The Importance of Being Earnest is only a comedy of manners? Essay
The importance of Being Earnest is a comedy of manners, as it explores codes of upper and middle class society. For example,”I don’t play accurately – any one can play accurately – but I play with wonderful expression. “. However, The Importance of Being Earnest has other types of comedy, such as, comedy of humours and farce. Comedy of humours focuses on a character of range of characters, who have an over riding trait or humour that dominates their personality. For example, Algernon’s greed.
Farce is a dramatic comedy that creates humour through a series of ludicrous events taking place in rapid succession.
For example, Cecily andGwendolyn fighting over the same man who doesn’t exist, followed by a baptism that isn’t needed. One way in which The Importance of Being Earnest is only a comedy of manners is that Wilde purposely wants to expose the Victorian upper class’ norms and values in society. Wilde centres the play on love, money and marriage.
In the play it is clear that the younger hypocricy such as, Jack, Algernon, Gwendolyn and Cecily, only really care about love and marriage, whereas, Lady Bracknell soon changes her opinion of Cecily when Jack mentions she has alot of money in the funds, and agrees to let Cecily and Algernon get married.
There is a clear class distinction between the higher and lower hypocricy, as ones of higher only seem to really care about money, and the lower seem to only care about getting married and being in love. Furthermore, the two young females, Cecily and Gwendolyn seem to hold strong opinions, but when it comes to love they seem to only fall in love with the idea of the name “Earnest”, and they feel that they can love no other. Earnest, meaning, sincerity and seriousness. However, we learn throughout the play that Jack and Algernon, who both pretend to be Earnest, are not at all serious.
An example of this would be, that both Jack and Earnest want to get baptised as the name “Earnest” , not only does this show the serious lack of seriousness, but also shows lack of sincerity toward religion, as they both downgrade the importance of a holy christening as, “If you have nothing better to do”. This exposes the upper class’ norms and values, as they downgrade religion as no real importance. Also, theological concepts such as sin, atonement and redemption are reduced to Cecily’s belief that Jack and Algy “have been eating muffins.
That looks like repentance”. This shows that, Cecily believes that eating muffins has a religious meaning, which is completely poposterous, and also shows that the hypocricy show no values whatsoever toward religion. On the other hand, the Importance of Being Earnest is not only a comedy of manners, as it is also a comedy of humours. Algernon’s greed is portrayed as his overriding trait which dominates his personality, “Eating is the only thing that consoles me”. Here, Algy’s greed is made out to simply consolidate his grief or disappointment.
However, we begin to see that Algernon is very self-absorbed which can lead to selfishness which led to Wilde to discuss Victorian repression and guilt. Eequally, Lady Bracknell shows similar traits of selfishness and is very much self-absorbed, but unlike Algy, Lady Bracknell being a woman seems to hold the power. For example, “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two both looks like carelessness”. Here, Lady Bracknell stretches out her opinions on death, and immediately downsizes Jack to be careless, making anything she says far superior to that of Jack’s words.
Furthermore, characters like Cecily and Gwendolyn provide ruthlessness and practical sense, to remain in firm control of their partners. When they both find out about Jack and Algy’s real identities at the end of the second act, in the beginning of the third act Gwendolyn says, “We will not be the first to speak” but immediately contradicts herself and speaks first, to remain having the power over the men. Therefore, comedy of humours plays a big part in socialising the play, which helps the audience to realise the main traits or humours of the characters in the play.
Another way in which The Importance of Being Earnest is only a comedy of manners is through mistaken identity. This plays a massive role in the play as order is restored in the end by mistaken identy, which leads everyone to discover the importance of being Earnest. Mistaken identity is first introduced by Jack Worthing as he states “my names is Earnest in town and Jack in the Country”, the importance of having two identities in the play is so that it causes confussion.
Furthermore, Jack uses these two identities to amuse oneself in the town and “in the country one amuses other people”. This means that he can please himself with one identity and please others, meaning Gwendolyn, as she adores her Earnest, in another. It is important to have two identites as you gain a wider social class and gain more connections, as Wilde explores how it is important to have many social connections. As having connections also helps to resolve the disorder.
Additionally, Algernon also has another identity called Bunbury, which he overuses the term alot. When talking to Jack he states, “You are the most advanced Bunburyist I know”, and Algy uses his ‘friend’ Bunbury who has terribly bad health to go to social gatherings and enjoy the high life. Also both Algy and Jack use their other identities to get themselves out of situations, as they both decide to kill off their other self. However, they use the most absurd ways to kill their other identities. For example, Earnest died from “a severe chill”, which seems quite absurd.
However, Algernon seems to forget the situation he is in and doesn’t realise for a second what he says and airily states, “I killed Bunbury this afternoon. ” This shows that death in the play isn’t taken seriously or into account, infact it seems like a norm in society how both Algy and Jack decide to kill their double life to just live the single life. Also, marriage being one of the main themes throughout the play definitiely plays a key role in both deaths, as Algy and Jack are both desperate to get married to their partners.
Also, the tragedies have a comic aspect to them, the death of Bunbury being one, for Algy states, “Bunbury could not live… So Bunbury died. ” This shows the sheer poposterous state of mind of the upper class, and the unimportance of Bunbury’s death to the other characters. Additionally, The Importance of Being Earnest is not only about comedy of manners, as it is also a farce. This occurs when Gwendolyn and Cecily are fighting over the same man who doesn’t exist, “My ideal has always been to love someone of the name of Earnest”.
Which is followed by a baptism that isn’t needed, “I must get Christened at once – I mean we must get married at once. ” This shows the ridiculous nature of the name “Earnest”, as the sincerity has been taken away and it feels not as important as it did in the beginning, as Jack and Algy want to be known as Earnest, even though it isn’t their name, and Gwendolyn and Cecily want to love someone with the name Earnest, which is neither man. Yet, in the end everything fixes itself, and the name Earnest has been restored, showing the importance of being Earnest.
Another good example of farce is Lady Bracknell, as she makes a fool of herself on numerous occasions and it’s clear that she is only interested in appearance and etiquette. Lady Bracknell strives to be the most respectable lady, and likes to keep up her appearance. However, this is not true as Lady Bracknell solely focuses on trivial details. For example, when interviewing Jack, she asks about his parents and learns that both are dead, to which she states, “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lost both looks like carelessness.
” Here, Lady Bracknell is blaming Jack for his parents deaths, when she could be more to blame, and is quite poposterous that she doesn’t think before she speaks, as most of her philosophies and sayings are quite unintelligible. Therefore, farce plays a massive part in The Importance of Being Earnest, as well as comedy of manners. In conclusion, The Impotance of Being Earnest isn’t only a comedy of manners as it is also a comedy of humours and farce, which both of these show the upper classes major flaws throughout the play, and clearly shows the audience that there is a clear gap between marriage and Lady Bracknell’s idea of appearance.