One thing happens when you read Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest"; you are amazed to remember that this play was authored over 100 years ago. For most plays of that era, the average reader tends to lose references and it tends to be stodgy and irrelevant. Not so Earnest, due to the brilliance and imagination of it's playwright.
The Importance of Being Earnest is a tour de force of comedy, misidentifications, and farce. Algernon and Jack are friends, and each has invented an imaginary person as an excuse of getting out of engagements. Jack's person is Ernest, a brother with a wild past. The two conspire to woo the ladies that they love, and through a series of happenstances, must gently deceive to get want they want. The end result is a play of uncomperable quality, chock full of witticisms that are highly quotable out of context. In fact, I dare suggest the entire play is quotable, such its brilliance.
Wilde pulled no punches when writing Earnest. Often, when a play is filled with memorable quotes, it takes away from the realism of the scenes because the characters then become merely conduits for the writer's intellect. Not so in Earnest. Wilde manages to make the characters say exactly what they would say in each situation, true to their persona. That alone is quite an accomplishment, one not often seen.
Misidentities, witty banter, love, all conspire to one of English's most brilliant comedies ever to have seen the stage. We should be so lucky the world had Oscar Wilde in it, and even more so, that he wrote at all.
on December 31, 2013
The Dover Thrift edition is a highly abridged version. There are entire scenes and characters missing. And the ending is abruptly cut short. Spend the extra money on finding an edition with complete Oscar Wilde text.
"The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People" is one of the first plays written in English since the works of Shakespeare that celebrates the language itself. Oscar Wilde's comedy has one advantage over the classic comedies of the Bard in that "The Importance of Being Earnest" is as funny today as it was when it was first performed at the St. Jame's Theater in London on February 14, 1895. After all, enjoying Shakespeare requires checking the bottom for footnotes explaining the meaning of those dozens of words that Shakespeare makes up in any one of his plays. But Wilde's brilliant wit, his humor and social satire, remain intact even though he was a writer of the Victorian era.
Wilde believed in art for art's own sake, which explains why he emphasized beauty while his contemporaries were dealing with the problems of industrial England. "The Importance of Being Earnest" is set among the upper class, making fun of their excesses and absurdities while imbuing them with witty banter providing a constant stream of epigrams. The play's situation is simple in its unraveling complexity. Algernon Moncrieff is an upper-class English bachelor who is visited by his friend Jack Worthing, who is known as "Ernest." Jack has come to town to propose to Gwendolen Fairfax, the daugher of the imposing Lady Bracknell and Algy's first cousin. Jack has a ward named Cecily who lives in the country while Algernon has an imaginary friend named "Bunbury" whom he uses as an excuse to get out of social engagements.
Jack proposes to Gwendolen but has two problems. First, Gwendolen is wiling to agree because his name is Ernest, a name that "seems to inspire absolute confidence," but which, of course, is not his true Christian name. Second, Lady Bracknell objects to Jack as a suitor when she learns he was abandoned by his parents and found in a handbag in Victoria Station by Mr. Thomas Cardew. Meanwhile, Algernon heads off to the country to check out Cecily, to whom he introduces himself as being her guardian Jack's brother Ernest. This meets with Ceclily's approval because in her diary she has been writing about her engagement to a man named Ernest. Then things get really interesting.
Wilde proves once and for all time that the pun can indeed be elevated to a high art form. Throughout the entire play we have the double meaning of the word "earnest," almost to the level of a conceit, since many of the play's twists and turns deal with the efforts of Jack and Algernon to be "Ernest," by lying, only to discover that circumstances makes honest men of them in the end (and of the women for that matter as well). There is every reason to believe that Wilde was making a point about earnestness being a key ideal of Victorian culture and one worthy of being thoroughly and completely mocked. Granted, some of the puns are really bad, and the discussion of "Bunburying" is so bad it is stands alone in that regard, but there is a sense in which the bad ones only make the good ones so glorious and emphasize that Wilde is at his best while playing games with the English language.
But if Wilde's puns are the low road then his epigrams represent the heights of his genius, especially when they are used by the characters in an ironic vein (e.g., "It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal" and "I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance"). Jack is the male lead, but it is Algernon who represents the ideal Wilde character, who insists he is a rebel speaking out against the institutions of society, such as marriage, but with attacks that are so flamboyant and humorous that the cleverness of the humor ends up standing apart from the inherent point.
In the end, "The Importance of Being Earnest" is the wittiest play every written, in English or any other language, and I doubt that anything written in the future will come close. Wilde was essentially a stand-up comedian who managed to create a narrative in which he could get off dozens of classic one-liners given a high-class sheen by being labeled epigrams. Like a comedian he touches on several topics, from the aristocracy, marriage, and the literary world to English manners, women, love, religion, and anything else that came to his fertile mind. But because it is done with such a lighthearted tone that the barbs remain as timely today as they were at the end of the 19th-century and "The Importance of Being Earnest" will always be at the forefront of the plays of that time which will continue to be produced.
on October 16, 2005
The Importance of Being Earnest is a fantastic play. It is an easy read, and is not only well thought out, but hilarious.
I liked this book of the play especially, because it includes helpful notes in the beginning, but more because it has a glossary of difficult terms in the back. Every time I came to a word that I did not know, it was sure to be defined in the back.
If you love theatre, this is a great play to read. I would highly suggest this book.
on October 13, 2015
Being in a college-level English class in high school is certainly an interesting situation. While the school year has barely started we've already read The Power of One, Invisible Man, Fountianhead, Beowulf, Dubliners, that satire about eating children, and a couple poems. Of these, only the satire wasn't ridiculously serious and philosophical (well, it was still critical, but funny and weird in its own right). While I really enjoy the novels and stories we've read so far (except Fountainhead, which has become a sort of trigger word for me...just mention Howard Roark and I go off like a smoking gun) I don't think I've ever had so much fun reading a classic piece of literature.
Honestly, AP English Aside and coming from an avid reader and 17 year old, this drama is HILARIOUS. I was practically dying of laughter during class hearing my classmates read the snarky, biting quips of 1895 british aristocrats lying and deceiving each other. The plot is absolutely hilarious, the characters all dreadful in the best ways, and the social critisism well executed and scathing in its farce-driven shell. And for those expecting a drawn out, boring play that only disappoints compared to the glorious promises of some Amazon reviewers...DON'T. The pacing of the play is very fast-paced and witty, moving from one scene to the next with an easy to follow but fast speed, and even to a modern audience it's sure to get a chuckle out of the most firm unbeliever. Reading through the first two acts, the whole class was cracking up laughing and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves thouroughly. It was a nice break between satires about eating babies and old English epics, that's for sure, and I'm definitely going to order my own copy, it was so good.
So overall, 10/10 would read again.
on November 22, 2005
All you Wildeans take note: this is the only edition of the plays wherein the lines are properly numbered for specific citation and easy reference: very, very important!!
on September 24, 2003
In Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest", he answers this question in the form of brilliant comedy. The play, full of witty dialogue such as Lady Bracknell's answer to her daughter's suitor saying he does smoke; "I am glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation of some kind."; says, yes, it is important to be Earnest.
One of the more remarkable details of this play is in the title itself. While attending or reading the play, you learn, that the two heroine's of the piece, Gwendolyn and Cecily, are determined to marry men named Earnest; unfortunately, Jack wants to marry Gwendolyn, and Algernon would like to settle down with Cecily. What is the reasonable solution? To tell them that their name's are Earnest. However, Earnest is not only a name, but also a word meaning: an intensely serious state of mind. Why would Oscar Wilde choose the name Earnest for this seemingly ridiculous play anyway?
Why ridiculous you may ask. The answer comes in not only the ingenious dialogue, but in the plot itself. Without giving away the entire story, one can say that the two main characters live, however innocent, deceptive lives and still end up with the fair maiden's in the end. One of them even ends up really being Earnest, to which he answers, "... it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but truth..."
Wilde called his piece, "A trivial comedy for serious people." If the word earnest means serious and the play itself is joyfully absurd, this writer imagines that the characters in the play although exceptionally serious about themselves and their lives, they are trivial or ridiculous. In conclusion, I would say that this play is not only suited for the serious mind, this play is uproariously fun for all of us who appreciate good humor.
on June 23, 2011
Comedy well worth lying for. The characters are all aristocratic British so full of folly I was rolling with laughter. They bungle everything with witty humor and sharp remarks. It is worth reading for the English alone, the language that is, not to knock the people though. I can't really sum it up without ruining the plot, but, think Shakespeare comedy. I can say no more.
on November 9, 2004
An extraordinary play; witty, profound and beautiful. And even better if you read all of it. Which you won't if you buy the Penguin copy with Edith Evans on the front, since this version is heavily abridged. Which is fine except the publishers make no mention of this at all in the volume. And cultural vandalism of this kind should, I feel at least be acknowledged.
on November 20, 2000
My father was never much of a reader, but after having told him I was planning to read this play, he confessed it was one of the few books he had read for his own enjoyment. I'm not surprised now, after reading it, to hear that it was also his very favorite. I was laughing practically non-stop from Jack's originating from a handbag, to the scene where all is discovered about their names. It's witty, charming, and absolutely brilliant. Plus, it's inexpensive and short, so if you aren't much of a reader, like my dear old dad, this is the book for you!