There is a satiric tone in such comedies. The use of witty language is meant to highlight the artificial values of the people concerned. Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest also belongs to this category of plays.
Comedy of manners is well suited to expose the superficial values of the upper class society. The hypocrisies of this class are satirizing by exposing their behavior. Restoration comedy of manners exposes the issues of adultery, fortune hunting and commercialization of love and marriage. The characters do not take love and marriage as sacred, but as more of a mercenary venture. This play gives us insights into the then Restoration upper class society. The immoralities in their life are brought to the surface. The use of wit is very remarkable. The characters use language that is brilliant on the surface, but it is all hollow within. The language shows the bankruptcy of emotional and psychological depth. The dialogue is short and sharp. Such witty language is best suited to depict the artificial values of the people. The characters are gallants, fobs, dandies and coquettes. A charge of immorality has been brought against such plays. Such plays are neither very realistic nor great works of art. In The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde satirizes the values of the then Victorian upper class society. It doesn’t represent the whole cross section of society. The same is true of Congreve’s The Way of the World.
Published on 16 Jan. 2014 by Kedar Nath Sharma