🎤PLAY: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, Irish (1854-1900)

ABOUT OSCAR WILDE

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, the son of Sir William Wilde, an ear and eye surgeon, and Lady Jane Wilde, an Irish Nationalist, was the second of three children, born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1854. Oscar attended Trinity College, Dublin, where he studied Greek literature, joined the University Philosophical Society, and won the Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek studies. He then attended Magdalen College, Oxford, England, where he developed a refined sensibility for beauty, wearing his hair long, and decorating his room with blue china and flowers–especially lilies and sunflowers. He said, “I find it harder every day to live up to my blue china.” Oscar believed in the aesthetic movement of the late 19th century: Art for Art’s sake. He had a wonderful sense of humor, becoming very famous–and infamous–during his glorious Oxford years for his satirical wit and wisdom. Wilde’s strong classical education paved the way for his successful career as an editor, writer, poet, and playwright.

OSCAR WILDE’S WORKS

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

As a child, I read all Oscar’s fairytales with relish, enjoying them again as an adult. I particularly like “The Selfish Giant,” “The Happy Prince,” The Remarkable Rocket,” and “The Star Child.” As a teenager, I devoured, The Picture of Dorian Gray, considered scandalous and sacrilegious by the English public for its homosexual overtones. I immersed myself in Wilde’s descriptive language that sometimes took my breath away. It is the story of a young man who sells his soul to the Devil in return for eternal youth–a page-turner–and a must for any discerning reader. I am particularly fond of Wilde’s satirical comedies, especially his plays Lady Windermere’s Fan, An Ideal Husband, and The Importance of Being Earnest.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST

Mr. John Worthing (Jack) resides in the country (Hertfordshire) with his “excessively pretty ward,” Miss Cecily Cardew. Cecily is chaperoned and educated by Miss Prism, “the most cultivated of ladies, and the very picture of respectability.” Jack invents a younger brother, Ernest, whom he uses as an excuse to visit London. Meanwhile, his best friend, Mr. Algernon Moncrieff (Algy), an “ostentatiously, eligible young man,” lives in London and invents Bunbury, an invalid, so he can visit the country when he wishes. Algy introduces Jack to Miss Gwendolen Fairfax as “Ernest Worthing.” Soon after the play opens, Algy escorts Lady Bracknell (Gwendolen’s Wagnerian mother) into the music room to allow Jack time to propose to his beloved Gwendolen.

However, Lady Bracknell interrupts poor Jack Worthing while he is still on his knees.  She separates the ardent lovers who pledge eternal constancy to each other. Gwendolen promises to write to Jack at his country address. Algy, hearing their conversation, decides to visit Jack’s country manor under false pretenses as Jack’s younger brother, Ernest, to woo “little Cecily.” In the words of Shakespeare’s Lysander, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” Between Lady Bracknell’s interference, Jack Worthing’s spurious origins (he was “found” abandoned in a handbag at Victoria Station when he was a baby), Algy’s lack of fortune, and poor Miss Prism’s “moment of mental distraction” all those years ago when she “lost” a baby, it is a wonder that love triumphs at all. Miss Prism says, “The good end happily, and the bad unhappily.  That is what Fiction means.”  By the end of the play, we also discover Jack Worthing’s real name and the identity of his relations.

Oscar Wilde’s play, The Importance of Being Earnest, is full of witty dialogue, beautiful language, and clever epigrams–a delight for any reader or theater lover. It was first performed in London in February 1895, at the height of Wilde’s career. Sadly, three months later, Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for two years of hard labor for his homosexual relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas. His wife, Constance, divorced him, refusing him access to his two sons. Oscar wrote his famous letter to Douglas (Bosie), “De Profundis” (Out of the Depths), where he says,

“Do not be afraid of the past. If people say it is irrevocable, do not believe them. The past, the present and the future are but one moment in the sight of God, in whose sight we should try to live…. You came to me to learn the pleasure of life and the pleasure of art. Perhaps I am chosen to teach you something more wonderful–the meaning of sorrow and its beauty.”

When released from prison, Oscar moved to France, living under the name of Sebastian Melmoth. It was here that he wrote his moving poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” He died in Paris at the age of 46, retaining his humor to the very last. He said of his hotel room,

“My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has to go.”

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Sarah M. Fredericks © 2015
Carpe Librum!📚Seize the Book…and let the page-turning begin!

9 Comments

Filed under AUDIO🎤, Ireland, PLAY

9 responses to “🎤PLAY: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

  1. Marcus

    Hey Sarah,

    Excellent! Very informative. I have seen this play a few times. Am I right in saying that Angela Lansbury played Lady Bracknell in a TV version? Anyhow, Bracknell is one of my favourite characters. I think if she were my aunt, I would probably avoid her most of the time, but a lot of fun could be had teasing and exasperating her too!

