandwiches. He tells Lady Bracknell that he will be unable to attend her dinner tonight, as Bunbury is ill. He promises to be
    present to arrange music at her reception next Saturday. He goes with her into the music room. Jack confesses his feelings to Gwendolen and she admits that she likes him most especially because she has always wanted to marry someone named Ernest. Jack is happy, but he asks her if she would still love him if his name were not Ernest, for example, if it were Jack. She would not, she maintains. He proposes to her, and she accepts.
    Lady Bracknell comes in, and Gwendolen informs her of their engagement. Lady Bracknell says that only she or her father can engage Gwendolen, and orders her to wait in the carriage.
    After she leaves, Lady Bracknell interrogates Jack, asking about his habits,
    his income, his background, and so on. He admits that he was an orphan, found in a handbag on a train. She is aghast at this disclosure and says she will not allow her daughter to marry him. She leaves and Algernon enters.
    Jack tells Algernon what happened, and also says he will "kill off" his brother Ernest later in the week. Algernon expresses interest in meeting Cecily, but Jack does not want this to happen, as she is young and pretty. He has no doubt, however, that she and Gwendolen will become good friends. They debate what to do tonight and settle on doing nothing. Lane introduces Gwendolen, who has re-entered the house. She tells Algernon to turn his back, and expresses her fear to Jack that her mother will not let them marry. She asks for his address in the country, and Algernon slyly writes this down and checks a train timetable. She promises to write Jack daily when he returns to the countryside, and Jack escorts her out. Lane comes in, and Algernon tells him he will be going Bunburying tomorrow. Jack returns, glowing over Gwendolen, but Algernon expresses some anxiety over Bunbury. Jack warns him that Bunbury will only get him in trouble.

    Analysis
    The main conflict of the play, Lady Bracknell's snobbery about Jack's disreputable background, is presented in this act. The conventional parental blockade to love maintains our interest in the plot, but the secondary conflict is far more original and engaging: Gwendolen will only marry someone named Ernest, which she believes Jack's real name to be. Jack's warning to Algernon that Bunbury will get him into trouble some day is a projection of his own anxieties--he has already gotten himself into a mess with his own dual identity.
    While the play is a farce, and we are not expected to take the relationships too seriously, it is possible to examine Gwendolen's desire to marry someone named Ernest. She calls it her "ideal," and this word resounds with Wilde's aesthetic philosophy. He believes art should strive to attain an ideal beauty and not mirror a dull reality. In the same sense, Gwendolen's idea of marriage‹and most people's revolves around an ideal romance that does not exist. The many epigrammatic critiques of marriage in the play demonstrate the cruel reality of marriage.
    Romance, Wilde shows, is the only kind of art most people can practice; it is the one field in which they can project ideals, as artists do. Marriage,
    however, frequently falls short of its ideal, whereas art--at least good
    art--can survive in the rarified atmosphere of the ideal.
    Lady Bracknell is a remarkable comic creation, the paragon of the Victorian lady who stresses good breeding above all else. But she is far from a flat stereotype. Wilde gives her some of his wittiest lines to bring out her quirky way of seeing the world, for example one of her most famous pronouncements: "To lose one parent, Mr.Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness." But these lines are always linked to her character; when Jack informs her that he was found in a handbag on the Brighton line, she replies "The line is immaterial." That he was found in a handbag on a train is enough of a black mark on his record, and even the word "immaterial" reminds us that it is Jack's very lack of a material (substantial, or money-related) background that disturbs her so greatly.
    When Jack and Algernon debate what do at night, we get a glimpse into their social options: ballet, theater, restaurants. They live the life of Victorian dandies, indulging in art and pleasure. Algernon states that "It is awfully hard work doing nothing.
    However, I don't mind hard work where there is no definite object of mind." He swiftly diagnoses the "problem" of the leisure class, that maintaining their idleness is "work" itself. This renders leisure similar to art (which, it is clear, does require hard work). Neither should have a point, no "definite object of mind." Prefacing his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray with a series of maxims about art, Wilde ends with "All art is quite useless." He does not suggest that art has no place in society--quite the contrary--but argues that it should not be used as a social tool. In this view, Wilde pitted himself against more traditional writers like Charles Dickens, a man who used his art to galvanize reform for England's oppressed working class. Jack and Algernon, then, are two social aesthetes who recognize that their lives, like art, are "quite useless" and have little effect on reality. If anything, they appreciate their lives as works of art, playgrounds which they can manipulate to their pleasing. Their creation of alter egos makes them virtual playwrights, authors of not only their own destinies, but of fictional lives.
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    Re: Critics of The Importance Of Being Earnest

