The Importance of Being Earnest’ was originally intended by Wilde to bear the subtitle ‘A Serious Comedy for Trivial People’. This oxymoronic insight into the flavour of the play could imply several different things. ‘Serious’ could be taken as in conveying an important message, which would ultimately make sense as Wilde’s views on marriage and society are aired extensively using the satirical tone of the play.
However it may also have been eant as a titbit to tempt audiences in, as they may have wanted an answer to their question “but how can a comedy possibly be seriousr That it is for Trivial People’ would have appealed greatly to the aristocracy of the time, as it was the height Of fashion and decorum to be seen as trivial. Wilde may have been using this subtitle to mock the people who went to see the play- it is meant for trivial people, and it is about the trivialities of people. This may have resulted in people watching the play and realising that it reflected some of their ideals in a way that made them seem utterly ridiculous and stupid.
Wilde could very well have been making yet another sarcastic witticism, before the curtains were even lifted on the performance. Despite this, before the comedy was performed, the final subtitle was switched to ‘A Trivial Comedy for Serious People’, and this is has remained the subtitle for the subsequent 1 19 years since the play’s release. Again, this subtitle can be interpreted in several different ways- trivial could have meant that the play was fashionable because of its lack of political and societal substance, or it could be taken to mean petty, or silly.
It appears that Wilde as attempted to harness these multiple interpretations of the word ‘trivial’ to again condemn the vacuous-ness of the society in which he lived. The oxymoron of a ‘serious comedy has been eradicated, possibly as it was deemed too intellectual to appeal to potential audiences- it presented an ‘overly complex’ juxtaposition in a society obsessed with the simplicity and frivolousness of things, so it was removed to enable the play to appeal to a wider audience.
The change in who the comedy was intended for- from ‘Trivial People’ to ‘Serious People’ could have indicated yet again that Wilde as conveying his disapproval of the upper-class men and women who were so devoted to things with a decided lack of essence and consequence. The implication that the play contained something ‘serious’ may have had a negative impact on viewing figures, as the Victorian aristocracy could have been put off by the idea that they might possibly have to deal with something serious.
This will have discouraged people from going to see the play, which may have been one of the reasons why it was changed. This reason for the change, if in fact it was one Of the factors that made Wilde make this subtle hange to the wording if his subtitle, is significant as it shows how careful people were to not associate with anything of a potentially meaningful nature. Wilde must have realised how seriously people took coming across as trivial, and so manipulated his subtitle to bring people face to face with their own superficiality.
This will have been extremely important to the successful transcendence of Wilde’s message: the recognition of the farcical stupidity of the actions within the play, followed by the realisation that the play was not so different from the ordinary lives of the audience, will have chastised the ctions of the audience and helped to make them more self-aware, and notice how superficial they were. The play is also consistently and entirely trivial throughout- hence, ‘a trivial play.
It is packed with witticisms and puns and laced together with the occasional physically comic routine (for example, when Jack is chasing Algernon around trying to retrieve his cigarette case). There is nothing serious about any aspect of the play on face value- this is how it is intended to be, as the only serious aspect within the whole thing is the message Wilde was trying to convey about the society at the time. Thus, it made sense for the subtitle to read that the play is a ‘trivial’ one.
The changing of the subtitle holds a significance in that it condemns an audience for their depthless day-to-day activities whilst simultaneously promoting something of humour and lightness. It exploits the aristocratic obsession with trivial’ matters so as to convey Wilde’s strong attitude towards the societal norms and method of existence. The ease of this manipulation is further evidence of the gullibility of the aristocracy, and the depth of their obsession with the importance of being trivial.