Jonathan R. Wynn
The Importance of Being Ernest.
The Importance of Being Ernest is more of an anti-comedy because it pokes fun and makes a joke about important standards that were socially demanded in the Victorian era. The play does have a lot of the same conflicts that other comedies had for couples not to be together such as class, social standings, wealth etc. that I can see why some people would look at it as a regular comedy. The play just doesn’t take things to serious and throws curveballs at the audience. In Victorian time men were in charge of the household making most of the decisions because they paid the bills while the women raised the children and took care of the house. Like most things in this play Oscar Wild has this in reverse by making Lady Bracknell in charge of the household. It wasn’t normal for a woman to decide who would get married to who and to be the judge of if the man is good enough for their daughter or whoever is in their care. Another thing Oscar Wild does that is not normal but funny is how Jacks and Alginons priorities and morals aren’t right. Jack thinks it is perfectly acceptable to lie and prefers to lie because that’s what has gotten him this far in life. The whole play is based on his original lie that his name is Earnest. He wouldn’t have been able to visit Gwendolen as much without lying about having a sick brother.
Things that should be important to them such as making up with Gwendolen and Cecily don’t seem to be a big deal. They cared more about eating muffins and getting into a fight over eating then consoling the girls after being caught in the lie. It also seemed that the women were in more control of the relationship then the men which was very uncommon especially in the Victorian era where the man’s word was final. It depicts Gwendolen chasing after Jack by leaving her home and traveling out of the city and into the country to see him. It was not heard of a woman chasing after a man like that especially in that era.
It doesn’t seem like anyone had any moral issues with lying in the play. It shows most of the characters lying at one point or the other and only feel bad when they get caught and must tell the truth like Jack. “Gwendolen, Cecily it is very painful for me to speak the truth. It is the first time in my life that I have ever been reduced to such a painful position, and I am really quite inexperienced in doing anything of the kind.” Cecily had an entire relationship with Alginon with her own love letters. She proposed for Algy and even broke with him and they got back together all without him ever knowing there were any letters to start with. Not only was that not ordinary for a woman to court a man that way a sane person in general would never do anything like that.
The play does have all of the elements that a normal comedy has. It is a true love story about couples that are not supposed to be together but are willing to go to the end of the earth to be with each other. Jack is a ture underdog story. He was born an orphan and was very poor and made something out of his life. No matter how much money he makes he will never be accepted by the higher class. Even though Algy is essentially broke compared to Jack he will always be looked down upon socially because he is not blue blooded, and his name carries no weight in the community.
Oscar wild shows how love is blind and can let you look past a lot and accept things you would normally think is crazy. Jack was willing to go the rest of his life with letting Gwendolen think his name was Ernest. She made it seem that she wouldn’t love him as much if his name was not Ernest. Algy did not seem to care that Cecily was impersonating him and writing letters as him. He didn’t even take a step back and think something is not right when she proposed for him. All he cared about was when she broke up with herself is that they got back together. If he was not in love with her he wouldn’t have thought she was a lunatic but since love is blind he didn’t notice her insanity.
Like a lot of traditional plays, the couple has an obstacle to get around. In this case it is Lady Bracknell. She stands in the way of Jack and Gwendolen being together and doesn’t seem to excited about her nephew being with Cecily. You can’t blame her for being who she is. She is a product of her environment and was raised and taught to be a woman of class. Her values are very superficial, and class is most important to her. No matter how rich Jack is she does not accept him until the end when they find out he is actually Algy’s brother and related to her. She questioned his trendiness which he had no rebuttal too. In her eyes he was a low class and basically a hick because he did not live in the city and was not into fashion.
Algernon plays a pretty traditional role for a comedy. He is a spoiled rude narcissist man who is bored with his normal routine. He sees what Jack is up too and wants something similar, so he follows Jack into the country. He wants to get out of his responsibilities in the city, so he makes up a friend who is on the verge of death named Bunbary and calls this act “bunbarrying.” He didn’t seem like the type to ever settle down but right on schedule he meets Cecily and falls head over heels for her. He falls into the same dilemma that Jack does and is using the false name Ernest. Like Gwendolen Cecily is really fond of the name Ernest and when Gwendolen and Cecily finally meet things take a turn. They go from being civil and friendly to petty and nasty towards each other very quickly. While having tea they take nasty shots at eachother. Gwendolen: “Thank you detestable girl! But I require tea.” Cecily: sugar? Gwendolen: no thank you sugar is not fashionable anymore.” Cecily at that moment starts dumping tons of sugar in her tea to spite her. When they think they are engaged to the same man they don’t think rational and think their Ernest is the enemy they think the other woman is out of their mind and their Ernest is too in love with them to ever do that.
I still believe that the Importance of being Ernest is an anti-comedy but agree that it can be looked at as a regular comedy because it still had to deal with the same issues. It had lying and deceit. It had an obstacle to get around which they did and true love which is always a feel-good story. Its humor was spot on showing how absurd and crazy people act when they are in love. They had the cliché ending you would expect a story like this to have and in the end, everything worked out and they had the happily ever after and all got married. I thought it was very clever and a very funny alternative to a conventional comedy. The petty arguments and fights Jack and Algy would have made me laugh every time. I think Oscar wild did a great job writing a classic and twisted comedy. He reversed conventional gender roles and took an unfunny concept like Victorian rules and customs and turned it into something hilarious and timeless.