    Post by charradi myriam on Fri Nov 30, 2007 8:31 pm

    Summary and Analysis of Act II, Scene 1

    Act II - Part 1:
    In the garden at Jack's country house,Miss Prism and Cecily discuss Jack's serious nature; Miss Prism believes it is due to his anxiety over his brother. Dr.Chasuble enters the garden. He and Miss Prism leave for a walk together. Merriman, their butler, announces the arrival of Ernest Worthing. Cecily, excited to meet Jack's brother, tells Merriman to bring him to her. Algernon enters, pretending to be Ernest. He and Cecily briefly discuss his "wicked" reputation.
    When he learns that Jack will be back Monday afternoon, Algernon announces that he must leave Monday morning. Cecily also discloses that Jack has decided to send Ernest to Australia. He flirts with Cecily and they exit into the house.
    Miss Prism and Chasuble return. She urges him to get married, especially to a mature lady. Jack enters the garden, dressed in black. He tells Miss Prism he has returned earlier than expected, and explains that he is dressed in black for his brother, who died in Paris last
    night. Chasuble suggests he will discuss it in his sermon next Sunday, and Jack asks him if he would christen him this afternoon. He agrees, and Cecily emerges from the house. She tells him his brother is in the dining room; Jack says he doesn't have a brother. She tells him not to disown his own brother, and runs into the house and brings out Algernon.
    Jack refuses to shake Algernon's hand, but Cecily says that "Ernest" has been telling him about his friend Bunbury, and that someone who takes care of an invalid must have some good in him. Under pressure from Cecily, Jack shakes his hand.
    Everyone but Jack and Algernon leaves. Merriman enters and says he has put up Ernest in the room next to Jack's. Jack orders the dogcart, as Ernest has been called back to town. Merriman leaves. Jack tells Algernon he must leave, while Algernon expresses an interest in Cecily.

    Analysis
    Cecily explicitly states the major theme of the play to Algernon: "I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy." Of course, Wilde's main interest is in those who pretend to be good but are really wicked all the time. His claim is that everyone in Victorian society wears some kind of social mask; while his happens to revolve around his sexual orientation, others are constantly engaged in varying games of deception that are no less hypocritical. Even those who are seemingly pure--Gwendolen and Cecily--are attracted by the purportedly "wicked," disreputable backgrounds of Jack and Algernon, and careless about who they really are.
    The plot thickens in this scene: Jack needs to get the fake "Ernest" out of the house before he is christened in the early evening. The fact that names play such a big role in the plot is another manifestation of the theme of social masking. A name is only a label; the infant does not choose his own name, and in this respect is at the mercy of his family. Likewise, the unsuspecting infant also inherits his family's money and is destined from birth to be a prince or a pauper. In the same way, people are forced into labeled expectations of society; Cecily, for instance, must learn to behave like a lady, much as Lady Bracknell insists others accord to the conventions of Victorian society. It is precisely these societal restraints that Algernon rebels against; he cannot stand letting others label him, so he creates his own mischievous persona in Bunbury.
    As before, we see the characters treat solemn matters with carefree abandon. "Ernest's" (Algernon's) death and amazing resurrection is hardly given a second thought, but the characters obsess over small problems instead. Wilde himself described the play as holding the philosophy that "we should treat all the trivial things of life very seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality." The play's original subtitle was "A Trivial Comedy for Serious People," and Wilde also directed his actors before the play's first production to deliver their lines with full-blown sincerity. This seriocomic tone of sincerity not only keeps the laughs coming as the characters trivialize or solemnize the solemn and trivial, respectively, but further develops one of Wilde's major themes: despite the fact that everyone whole-heartedly believes that he or she leads an earnest life, they may just be earnestly flouting convention, like Algernon.
    This scene also begins to hint that Miss Prism wants to marry Chasuble. They are a more rational counterpoint to the rash romances of the younger couples. While Miss Prism also mocks many of marriage's effects, she also seems to care genuinely about Chasuble, they share an interest in scholarly pursuits, and she is not interested in him solely because of a supposedly "wicked" background.
    Miss Prism suggests a solution to the problems of so many marriages: one should marry only when one has gained some maturity.
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    Re: Critics of The Importance Of Being Earnest

