Friday, August 10, 2012

The Importance of Being Earnest

In the beginning of the Victorian Era, etiquette and domesticity were very important issues, with which people in high society would preoccupy themselves. Nonetheless, by the end of the period, these values had been declining and the new society, having now different concerns, ridiculed the old values. This satire can be clearly observed in the play The Importance of Being Earnest, where the critique begins in its title: the play depicts that what is important is having the name Earnest (appearance), rather than actually being genuinely earnest.

Oscar Wild satirizes social traditions from the early Victorian Age with great humor and intelligence throughout the play. One of these many moments is the passage quoted above, retrieved from the first act. The quote above illustrates irony about certain social rules of the time and conveys a negative concept of family, since it results in Algy being accompanied of either no women or two. The idea of having two women being family-like corroborates to the ludicrousness being exposed in the play.

Furthermore, many are the passages in the comedy that depict the mockery of the social values and manners of the initial Victorian Period. Three other passages, one from each Act of the play, were chosen to illustrate Wild’s critique. The first is a line from Algy, in Act 1, where he states: “I hate people who are not serious about meals. It is so shallow of them.” (Algy, Act 1). Once more, and often it is so, Algy’s words carry much of the criticism in the play through the use of senseless comments, which praise manners over reason. When Algy affirms that people who are not serious about meals are shallow, it seems straightforward the irony Wild makes use of to satirize the exaggeration of manners used by the society he lived in.

The second passage concerns a conversation between Miss Prism and Cecily, in act 2, in which they say: “Miss Prism: I know no one who has a higher sense of duty and responsibility. Cecily: I suppose this is why he often looks a little bored.” (Miss Prism and Cecily, Act 2). Again, it is possible to notice the inversion of values, where being responsible and dutiful is not seen as a positive thing. It is important to observe that Wild probably refers to the excess of those qualities, very commonly praised in the beginning of the Victorian Era.

Lastly, the third excerpt regards a remark from Lady Bracknell in Act 3, where she states: “ A hundred and thirty thousand pounds! And in the Funds! Miss Cardwell seems to me a most attractive young lady, now that I look at her.” (Lady Bracknell, Act 3). Once more, the idea that appearances and materialism are worth more than character is underscored in this passage. As soon as Lady Bracknell learns of Cecily’s fortune, the latter suddenly becomes fit to marry Lady Bracknell’s nephew, despite Cecily’s character – yet unknown to the Lady. 

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