An Ideal Husband

Themes and Colors
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Wit, Charm, and Contrariness Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in An Ideal Husband, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon

In a famous collection of aphorisms, Wilde wrote that “dullness is the coming of age of seriousness.” The phrase suggests that dullness is the final, truest form of seriousness, and its inevitable consequence. In the play, serious manners are boring and unappealing almost as a rule – several times, seriousness is called “unbecoming,” and common sense is “plain” – and by that virtue necessarily fail in delivering important, truthful ideas. To be heard one must be amusing, and to be amusing one must avoid seriousness: this is an important aspect of the philosophy of the dandy.

For other characters in the play, however, the effort to amuse oneself and others is a sign of triviality – of shallowness, frivolousness, or even “heartlessness.” Older, conservative characters like Lord Caversham believe that the world can be cleanly divided into good, important, serious things and bad, unimportant, trivial things. Serious things include money, marriage, propriety; trivial things include beautiful objects, love, and charm. Goring (and Wilde) believes that the items on the first list are merely the superficial, social, deadened versions of the items on the second list, but this fact is imperceptible to the anti-dandy, who makes no distinction between public and private life, between the appearance of something and the private experience of it.

Ultimately, the play satirizes and inverts the distinction between the trivial and the serious to emphasize that acting seriously does not mean feeling seriously, and that people who act seriously as a rule often conflate the two. The inversions also show that the trivial and the serious are not stable, socially determined categories but ephemeral attitudes that can be applied to anything, from politics to buttonholes.

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The Trivial and the Serious ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Trivial and the Serious appears in each scene of An Ideal Husband. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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The Trivial and the Serious Quotes in An Ideal Husband

Below you will find the important quotes in An Ideal Husband related to the theme of The Trivial and the Serious.
Act 1, Part 1 Quotes

Oh, I love London Society! I think it has immensely improved. It is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics. Just what Society should be.

Related Characters: Mabel Chiltern (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 1, Part 2 Quotes

I love talking about nothing, father. It is the only thing I know anything about.

Related Characters: Lord Arthur Goring (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

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LORD CAVERSHAM
You seem to me to be living entirely for pleasure.

LORD GORING
What else is there to live for, father? Nothing ages like happiness.

Related Characters: Lord Arthur Goring (speaker), Lord Caversham (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

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I like looking at geniuses, and listening to beautiful people.

Related Characters: Mrs. Marchmont and Lady Basildon (speaker)
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 2, Part 1 Quotes

Ah! I prefer a gentlemanly fool any day. There is more to be said for stupidity than people imagine.

Related Characters: Lord Arthur Goring (speaker)
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 2, Part 2 Quotes

The art of living. The only really Fine Art we have produced in modern times.

Related Characters: Mrs. Cheveley (speaker)
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Act 3, Part 1 Quotes

One sees that [Lord Goring] stands in immediate relation to modern life, makes it indeed, and so masters it. He is the first well-dressed philosopher in the history of thought.

Related Characters: Lord Arthur Goring
Related Symbols: The Buttonhole
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Act 4, Part 1 Quotes

Youth isn’t an affectation. Youth is an art.

Related Characters: Lord Arthur Goring (speaker)
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Well, my duty is a thing I never do, on principle. It always depresses me.

Related Characters: Mabel Chiltern (speaker)
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

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