    Post by charradi myriam on Fri Nov 30, 2007 8:35 pm

    Summary and Analysis of Act II, Scene 2

    Act II - Part 2:
    Cecily enters the garden to water the flowers, and Algernon tells her that Jack has ordered him to leave. Merriman tells him the dogcart is ready, but Cecily says it can wait. Algernon compliments Cecily to her great delight, then tells Merriman on his reappearance that the dogcart can come back next week. He asks Cecily to marry him, and she points out that they have been engaged for three months. Cecily claims that ever since she heard of Jack's wicked brother Ernest, she has loved him. She shows him the box of letters he "wrote" to her (which she really wrote to herself). She admits that she loves him because his name is Ernest; upon promptin she says that she doubts she would be able to love him were his name Algernon. He says he needs to see Chasuble quickly about "christening...I mean on most important business," then leaves.
    Merriman announces that Gwendolen has asked to see Mr. Worthing (Jack). Cecily informs him that he has gone off to see Chasuble some time ago, but invites her in. Gwendolen immediately takes to Cecily, but is put off when she learns that Cecily is Mr.Worthing's ward. She wishes Cecily were not so young and alluring, as "Ernest," despite his moral nature, is still susceptible to temptation. Cecily tells her that she is not Ernest's ward, but his brother
    Jack's. Rather, she is going to marry Ernest. They compare diary entries.
    Gwendolen feels she has the prior claim, because Ernest asked to marry her
    yesterday. The girls argue and insult each other.
    Merriman enters with another servant to set out tea. Cecily and Gwendolen assume coldly polite manners, while continuing to insult each other by passing the wrong tea-things.
    Merriman and the servant leave, and the women launch full-blown verbal attacks.
    Jack enters the garden, and he and Gwendolen kiss. She asks if he is engaged to Cecily; he laughs and denies it. Cecily says she knew there was a misunderstanding, as the man before them is her Uncle Jack. As Gwendolen goes into shock, Algernon enters, and Cecily calls him Ernest and they kiss. She asks if he is married to Gwendolen; he denies it. Gwendolen says that his name is Algernon. Cecily is shocked, and she and Gwendolen hold each other for protection and make up. They ask Jack to explain. He confesses he has no brother Ernest, nor any brother at all. The women retire to the house.
    Jack is angry at Algernon for what his Bunburying has gotten them into, and for deceiving Cecily. Algernon thinks that Jack has deceived Gwendolen. They both simply want to marry the women that they love, although the possibility of that is beginning to seem unlikely. They bicker greedily over the muffins that have been laid out, and it is revealed that they have both arranged for Chasuble to christen them "Ernest" later that evening. Jack repeatedly tells Algernon to go, but he refuses.

