First off, I will admit I am completely biased on the topic of this play, due to my deep, everlasting love for Oscar Wilde.
I’m not quite sure what gets me about him, if it’s the elegant writing, or the witty exchanges, or the hilarity that often ensues in his beloved writing, but I’m completely enamored. To me, Oscar Wilde has always been, is currently, and will forever be my bæ.
But beyond my thoughts on Wilde, here are some concrete reasons why you need to read Earnest:
It’s funny. This is definitely the most lighthearted of Wilde’s plays.
The play starts with two best friends, Algernon and Earnest. Earnest has come to stay with Algernon in order to propose to Gwendolyn, a local girl, but before he has a chance to talk with her, he has a conversation with Algernon, in which both men admit to living double lives: Earnest has a ward in the country, who knows him as Jack, but also pretends to have a younger brother constantly getting into trouble as a way to return to London. Algernon, in turn, pretends to have an ill friend, known as Bunburry, that he claims he must go see whenever he wanted to leave for London. Confused? So are all the characters in the play as they try to discover who’s who.
Standouts include Lady Bracknell, a satirical figure of a good older lady, sometimes played by a man; Miss Prism, a governess who made a grave mistake, and Cecily, a sweet, unintelligent, but somehow endearing character.
The exchanges between characters:
Jack: How you can sit there, calmly eating muffins when we are in this horrible trouble, I can’t make out. You seem to me to be perfectly heartless.
Algernon: Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them.
Algernon: I’m afraid I’m not that. That is why I want you to reform me. You might make that your mission, if you don’t mind, cousin Cecily.
Cecily: I’m afraid I’ve no time, this afternoon.
Algernon: Well, would you mind my reforming myself this afternoon?
Cecily: It is rather Quixotic of you. But I think you should try.
Algernon: I will. I feel better already.
Cecily: You are looking a little worse. (Act 2, Scene 1)
The great quotes you can employ when needing to impress people, or perhaps write an essay:
- “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.”
- “If I am occasionally a little over-dressed, I make up for it by being always immensely over-educated.”
- “To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up.”
- “You have filled my tea with lumps of sugar, and though I asked most distinctly for bread and butter, you have given me cake. I am known for the gentleness of my disposition, and the extraordinary sweetness of my nature, but I warn you, Miss Cardew, you may go too far.”
- “Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?”
Now, dear readers, go and find The Importance of Being Earnest.