Witty Dialogues in The Importance of Being Earnest

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ACT I

      Act I of the play The Importance of Being Earnest shows several witty dialogues which have been successfully enacted by the respective characters. On the whole little bit of serious action occurs in the play. The chief interest of the play lies in the dialogue which is amusing and entertaining at the same time. The first act shows characters who have the capacity to make witty remarks and statements. Several of the witty remarks have an epigrammatic quality and some are at the same time paradoxical. Few instances have been given below.

1. Algernon: (to Lane) Lane's views on marriage seem somewhat lax. Really, if the lower order don't set us a good example, what on the earth is the use of them. They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility. Note: [It is a paradoxical statement. Generally we would expect the upper class to set moral standards but Algernon speaks in contradiction.]

2. Jack: (to Algernon) Why such reckless extravagance in one so young? Note: [Again a paradoxical statement because it is young people who are generally considered to be reckless.]

3. Algernon: (to Jack) Divorces are made in Heaven. Note: [Algernon gives twist to the popular saying "Marriages are made in Heaven."]

4. Algernon: (to Jack) Girls never marry the men they flirt with.

5. ALGERNON: (to Jack) ..... Now produce your explanation, and pray make it improbable. Note: [Instead of saying "and pray make it probable". A paradox.]

6. Algernon: (to Jack) The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Note: [A paradox.]

7. Algernon: (to Jack) ..... whenever I dine there I am always treated as a member of the family, and sent down with either no woman at all, or two. Note: [A witty remark from Algernon's side. Because having two women companions at a time puts man in trouble for in that case he'll not be able to love or flirt any of them.]

8. Algernon: (to Jack) The amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one's clean linen in public. Note: [An amusing statement and an interesting twist to the saying "Washing one's dirty linen in public."]

9. Algernon: (to Jack) I hate people who are not serious about means. It is so shallow of them. Note: [An example of Algernon's paradoxical wit.]

10. Lady Bracknell: She looks quite twenty years younger. Note: [The humour of this statement lies in incongruity. Lady Bracknell is talking about Lady Harbury whose husband has expired, and she has become more young and beautiful in the grief of her husband's death. That is really surprising.]

11. Jack: (to Algernon) Some aunts are tall, some aunts are not tall. That is a matter that surely an aunt may be allowed to decide for herse. Note: [A witty remark.]

12. Jack: (to Algernon) She is a monster, without being a myth. Note: [When Jack has been rejected by Lady Bracknell, he makes a witty remark calling Lady Bracknell a "Gorgon".]

13. Algernon: (to Jack) The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her, if she is pretty, and to someone else, if she is plain. Note: [Algernon's witty reply to Jack. Here he says that women are meant to be loved but only those who are beautiful.]

14. Jack (to Algernon): "Why such reckless extravagance in one so young?" Note: [A paradoxical statement because it is usually the young who are reckless, while Jack's reaction to reckless extravagance in the young is surprising].

15. Algernon (to Jack): "Divorces are made in heaven." Note: [This statement is a modified version of the well known saying that marriages are made in heaven.]

16. Algernon (to Jack): "Girls never marry the men they flirt with." Note: [Again a paradoxical statement because flirtation usually culminates into marriage].

17. Jack (to Algernon): "Some aunts are tall, some aunts are not tall. That is a matter that surely an aunt may be allowed to decide for herself" Note: [A Witty statement]

ACT II

      A large number of witty remarks are found in this act too. A couple of examples have been given below to illustrate the wit displayed by the characters.

1. Cecily (to Miss Prism): I don't like novels that end happily. They depress me so much. Note: [A Paradoxical statement]

2. Cecily (to Algernon): "How thoughtless of me! I should have remembered that when one is going to lead an entirely new life one requires regular and wholesome meals". Note: [A witty remark made by Cecily which amuses us because she tries to establish a connection between the beginning of a new life and regular and wholesome meals. Actually, there is no connection at all between beginning a new life and taking regular and wholesome meals. The meals are taken by a normal human being who cares about his health and wants to remain healthy. To link meals with starting a new life is something incongruous.]

3. Miss Prism (to Dr. Chasuble): "Men should be more careful; this very celibacy leaves weaker vessels astray." Note: [An epigrammatic statement]

4. Miss Prism (to Dr. Chasuble): "No married man is ever attractive except to his wife." Note: [Another epigrammatic remark].