    Analysis
    This scene provides the strongest demonstration of Wilde's view of marriage as a sham and a device used purely for social advancement. Cecily's acceptance of Algernon's proposal is anything but an act of true love; she had accepted before she even met him, solely on the basis of his wicked reputation. Ironically, she has "arranged" her own marriage. But with 21st-century hindsight, we can sympathize with her decision. While the men in the play are free to wander about, inventing fictional personae to unburden their responsibilities, the women are far more restricted. Cecily, like Jack and Algernon, has created a character--that of Jack's brother Ernest--and she has taken the motif of the character-as-author a step further by literally writing correspondence between herself and "Ernest."
    As one might expect, Cecily holds the same feelings for the name Ernest as Gwendolen: both believe it inspires "absolute confidence." The name, sounding like "earnest," seems to show only uprightness and honesty. Of course, this is the great irony of the play; as Jack and Algernon have both falsified the name. The significance of names is made more ridiculous when Gwendolen says she likes Cecily's name and can tell immediately they will be great friends; we can already sense the conflict that will arise over the confusion of their respective Ernests. Gwendolen later says she knew from the start that she disliked Cecily; the belief in names as a signifier of a person's worth is ill-founded.
    Wilde relies less on epigrams in this scene but utilizes more classic comic devices. Repetition of dialogue and action is the main tool. Certain phrases, such as Cecily's idea of Earnest as a name that inspires "absolute confidence," echo prior phrases (Gwendolen's same words), and Algernon's slip when he says he must be christened repeats Jack's earlier words. When Algernon asks Cecily if she would still love him were his name not Ernest, it mirrors Jack's previous question to Gwendolen. The dialogue when all four characters are present and revelations are made relies most heavily on repetition, as the two couples mimic each other almost perfectly, and even speak in unison. Wilde also uses visual contrasts to produce humor; Cecily and Gwendolen sit and rise several times as they speak to show their various agitated states, and Algernon and Jack wrestle over the muffins. While most of The Importance of Being Earnest, with its biting social critiques, comes straight from the tradition of the comedy of manners, these hyperkinetic, blunt devices of repetition and contrast are more in line with the genre of French farce.
    Still, it is foremost a comedy of manners, and the characters' postured manners are where Wilde creates most of his humor. As Wilde points out in his stage directions, the "presence of servants exercises a restraining influence, under which both girls chafe." Reminded of their social standing, the arguing girls put on all the cold airs of noblesse oblige Wilde has ridiculed throughout (though previously Cecily indignantly states: "This is no time for the shallow mask of manners!") Even Jack and Algernon's fight over the muffins reminds us of how absurd the idle rich can be. Rather than focus on the "Ernest" problem at hand, both men, especially Algernon, are
    slavishly reduced to their insatiable hedonism (as Algernon was with the
    cucumber sandwiches). Once again, they trivialize the solemn and solemnize the trivial.
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    Re: Critics of The Importance Of Being Earnest

    Post by charradi myriam on Fri Nov 30, 2007 8:38 pm

    Summary and Analysis of Act III, Scene 1

    Act III:
    Inside the country house, Gwendolen and Cecily look out of the window into the garden. Jack and Algernon enter. After asking the men to explain themselves, the women decide to forgive them, then quickly change their minds. Their "Christian names are still an insuperable barrier." However, the men reveal that they are to be re-christened this afternoon, and the couples hug and make up. Lady Bracknell arrives, and Gwendolen informs her of her engagement. Lady Bracknell tells Jack that he may not speak any more to her daughter. Lady Bracknell asks Algernon about his friend Bunbury; he says that Bunbury died that afternoon.
    Jack introduces Cecily to Lady Bracknell, and Algernon says that he is engaged to her. To Jack's increasing frustration, Lady Bracknell continually doubts the respectability of Cecily's background. Only when Lady Bracknell discovers Cecily has a large personal fortune does she warm to her and give her consent to the match. Jack, however, says that as his ward, Cecily may not marry without his consent, and he declines to give it. He says that he suspects Algernon of being untruthful.
    He recounts this afternoon's events, in which Algernon impersonated Jack's
    brother. He reveals that Cecily is under his guardianship until she turns 35.
    Cecily feels she cannot wait this long to be married. Jack tells Lady Bracknell that if she consents to his marriage with Gwendolen, he will consent to Cecily's with Algernon. Lady Bracknell refuses and tells Gwendolen to get ready for the train.
    Chasuble enters and announces that he is ready to perform the christenings. Lady Bracknell refuses to allow Algernon to be baptized, and Jack tells Chasuble that the christenings will not be necessary any more. Chasuble says he will leave, and mentions that Miss Prism is waiting for him. Lady Bracknell knows of Miss Prism and says she needs to meet her. Miss Prism enters and, upon seeing Lady Bracknell, goes pale. Lady Bracknell accuses her of kidnapping a baby boy from her house 28 years ago. Under Jack's questioning, Miss Prism reveals she accidentally left the baby in a handbag on the Brighton railway line. Jack leaves excitedly.
    Jack returns with the handbag. Miss Prism recognizes it as her own. Jack tells her that he was the baby. Lady Bracknell informs Jack that he is the son of her sister, making him Algernon's older brother. Jack asks Lady Bracknell what his original name was.
    She says he was named after his father, but she cannot remember his name, nor can Algernon. They locate his name under the Army Lists, as he was a General: Ernest John Moncrieff. Gwendolen is ecstatic. All three couples, Chasuble and Miss Prism, Algernon and Cecily, and Jack and Gwendolen, embrace. Jack tells Lady Bracknell that he has realized, for the first time in his life, "the vital Importance of Being Earnest."

