The Importance of Being Earnest


Oscar Wilde

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The Importance of Being Earnest: Genre 1 key example

Explanation and Analysis:

The Importance of Being Earnest is a classic example of a comedy of manners. This genre has its roots in Roman satire but became especially popular in England during the Restoration period (1660-1710) and beyond.

A comedy of errors is generally defined as a satirical comedy that critiques social conventions. In The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde lampoons many aspects of Victorian society, including attitudes toward class, gender, and marriage. Like other comedies of manners, The Importance of Being Earnest also utilizes well-known stock characters: Jack and Algernon both fulfill the role of the self-indulgent dandy, while Lady Bracknell is a caricature of a domineering old woman. Wilde even goes so far as to name the rector at Jack's country estate after the chasuble, which is a ceremonial garment worn by members of the clergy, illustrating that he is more of a one-dimensional plot device than a fully developed character. Finally, the plot of The Importance of Being Earnest, as with many other comedies of manners, is clever but rather uncomplicated, which allows the audience to fully appreciate the play's witty dialogue and biting social commentary.

Oscar Wilde was also a proponent of Aestheticism, a movement that advocated "art for art's sake." Writers of the Aesthetic style believed that art should be beautiful and pleasurable instead of serving any kind of practical or moral purpose. Although The Importance of Being Earnest does satirize this movement somewhat—Algernon, who embodies Aesthetic ideals, is depicted as a silly, immoral dandy, and other characters are concerned with surfaces and appearances to the point of hilarity—it is ultimately a piece of Aesthetic literature. The aesthetes believed that Life should imitate Art, rather than the other way around, and The Importance of Being Earnest suggests that life is itself an artifice. The play is also intended to entertain rather than advance a moral. This is not to say that Wilde does not deal with important social issues, but his ultimate goal is comedy and pleasure rather than social change