The Importance of Being Earnest

by

Oscar Wilde

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The Importance of Being Earnest: Parody 1 key example

Definition of Parody
A parody is a work that mimics the style of another work, artist, or genre in an exaggerated way, usually for comic effect. Parodies can take many forms, including fiction... read full definition
A parody is a work that mimics the style of another work, artist, or genre in an exaggerated way, usually for comic effect. Parodies can... read full definition
A parody is a work that mimics the style of another work, artist, or genre in an exaggerated way, usually... read full definition
Act 1, Part 1
Explanation and Analysis—Victorian Melodrama:

In addition to being a comedy of manners and a social satire, The Importance of Being Earnest is also a parody of the melodrama, a genre of dramatic work that was popular in 18th and 19th century England and France. While a melodrama is technically defined as a theatrical piece accompanied by orchestral music, the term "melodrama" can also refer to any dramatic work with a sensational plot and strong emotional appeal.

Victorian melodramas utilize a variety of stock characters, such as the orphan and the "fallen woman," who struggle to overcome extraordinary events. Although The Importance of Being Earnest utilizes some of these same stock characters, the audience is not meant to take them very seriously. The prudish Miss Prism, for example, is an unlikely candidate for the role of "fallen woman," which makes Jack's passionate defense of her in Act 3, Part 2 sound ridiculous:

Jack: But after all, who has the right to cast a stone against one who has suffered? Cannot repentance wipe out an act of folly? Why should there be one law for men and another for women?

If The Importance of Being Earnest was a true melodrama, Jack's speech would read as valiant and progressive, but it instead comes across as silly, sanctimonious, and hypocritical.

The Importance of Being Earnest also involves a sensational, melodramatic plot about an abandoned child who discovers his true identity, but this plot is subservient to the scenes of romance and mistaken identity that take up much of the play's runtime. As shown in Act 1, Part 1, Jack does not even consider his origins to be all that extraordinary:

Jack: My dear fellow, there is nothing improbable about my explanation at all. In fact, it's perfectly ordinary. 

Victorian melodramas often dealt with the battle between good and evil and either advanced some kind of moral lesson or sought to make a statement about the nature of society or humanity. By parodying this genre in The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde promotes the cause of Aestheticism, which believed that the value of art was its beauty, not its social usefulness.

Act 3, Part 2
Explanation and Analysis—Victorian Melodrama:

In addition to being a comedy of manners and a social satire, The Importance of Being Earnest is also a parody of the melodrama, a genre of dramatic work that was popular in 18th and 19th century England and France. While a melodrama is technically defined as a theatrical piece accompanied by orchestral music, the term "melodrama" can also refer to any dramatic work with a sensational plot and strong emotional appeal.

Victorian melodramas utilize a variety of stock characters, such as the orphan and the "fallen woman," who struggle to overcome extraordinary events. Although The Importance of Being Earnest utilizes some of these same stock characters, the audience is not meant to take them very seriously. The prudish Miss Prism, for example, is an unlikely candidate for the role of "fallen woman," which makes Jack's passionate defense of her in Act 3, Part 2 sound ridiculous:

Jack: But after all, who has the right to cast a stone against one who has suffered? Cannot repentance wipe out an act of folly? Why should there be one law for men and another for women?

If The Importance of Being Earnest was a true melodrama, Jack's speech would read as valiant and progressive, but it instead comes across as silly, sanctimonious, and hypocritical.

The Importance of Being Earnest also involves a sensational, melodramatic plot about an abandoned child who discovers his true identity, but this plot is subservient to the scenes of romance and mistaken identity that take up much of the play's runtime. As shown in Act 1, Part 1, Jack does not even consider his origins to be all that extraordinary:

Jack: My dear fellow, there is nothing improbable about my explanation at all. In fact, it's perfectly ordinary. 

Victorian melodramas often dealt with the battle between good and evil and either advanced some kind of moral lesson or sought to make a statement about the nature of society or humanity. By parodying this genre in The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde promotes the cause of Aestheticism, which believed that the value of art was its beauty, not its social usefulness.

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