The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest is a classic comedy play by Oscar Wilde. It was first shown on February 14, 1895 at the St. James' Theatre in London.

It is set in England during the Victorian era, and its primary source of humour is based upon the main character Jack's fictitious younger brother Ernest.

Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers!

Jack's friend, Algernon, has a fictitious friend, Bunbury, through whom he is able to feign both piety and dedication - as Bunbury is in ill health, of course - while avoiding any obligations he chooses, due to his unfailing dedication to his sick friend.

He discloses the fictional friend to his real-life best friend, Jack, having discovered that the latter has only assumed the name of Ernest for his visits to the city. Jack is in fact a foundling, a fact that does not endear him to his prospective mother-in-law, the terrifying Lady Bracknell - one of the great comic characters of English literature. Her most famous is her line responding to the fact that Jack was found in a handbag - most people know the one.

Alas, unbeknownst to Algernon, Jack has announced the tragic death of Ernest, as the ruse begins to interfere with his own romantic quests.

A hilarious series of comic misunderstandings follows, as Algernon-as-Ernest visits the country (as a dead man, as far as the hosts are aware), and Jack shows up in his mourning clothes. There he encounters Jack's ward, Cecily, who believes herself in love with Ernest - the non-existent brother she has never met. The play contains many examples of Wilde's famous wit.

It has a small cast, which is as follows:

  • Jack Worthing
  • Algernon Moncrieff
  • Lady Bracknell
  • Cecily Cardew
  • Gwendolen Fairfax
  • Miss Prism
  • Dr. Chasuble
  • Lane
  • Merriman

Notice that none of the cast is called Ernest: although Jack pretends to be and turns out to be Ernest, Algernon also pretends to be Ernest.

The full script online: http://organicfamily.com/homestage/earnestScript.html

The comedy has been successful even when performed in translation. The title being untranslatable, it is then usually staged under the title Bunbury -referring to deceit in general.

Movie versions


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