The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest

What is The Importance of Being Earnest?

The Importance of Being Earnest is a play written by Oscar Wilde, the main author of the Aesthetic Movement. The play is a comedy, hence its plot is made up of an introduction, a complication, a crisis and an unknitting.



Humour, the main element of a comedy, in this case is conveyed through language, behaviour and also an element of the situation that must be kept secret (Jack’s double name):

  • SITUATIONAL HUMOUR: the audience knows more than the characters of the story. In this case they know Jack’s name is not Earnest, while Gwendoline, for example, believes it;
  • VERBAL HUMOUR: the contrast between what one character says and what the audience expects him to say. An example might be Lady Bracknell’s pleased reaction to learn that her daughter’s contender smokes;
  • BEHAVIOURAL HUMOUR: a character’s behaviour is unexpected and seems absurd in the given context on the stage. An example might be Lady Bracknell’s order of questions when she faces Jack, a contender, since she starts asking whether he smokes and ends up asking about his political orientation, while the order of importance should be reversed.


Lady Bracknell

The main example of comic character in the play is Lady Bracknell. She is reactionary, class-conscious and a snobbish aristocrat who disapproves of education and criticises the excesses of the French Revolution.

“To be born, or at any rate bred, in a handbag, whether it has handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution.”

Lady Bracknell,  The Importance of Being Earnest

The author manages to make her character a target of satire on her own social class without her knowing of being one. In fact, everything she criticises is actually the author’s way to make fun of the life of the privileged in the Victorian Age, where earnestness masks hypocrisy (from this concept, the title).



Wilde’s style is balanced, formed mainly of complete sentences with a large number of epigrams and paradoxes.


‘More than half of culture depends on what one shouldn’t read’

(Satire about education and censorship)

‘You don’t seem to realise that in married life three is company and two is none’

(Satire about marriage)


This was The Importance of Being Earnest 😉
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