    The play is very colourful and generally upbeat. I suppose Wilde knew people like the cast. No doubt he was inspired by those around him: lords, ladies, foppish characters, dandies, and so on. He must have had a lot of fun and took great pleasure in developing them. It is very amusing the way Jack and Algy basically bend the truth in order to put a little fun in their lives – and why not!

    Like you, The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of my Wilde favourites. Apart from the book itself, which sets the imagination on a frightful journey, I was very impressed with the 1973 TV rendition, starring Shane Bryant as Dorian, and Nigel Davenport as Sir Henry Wootton – Dorian’s corrupt and artful mentor. They paid great attention to detail, and the movie closely follows the book, which is perfect. You really feel for James Vane (the brother of Dorian’s lover, Sybil) when he thinks he has mistakenly identified Dorian as his sister’s ex-lover. Of course, Dorian is well into middle-age by then, but still looks like an angelic twenty-two year old.

    Thanks you for your account of Wilde too Sarah – as usual, very well researched and written.

    Like

  2. Carl

    The “Importance of Being Ernest” and “Picture of Dorian Gray” are the only Oscar Wilde stories I am familiar with. I particularly enjoyed Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth in the movie “The Importance of Being Ernest.” Excellent adaptation of the story! I enjoyed your audio recording and found it interesting. The historical perspective of Oscar Wilde’s life was very insightful. Maybe it is time for me to read a little more Oscar Wilde.

    Like

    • Thank you Carl!
      I am glad you enjoyed my audio clip. I LOVE practically everything Oscar Wilde ever wrote. I recently reread all his plays. I think you would enjoy reading his short stories and fairytales.
      Sarah

      Like

  3. Hayley

    I must say, I was never a fan of Mr. Wilde, but recently I have been reading more about him on your recommendation. I am intrigued by his eccentricity. I think my favorite has got to be that he used to walk a lobster on a leash through the streets of Oxford. Who could top that? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Hayley,
      How amusing! I have never heard that story. It is true that while Oscar Wilde attended Oxford, he endeavored to stand out from the crowd by being a little eccentric. As he says in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
      Sarah

      Like

  4. Great post, Sarah. I love Oscar Wilde (I even had a cat named after him when I was growing up!). Some classic authors fail to translate well to a modern audience, but Wilde’s wit is as sharp as ever, and I don’t believe that any of his works have suffered with age. The Importance of Being Earnest is a perfect example of that. It’s no wonder it has been adapted so successfully to the screen!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Mimi. Of course, the problem with Mr. Wilde is that I cannot put him down. Having just finished The Importance of Being Earnest for this review, I could not help reading Lady Windermere’s Fan yesterday afternoon. Then this morning I started A Woman of No Importance. Oh, Dear! So tempting to keep going. As Oscar says, “I can resist everything but temptation.”
      Sarah

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Richard

    Like you Sarah, I enjoyed Oscar Wilde’s works growing up. Dorian Gray was a favourite, although I loved the Canterville Ghost too. Typical of Oscar to turn the ghost story on its head. Hilarious! Lord Arthur Savile’s crime is also brilliant – a compact masterpiece – and again hilarious. I was lucky enough to see Corin Redgrave perform De Profundis at the Birmingham Rep many years ago. It seems that writers’ “masterpieces” deserve the term because of their effortless beauty, simplicity, and precision. We laugh or cry or are indignant or angry; whatever emotion the author wants to elicit, we faithfully supply – sometimes unconsciously. That is the genius. The work has precision like a Swiss watch: Not a word is out of place. It looks easy, but, of course, is far from it. Chekov’s economy in his short stories, or Austen’s effervescence in her novels, along with Wilde’s plays, are examples of this seeming effortlessness. Of course, behind it lies prodigious talent, many rewrites, and good old hard work to produce a piece as light as a feather. Wilde may have split rocks on the prison yard, but, as a geologist splits a rock on a mountainside to reveal the beauty of an ancient mollusc, so Wilde revealed and crystallised beauty in his works amid the toil and humdrum. We leave the theatre smiling. What better endorsement would a playwright need?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Richard,
      Thank you for your insightful comments on Oscar Wilde and other authors. As it so happens, I am taking a lunch break at the moment, and what book do you think is by my side? The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. I think I will dip into “The Canterville Ghost” for a little lunchtime humor. And the first line?
      “When Mr. Hiram B. Otis, the American Minister, bought Canterville Chase, everyone told him he was doing a very foolish thing, as there was no doubt at all that the place was haunted.”😮
      Sarah

      Like

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