The Importance of Being Earnest as a Comedy of MannersThe 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.
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
A comedy of manners must be set within a first-world society where money, social standing, and manners are required to be taught and executed at every turn. Within such a setting, satire usually emerges as a literary device of choice to poke fun at those who exist in such a realistic setting. As for Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," the main characters are wealthy English citizens who feel they must lie in order to have fun, marry men with specific names in order to find good fortune, and follow the rules of society in order to live an abundant life. The manners referee for the play is Aunt Augusta who maintains the standards of society by forcing her daughter and nephew to marry only those who will either increase their social status, financial status, or both. Aunt Augusta uses the social rules of courtship in order to manipulate the personal lives of said family and to show forth her authority and control over them. Ironically, she is later trapped by her own game when she wants her nephew to marry Jack's ward Cecily who has lots of money and Jack prohibits it. It is at that moment that the tables of social rules are turned on Augusta and she is forced to become the object of her own game. Other issues that come up for the characters in such plays (and that are also mocked, generally) are: marriage, indebtedness, wealth, secret relationships and lying to manipulate others to get what is desired.