5. Miss Prism (to Dr. Chasuble): "Maturity can always be depended on. Ripeness can be trusted. Young women are green. I spoke horticulturally." Note: [We can see a series of epigrammatic statements here].

6. Algernon (to Cecily): It is not at all a bad name. In fact it is rather an aristocratic name. Half of the chaps who get into the bankruptcy court are called Algernon. Note: [This witty remark is made by Algernon at his own expense. In other words, the joke is on himself].

7. Gwendolen (to Cecily); I am glad to say that I have never seen a spade. It is obvious that our social spheres have been widely different. Note: [This is a satirical remark].

8. Cecily: (to Miss Prism) I don't like novels that end happily. They depress me so much.
Note: [A paradox.]

9. Cecily: [to Algernon] How thoughtless of me! I should have remembered that when one is going to lead an entirely new life, one requires regular and wholesome meals.
Note: [A witty remark by Cecily which amuses us because she makes an attempt to establish a relation between the beginning of a new life and meal.]

10. Miss Prism: (to Dr. Chasuble): "No married man is ever attractive except to his wife.''
Note: [Epigrammatic.]

ACT III

      The dialogue in this act is as witty as it was in the preceding two acts. Almost each and every character has something funny to say. Cecily suggests Gwendolen that they both should speak at the same time. Gwendolen agrees with her and says: "I always speak at the same time as other people". Lady Bracknell is seen telling Jack that she has never undeceived her husband on any occasion as it would be wrong on her part to let him know of the real facts of any situation. Lady Bracknell also amuses us by saying that it was very good on the part of Mr. Banbury to have at last made up his mind to die. Furthermore, when she asks Cecily to present her profile is also extremely witty. She says.

      "Kindly turn around, sweet child. No, the side view is what I want. Yes, quite as I expected. There are distinct social possibilities in your profile. The two weak points in our age are its want of principle and its want of profile. The chin is a little higher, dear style largely depends on the way the chin is worn. They are worn very high just at present."

      But the funniest remark made by Lady Bracknell was when she says Algernon has nothing but his debts to depend upon and that she does not approve of mercenary marriages though she is very much mercenary in her outlook. She further articulates: "When I married Lord Bracknell I had no fortune of any kind. But I never dreamed for a moment of allowing that to stand in my way."

1. Cecily: (to Gwendolen) They have been eating Muffins. That looks like repentance. Note: [An amusing paradox.)

2. Jack: (to Lady Bracknell) And after six months nobody knew her. Note: [Jack responds to Lady Bracknell's suggestion when she says that an experienced French maid can bring fabulous change in Cecily. She gives the example of Lady Lancing whom her own husband could not recognise after the three month treatment by a French maid. Jack here makes fun of it by saying that after six months nobody could recognise her.]

3. Lady Bracknell: Is not that somewhat premature? Note: [An amusing remark. Dr. Chasuble in talking about Jack and Algernon's christening ceremony while Lady Bracknell thinks it about the christening of the babies who will born (Jack and Gwendolen, and Algernon and Cecily. That is why she ridiculously calls this christening ceremony "Premature."]

4. Dr. Chasuble: Unpublished Sermons. Note: [Another amusing remark.]

5. Gwendolen: (to Jack) If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life. Note: [Example of Gwendolen's paradoxical wit.]

6. Lady Bracknell: (to Jack) The general was essentially a man of peace, except in his domestic life. Note: [It is an amusing paradox by Lady Bracknell where she talks about Jack's father who was an army general and used to adopt peaceful stand in the battlefield but in his family life he was very much quarrelsome.

      Thus, the whole play is all about dialogues only and they are all highly amusing.

Witty and Humorous Remarks by All the Characters

      Thus there is very little material in the play that can be called as plot. Yet it holds the interest of both readers and audience because of its wit and humour that is produced out of the witty and humorous dialogues. Each of the characters in the play gives the evidences of brilliant wit. Each character is conscious of their wit but none of them gives any sign of their awareness. Wit and humour is not laboured here, rather spontaneous in their exhibition. Algernon comments on his manservant: "Lane's views on marriage are somewhat lax. Really if the lower orders don't set us a good example, what on the earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility."

Algernon and Jack's Wittiness

      This quality of the play becomes known to us in the very opening dialogue of the play between Algernon and his man servant Lane. Not only the leading character but also the servant amuses us with his remarks when he says that: "I attribute it to the superior quality of the wine, sir / I have often observed that in married households the champagne is rarely of a first-rate brand." And further he talks about marriage:

"... I have had very little experience of it myself up to the present. I have only been married once. That was in consequence of a misunderstanding between myself and a young woman."

