The Importance of Being Earnest: Summary and Analysis

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Summary

      Oscar Wilde restored to the English theatre the sparkling comedy of manners which had been unknown since the time of Sheridan. The Importance of Being Earnest has proved the most durable English drama of the 19th century. Wilde called it "a trivial comedy for serious people".

      As a cover-up for holidaying, John Worthing invents a dissolute younger brother Earnest who compels John to leave his Ward Cecily in Hertfordshire and go up to London. Jack's friend, Algernon Moncrieff, has invented an imaginary invalid, Bunbury, which he uses as an excuse to get away from London. Jack proposes to Algy's cousin, Gwendolyn, who is enamored of the name Ernest, supposedly Jack's name. Algy is accepted by Cecily who thinks he is Ernest, Jack's younger brother. Both young men decide to be rechristened, but Jack turns out to be Algy's long-lost brother, abandoned as a baby in a handbag in Victoria station - and his actual name is Ernest.

The Importance of Being Earnest
The Importance of Being Earnest

Critical Analysis

      Oscar Wilde revived the comedy of manners. His plot is very thin and the play has a superficial glamour. But the lasting appeal of the play arises from some of the most brilliant dialogues of the English stage. Wilde's wit dazzles and his language is brilliant and vigorous. It was Wilde's last play and has proved his most enduringly popular. The slander but deftly worked plot concerns two fashionable young gentlemen. John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff (Algy) and their eventual successful courtship of Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew. Its chief interest lay in its continual flow of witty, artificial dialogue and the characterization of Grendolen's mother, Lady Bracknell, and also of Miss Prisn and Canon Chasnble.

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