    Analysis
    Wilde's ironies explode in the whirlwind last-minute revelations. As Jack (or Ernest) says, "it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth." The various conflicts from lies are resolved since they turn out (for the most part) not to be lies after all. Jack truly is Ernest, Algernon truly is his mischievous brother.
    But if the lies in the play are true, then what can we make of the supposed truths? On the flip side, we see that so many of these truths--especially social truths--are lies. For instance, Lady Bracknell's sudden liking to Cecily, after hearing of her personal fortune, is a "lie"; she puts on her "shallow mask of manners" to hide her obvious materialism. Wilde's most concrete attack throughout the play is on marriage as a social tool, and he provides even more absurd obstacles in the final act: Jack holds Cecily under his guardianship until she is 35, Gwendolen still refuses to marry Jack until she has proof his real name is Ernest. These example prove how absurd class as a more conventional obstacle to marriage is.
    Wilde's structural craftsmanship emerges. What was previously a throwaway joke--that the railway line Jack was abandoned on was "immaterial," as Lady Bracknell dismissed--turns out to be crucial information in Jack's realization of his origins. Tight dramatic structure like this allows the audience to forgive the even sillier coincidence that Jack happens to have the Army Lists at hand (made funnier by his explanation that "These delightful records should have been my constant study"). Even Chasuble and Miss Prism's union at the end delights us; Wilde has portrayed them in enough serious light as a perfect match that we ignore their over-the-top embrace.
    It is also worthwhile to note Wilde's continued use of rapid contrasts and shifts. Gwendolen and Cecily change their minds repeatedly at the start of the act, vowing not to speak to the men before immediately doing just that. This is summed up no better than when Gwendolen asks Cecily if they should forgive them; Cecily replies "Yes. I mean, no." Wilde is not merely using these reversals for humor; he shows how absurd romantic decisions of the heart become when entwined with even more absurd social conventions.
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    charradi myriam

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    Re: Critics of The Importance Of Being Earnest

