The Importance of Being Earnest as a Comedy of Manners

The Importance of Being Earnest is an enlightening example of comedy of manners as it makes fun of the behavior of Victorian aristocracy which attaches great value to hypocrisy, frivolity, superficiality, artificiality and money mindedness. The Victorian upper class society judged things by appearance and the present play makes us laugh at those values by turning them upside-down through a language which is satirical, funny and witty.

Oscar Wilde

Different characters in the play embody those values and provide us insight into the upper-class society of the Victorian period. The play centers on the questions of identity, love, marriage and money.

Wilde's basic purpose in writing the play was to expose and prove as a sham the norms and values of the Victorian aristocracy. That society stressed respectability, seriousness and decency, but it was very different from what it appeared to be. What needed to qualify for marriage was wealth and good family background. Lady Bracknell rejected Jack as the candidate for Gwendolen, after she knew that he was a foundling. While asking him questions she gave last priority to his abilities and education and gave importance to family background. When she came to know that there is a handsome amount of money in Cecily's account she is ready to get her married to Algernon. The two female characters Cecily and Gwendolen love their respective boys just for the beauty of their name 'Earnest'. They find everything in the name and love for the name. The boys prefer the name Earnest but they lack seriousness. It is a satire on the society that gives priority to appearances and surfaces. It is hypocrisy of the concerned people. The dialogue used in the play is funny and witty. The clever exchange between the characters are beautiful on the surface and hollow inside. The artificiality and paradox embedded in the dialogue well matches the sham and hypocritical values and pretensions of the people targeted by satire.

Thus, The Importance of Being Earnest is a comedy of manners as it uses light hearted language to evoke laughter at the false values of the Victorian upper society.

The Importance of Being Earnest

Dramatic Technique in The importance of Being Earnest

A Satire on the Victorian Age in The Importance of Being Earnest

The Changing Status of Women in The Importance of Being Earnest