      When Jack arrives at Algernon's chouse, an amusing session of witty dialogues starts: some of them have been put here:

JACK: When one is in town one amuses oneself. When one is in the country one amuses other people. It is excessively boring.

ALGERNON: And who are the people you amuse?

JACK: Oh, neighbours, neighbours.

ALGERNON: Got nice neighbours in your part of Shropshire?

JACK: Perfectly horrid! Never speak to one of them.

ALGERNON: How immensely you must amuse them!

JACK informs him his purpose for what he has arrived in London:

JACK: I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to town expressly to propose to her.

ALGERNON: I thought you had come up for pleasure? .... I call that business.

JACK: How utterly unromantic you are!

ALGERNON: I really don't see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal.

ALGERNON: I really don't see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why, one may be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then the excitement is all over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty. If ever I get married, I'll certainly try to forget the fact.

JACK: I have no doubt about that, dear Algy. The Divorce Court was specially invented for people whose memories are so curiously constituted.

Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen's Wittiness

      Lady Bracknell and her daughter Gwendolen arrive at Algernon's house and we are provided some more witty remarks through these two characters. When Jack tells Gwendolen that she is quite perfect, she responds:

"Oh! I hope I am not that. It would leave no room for developments, and I intend to develop in many directions."

      Lady Bracknell makes an interestingly witty remark when Algernon expresses his inability to join her dinner party because he has to leave for countryside to see his friend Bunbury who is seriously ill:

"Will, I must say, Algernon, that I think it is high time that Mr. Bunbury made up his mind whether he was going to live or to die. This shilly-shallying with the question is absurd. Nor do I in any way approve of the modern sympathy with invalids."

      This is a paradoxical statement because generally one is expected to be sympathetic towards the sick. Gwendolen's reaction to the name Ernest is amusing. It seems quite funny that a girl, a highly sophisticated girl finds the name Ernest as something inspiring "absolute confidence." She herself informs Jack that it has been her ideal to love someone named Ernest because there is music in this name and produces vibration. Lady Bracknell makes a very witty remark when she finds Jack kneeling before Gwendolen:

"Rise, sir, from this semi-recumbent posture; it is most indecorous."

      When it comes to her knowledge that both Jack and Gwendolen are willing to marry each other, she examines Jack in order to check his suitability for her daughter's hand. After asking few questions about Jack's personality, age, income and wealth she asks him about his parents. He informs her that he was found in a cloak-room of a railway station by Thomas Cardew and have no knowledge about his parents. Lady Bracknell rejects him on account of his unknown parentage. Humour springs from their conversation:

LADY BRACKNELL: I would strongly advise you, Mr. Worthing, to try and acquire some relations as soon as possible, and to make a definite effort to produce at any rate one parent, of either sex, before the season is quite over."

JACK: I can produce the hand-bag at any moment."

      She responds to Jack's words: "You can hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dream of allowing our only daughter - a girl brought up with the utmost care - to marry into a cloak-room, and form an alliance with a parcel?"

Witty Remarks by Miss Prism and Cecily

      In the Act II we find Miss Prism telling Cecily that she is not in favour of modern mania for turning bad people into good people at a moment's notice. Cecily makes and amusing remark when she says about human memory:

"It usually chronicles the things that have never happened and couldn't possibly have happened."

      Miss Prism makes a witty remark while talking to Dr. Chasuble. She says:

"This is obviously the reason why the Primitive Church has not lasted up to the present day. And you do not seem to realise, dear Doctor, that by persistently remaining single, a man converts himself into a permanent public temptation. Men should be more careful; this very celibacy leads weaker vessels astray."

      Cecily makes amusingly paradoxical statement when she says: "It is always painful to part from people whom one has known for a very brief space of time. The absence of old friends one can endure with equanimity. But even a momentary separation from anyone to whom one has just been introduced is almost unbearable."

      And the whole incident where she describes how she had fallen in love with Algernon; got engaged to him in his imagination; broke off her engaged and then again re-gained it, are extremely amusing and makes the audience burst in a roar of laughter. Another amusing and absurd element in the play is Cecily's diary in which she has a record of every compliment and interesting points that she ever happen to get in her life. We are greatly amused when Dr. Chasuble says about his sermon: "My Sermon on the meaning of the manna in the wilderness can be adapted to almost any occasion, joyful or as in the present case, distressing."

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