Russell Jackson asserts that in The Importance of Being Earnest, ‘Wilde simultaneously engaged with and mocked the forms and rules of society’ To what extent is Wilde’s play critical of society?
The Importance of Being Earnest: a Trivial Comedy for Serious People is a play written by, author, poet and playwright Oscar Wilde in 1894 and debuted at St James’s Theatre in London in 1895. The Importance of Being Earnest is Wilde’s most eminent work and renowned for its abundant quips and entertaining satirical views on Victorian values, marriage and love. He continuously mocks the hypocritical and superficial views of upper-class throughout the play. The pun in the title, is the initial mocking point as the true meaning of ‘Earnest’, is seriousness and sincerity, contrasting with the characters, as each individual continually tries to convince society that they are honest with strong morals and are able to abide by the strict social rules. Nonetheless Wilde cleverly presents the characters in a way that conveys their moral views as both absurd and trivial, Russell Jackson’s assertion on the play is extremely accurate as through many devices Wilde simultaneously engaged with and mocked the forms and rules of society.
Within the play, Wilde mirrors many of the characters, such as Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew who both alike, have great intent on marrying a man by the name of Ernest. Gwendolen believes that she is destined to love someone of the name Ernest as “There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence” Whilst Cecily also admits “It has always been a girlish dream of mine to love a man named Ernest.” In act three, the selective women even declare in unison that “Christian names are still an insuperable ba…
…le were permitted to follow. These points are key in both pieces of literature as they engage with the forms of society and mock their values in order to make noticeble changes to the attitudes of the era.
In conclusion, Wilde’s depiction of Victorian society is deeply critical and although the play is light hearted and has comedic qualities, Wilde’s unmistakeable critique of societal norms and values is apparent and is one of the first plays to deal with modern issues, inspiring many other artists to explore and scrutinize the system in place. Wilde engaged with the forms of society and the superficial nature of the people within it. Lady Bracknell recapitulates Wilde’s view of society “we live, I regret to say, in an age of surfaces,” She is echoed by her daughter Gwendolen “in matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing”