General Structure of Comedy and the Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
GeneralStructure of Comedy:
* Things start out badly and end well
* The deeper aim is broadly social: the kingdom or other city spaceis at first badly ruled or in turmoil for some reason–perhaps thevalues and institutions of the citizens and/or rulers are in needof some re-examination.
* Next, the main characters leave (willingly or otherwise) the citysetting and wind up in the countryside, in a pastoral setting.This setting allows for the necessary re-examination of values andsocial roles.
* Magical transformations of characters occur; they are put insituations that could not occur in the city or the kingdom; theforest or countryside’s magic opens up new possibilities to them.
* After this reappraisal and readjustment period has been completed,the main characters come together–the young by marriage, thefoundational institution of the civil order and its only hope forregeneration.
* Finally, the characters return to the “kingdom” proper or areabout to return when the play ends.
Comedy of Manners: This kind of comedy is the one that best describesThe Importance of Being Earnest. English comedies deal with
“the relations and intrigues of men and women living in a polished andsophisticated society, relying for comic effect in great part on thewit and sparkle of the dialogue–often in the form of repartee, awitty conversational give-and-take which constitutes a kind of verbalfencing match–and to a lesser degree, on the ridiculous violations ofsocial conventions and decorum by stupid characters such aswould-be-wits, jealous husbands, and foppish dandies.”
…y ideal to love someone by the name of Ernest.”
One view among critics is that Wilde is saying that marriage based onclass by birthright is no less stupid that marriage based on somethingelse a baby cannot control: say, his name.
In the play many other examples occur of things that cannot becontrolled but people act as if they could be:
“Some aunts are tall, some aunts are not tall. That is surely a matterthat an aunt may be allowed to decide for herself.”
“I think it is high time that Mr Bunbury made up his mind whether hewas to live or die.”
The play also trivialises other things, like religion, death, customsand manners, etc. For instance, when Algy tells his Aunt Augusta thathis friend Bunbury died when his doctors told him he could notpossibly live, her only concern is that he acted under the propermedical advice of his physician.