    Post by charradi myriam on Fri Nov 30, 2007 8:44 pm

    Short Summary
    Algernon Moncrieff prepares for the arrival of his aunt, Lady Bracknell,
    and her daughter, Gwendolen, in his stylish London flat in 1895. His butler, Lane, brings in "Ernest Worthing" (who is listed as "John Worthing" in the cast list and "Jack" in the body of the play, although both Lane and Algernon believe his name is Ernest), who has just returned from the country. Jack reveals he has come to London to propose to Gwendolen. Algernon ridicules the notion of marriage, and says that before Jack can marry Gwendolen, he has to clear up the issue of Cecily.
    Algernon orders Lane to bring in Jack's cigarette case and shows the
    inscription: "'From little Cecily, with her fondest love to her dear Uncle Jack.'" Jack says his name is Ernest in town and Jack in the country.
    Algernon says he has always suspected Jack was a "Bunburyist," and
    now he has proof.
    Jack explains that Thomas Cardew, who adopted him, willed Jack to be guardian to his granddaughter, Cecily. Cecily now lives at Jack's place in the country under the guidance of her governess, Miss Prism. Since Jack must maintain a high level of morality to set an example, he needs an excuse to get into town. He has invented a ne'er-do-well younger brother named Ernest who lives in Albany, and whose problems frequently require Jack's attendance. Algernon confesses that he has invented an invalid in the country, Bunbury, for when he needs to get out of town. Jack insists that he is through with "Ernest," but Algernon maintains that he will need him more than ever if he marries.
    Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen arrive. Algernon tells Lady Bracknell that he will be unable to attend her dinner tonight, as Bunbury is ill. They go into the music room. Jack confesses his feelings to Gwendolen, and she admits that she likes him, too, especially since she has always wanted to love someone named Ernest. Jack asks if she would still love him if his name were not Ernest. She would not, she maintains. He proposes to her, and she accepts. Lady Bracknell comes in, and Gwendolen informs her of their engagement. Lady Bracknell says that only she or her father can engage Gwendolen, and orders her to wait in the carriage. After she leaves, Lady Bracknell learns from Jack that he was an orphan, found in a handbag on a train. She is aghast and says she will not allow her daughter to marry him. She leaves and Algernon enters.
    Jack tells Algernon what happened, and promises to "kill off" his brother Ernest later in the week. Algernon expresses interest in meeting Cecily, but Jack does not want this to happen, as she is young and pretty. Gwendolen returns. She tells Algernon to turn his back. She asks Jack his address in the country, and Algernon slyly writes this down and checks a train timetable. Gwendolen promises to write Jack daily when he returns to the countryside, and Jack escorts her out. Algernon informs Lane that he will be going Bunburying tomorrow.
    In the garden at Jack's country house, Miss Prism and Cecily discuss Jack's seemingly serious demeanor; Miss Prism believes it is due to his anxiety over his reckless brother. Dr.Chasuble enters the garden. He and Miss Prism leave for a walk together. Merriman, their butler, announces the arrival of Ernest Worthing. Algernon enters, pretending to be Ernest. He and Cecily briefly discuss his "wicked" reputation. When he learns that Jack will be back Monday afternoon, Algernon announces that he must leave Monday morning. He flirts with Cecily and they exit into the house.
    Miss Prism and Chasuble return. She urges him to get married to a mature lady. Jack enters the garden, dressed in black. He tells Miss Prism he has returned earlier than expected, and explains that he is dressed in black for his brother, who died in Paris last night. Jack asks Chasuble if he would christen him this afternoon. He agrees, and Cecily emerges from the house. She tells him that his brother is in the dining room; Jack says he doesn't have a brother. She runs into the house and brings out Algernon. Jack refuses to shake Algernon's hand, but Cecily says that "Ernest" has been telling him about his friend Bunbury, and that someone who takes care of an invalid must have some good in him. Everyone but Jack and Algernon leaves. Jack orders Merriman to get the dogcart, as Ernest has been called back to town (he wants to get rid of Algernon). Jack tells Algernon he must leave, while Algernon expresses an interest in Cecily. Jack exits.
    Cecily enters the garden. Merriman tells Algernon that the dogcart is ready, but Cecily says it can wait. Algernon compliments Cecily to her great delight. She then tells Merriman that the dogcart can come back next week. He asks Cecily to marry him, and she points out that they have been engaged for three months. "Ever since [she] heard of Jack's wicked brother Ernest" she has loved him. Cecily shows him the box of letters he "wrote" to her (which she really wrote to herself). She also admits that she loves him because his name is Ernest. Upon promptin, she doubts she would be able to love him were his name Algernon. He says he needs to see Chasuble quickly about "christening...I mean on most important business." Algernon exits.
    Merriman announces that Gwendolen has asked to see Mr. Worthing (Jack). Cecily informs him that he has gone off to see Chasuble some time ago, but invites her in. Gwendolen immediately takes to Cecily, but wishes Cecily were not so young and alluring, as "Ernest," despite his moral nature, is still susceptible to temptation.
    Cecily tells her that she is not Ernest's ward, but his brother Jack's. Rather,
    she is going to marry Ernest. They compare diary entries. Gwendolen feels she has the prior claim, since Ernest asked to marry her yesterday. The girls argue and insult each other.
    Jack enters the garden, and Gwendolen asks if he is engaged to Cecily; he laughs and denies it. Cecily says the man before them is her Uncle Jack. As Gwendolen goes into shock, Algernon enters, and Cecily calls him Ernest. She asks if he is married to Gwendolen; he denies it. Gwendolen says that his name is Algernon. Cecily is shocked, and she and Gwendolen hold each other and make up. Jack confesses he has no brother Ernest, nor any brother at all. The women retire to the house. Jack is angry at Algernon for stirring up trouble with his Bunburying. They have both arranged for Chasuble to christen them "Ernest" later that evening. Jack tells Algernon to go, but he refuses.
    Jack and Algernon join Gwendolen and Cecily inside the country house. The women tell the men their "Christian names are still an insuperable barrier." The men reveal that they are to be re-christened this afternoon, and the couples hug. Lady Bracknell arrives, and Gwendolen informs her of her engagement. Lady Bracknell tells Jack that he may not speak any more to her daughter.
    Jack introduces Cecily to Lady Bracknell, and Algernon says that he is engaged to her. Only when Lady Bracknell discovers Cecily has a large personal fortune does she give her consent for their marriage. However, Jack claims that, as his ward, Cecily may not marry without his consent until age 35. He declines to give the necessary consent. He says that he suspects Algernon of being untruthful. He recounts this afternoon's events, in which Algernon impersonated Jack's brother. Jack tells Lady Bracknell that if she consents to his marriage with Gwendolen, he will consent to Cecily's with Algernon. Lady Bracknell refuses and tells Gwendolen to get ready for the train.
    Chasuble enters and announces that he is prepared for the christenings. Lady Bracknell refuses to allow Algernon to be baptized, and Jack tells Chasuble that the christenings will not be necessary any more. Chasuble says he will leave, and mentions that Miss Prism is waiting for him. Lady Bracknell asks to see Miss Prism. When she enters, she goes pale upon seeing Lady Bracknell, who accuses her of kidnapping a baby boy from her house 28 years ago. Under Jack's questioning, Miss Prism reveals that she accidentally left the baby in a handbag on the Brighton railway line. Jack leaves excitedly.
    Jack returns with this very handbag. Jack tells her he was the baby. Lady Bracknell informs Jack that he is the son of her sister, making him Algernon's older brother. Jack asks Lady Bracknell what his original name was. She says he was named after his father; after locating his name under the Army Lists, they learn his full name is Ernest John Moncrieff. All three couples, Chasuble and Miss Prism, Algernon and Cecily, and Jack and Gwendolen, embrace. Jack tells Lady Bracknell that he has realized, for the first time in his life, "the vital Importance of Being Earnest."
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    charradi myriam

