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The Importance of Being Earnest

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1 The Importance of Being Earnest
A Trivial Comedy for Serious People 1895

2 The Importance of Being Earnest
Written in 1895 A play in three* acts Genre: comedy of manners Immediate hit when first performed Satirizes Victorian moral and social values Bridges Victorian period with Modern Uses wit, puns, exaggeration, and wordplay to create humor

3 Themes to Identify Manners and Sincerity Idleness of the Leisure Class
Love Critique of Marriage Dual Identities Manners and Sincerity Idleness of the Leisure Class Dual Identities Critique of Marriage as a Social Tool Love Foolishness and Folly

4 The Aesthetic Movement
Wilde was a leader of the Aesthetic Movement, which professed a belief in “art for art’s sake.” Art shouldn’t merely look to life or nature for inspiration, for art that too closely imitates life is a failure, according to Wilde. Plays with characters who spoke and acted just like they would in real life were utterly boring to followers of Wilde’s philosophy. This meant that art shouldn't be influenced by politics, science, or morality, but should be an expression of whatever it wished to be.

5 Characters in the play can be divided into two categories: aesthetes and non-aesthetes.
Aesthete – One having or affecting sensitivity to the beautiful Wilde's aesthetes are brilliantly witty, avoid work at all costs, and prize appearance above all else. These are characters who can pull a perfectly phrased line right out of the air at a moment's notice and can do the same with a more material thing: a diary, for example. Non-aesthetes are BORING, mundane They have no sense of the delicate beauty of life and it takes a lot of hard work for them to get what they want. There is none of the easy wit or graceful appearance that is characteristic of an Aesthete. Even their dress reflects their toils: the colors are earthy and mundane in contrast to the jewel-toned Aesthetes.

6 Main Characters John Worthing, aka “Jack,” aka “Ernest”
Algernon Moncrieff, aka “Ernest,” Jack’s friend Lane, Algernon’s butler Rev. Canon Chasuble, the preacher in the country Lady Bracknell, mother of Gwendolyn Gwendolyn Fairfax, wants to marry a man named “Ernest” Cecily Cardew, Jack’s ward Miss Prism, Cecily’s governess

7 Setting Time: Present, around 1890 Place(s): London (“the City”), Jack’s estate in the country, the village church

8 Victorian Period Named for Queen Victoria of England
Queen from Followed the reign of “Mad” King George The culture was very moral and serious Women were expected to be the “angel in the house” - to take care of their husband and family

9 Queen Victoria Became Queen as a young girl
Married Albert, Prince Consort and adored him After he died, she wore black for the rest of her life Had nine children Created a culture that valued family and stability

10 Social Norms Manners were supremely important; people called on one another for formal visits The upper class was well-educated, rich and respected families (“old money”); however, no amount of money can overcome poor manners Modesty was key—women wore clothing that covered; young women were chaperoned until married, and it was considered bad manners to flaunt wealth

11 Victorian Fashion

12 Literary Vocabulary Comedy – light-hearted literature with humor and a happy ending (often a wedding or engagement) Satire – literary writing that uses humor to expose something or someone to ridicule Comedy of Manners – a popular form of satirical drama often directed at peculiar social behavior featuring witty and polished dialogue and plots that frequently involved illicit lovers and cases of mistaken identity

13 Literary Vocabulary Wit – using words to be clever and funny with language Farce – a broad comedy, dependent on overblown speech, unbelievable situations, exaggerated characters, and, frequently, sexual innuendoes Epigram – a short statement or poem with a witty turn of thought or a wittily condensed expression Pun – an expression that achieves emphasis or humor by utilizing two distinctly different meanings for the same word or two similar sounding words

14 A punny title Meet Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing.
Both characters are a type of character Wilde created called the “Dandy.” Like Wilde, Algernon and Jack are witty, educated, effeminate, avid followers of the latest fashion and represent the Victorian upper class. They both adopt a fictional identity named Ernest to shirk their responsibilities and escape to go on vacation in the city or the country. Earnestness, which implies seriousness or sincerity, is the great enemy of morality in The Importance of Being Earnest. Earnestness can take many forms, including boringness, solemnity, pomposity, complacency, smugness, self-righteousness, and sense of duty, all of which Wilde saw as hallmarks of the Victorian character. For Wilde, the word earnest comprised two different but related ideas: the notion of false truth and the notion of false morality, or moralism. The moralism of Victorian society—its smugness and pomposity—impels Algernon and Jack to invent fictitious alter egos so as to be able to escape the strictures of propriety and decency. However, what one member of society considers decent or indecent doesn't always reflect what decency really is. One of the play's paradoxes is the impossibility of actually being either earnest (meaning "serious" or "sincere") or moral while claiming to be so. The characters who embrace triviality and wickedness are the ones who may have the greatest chance of attaining seriousness and virtue. (Sparknotes) Neither the audience, nor the other fictional characters of the play can compliment either character as being honest, serious or sincere. Ironically, it just so happens that the word earnest means "serious" and "sincere." Earnest is used as a pun for one of the lessons of the play.

15 Literary Vocabulary Protagonist – the main character
Foil – the character who contrasts the main character (the foil “reflects” the traits of the main character) Blocking figure – A character, often old and cranky, who interferes with the romantic desires or the other main characters and provides comic action

16 Dramatic Irony – the audience knows something a character does not
Situational Irony – the opposite happens of what is expected

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