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    Re: Critics of The Importance Of Being Earnest

    Post by charradi myriam on Fri Nov 30, 2007 8:46 pm

    Historical Background to The Importance of Being Earnest

    The Importance of Being Earnest is first and foremost a farce, a comedy of manners whose main goal is to amuse the audience, rather than to make
    them think. As a comedy, it is rooted much less in a specific history or place than many plays. Nevertheless, the play does contain a few references to contemporary historical events, which suggest a troubled society underneath the glossiness of the characters that Wilde portrays. One of the primary critiques of Wilde's play is that it is form without content, and does not deal seriously with any social issues (this, of course, is consistent with Wilde's doctrine of Aestheticism). In a contemporary review, the socialist playwright George Bernard Shaw reacted to The Importance of Being Earnest's seeming heartlessness--he would
    prefer to think that people are capable of speaking something other than
    nonsense.
    However, some of the topics mentioned briefly in the play indicate larger political issues that were the subject of heated debate at the time that it was produced. One such subject was the issue of Home Rule for Ireland.
    William Gladstone created a controversy in 1886 when he committed the British Liberal party to support Home Rule--self-governance for Ireland within the framework of the British Empire. A contentious Home Rule Bill was
    suppressed by the House of Lords only two years before the production of the Importance of Being Earnest. As Lady Bracknell examines Jack's suitability as a partner for Gwendolen, she inquires about his politics. Jack is a Liberal Unionist, meaning that he is a Liberal who does not support Home Rule. Lady Bracknell appears relieved, saying: "Oh, they count as Tories. They dine with us." The political distinction matters only insomuch as it affects Lady Bracknell's social engagements, rather than having to do with the right or wrong of Home Rule for Ireland.
    The only reason for Wilde's characters to get incensed about politics is if politics threaten to disturb their hedonistic lifestyle or the social hierarchy that they have grown comfortable with. The threat of a revolution like the French revolution continuously hangs over British society. Lady Bracknell is exceedingly alarmed to hear that the imaginary Bunbury died by explosion. "Exploded! Was he the victim of a revolutionary outrage? I was not aware that Mr. Bunbury was interested in social legislation. If so, he is well punished for his morbidity." Her unease reflects a general feeling of fear regarding social unrest in the 1890s, particularly after a working-class riot in Trafalgar Square in 1885. The word morbidity does well to describe Wilde's characters' attitudes toward politics. It is difficult for them to understand an interest in something that is so far removed from their daily pleasures.
    In last analysis, it is unfair to suggest that The Importance of Being Earnest is a shallow, universal farce which has no ties to the historical context in which it was created; however, Wilde's references to the crucial issues of his time are usually overshadowed by his characters' own petty concerns.

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