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How does Wilde use marriage and courtship to create comedic and dramatic effects in "The Importance of being Earnest"?

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The Importance of Being Earnest Coursework How does Wilde use marriage and courtship to create comedic and dramatic effects? At the time when the Importance of being Earnest was written, in 1895, society’s stance on marriage was very different to that of today. In our present society, when some say the idea of marriage is dated and becoming less common, it may be difficult to comprehend how pivotal marriage was to the Victorians. Marrying for love is, surprisingly, a rather new idea. This was rarely the case with Victorian marriages, which were often business proposals. The aim of marriage was to draw profit and higher social status, and to collect the wealth of the other family involved. Failure to adhere to these expectations would be considered out of the norm. Even more rigid than this social rule was the class structure all Victorians abided by, which decreed that no one could marry out of their station, in order to preserve the wealth of the rich. As stated by K Danielová in her thesis on Victorian marriage, “The social class the future partners came from also played an indispensable role… Couples were expected to come from the same social class.” This is seen in the play for instance when Lady Bracknell tells Jack that he should, “acquire some relations as soon as possible,” in order for her to consider his engagement to Gwendolen. ...read more.


This also conveys much social satire as it exposes the hypocrisy of Lady Bracknell?s views of marriage- and of Victorian society in general. Wilde draws upon the subject of marriage in many more instances, and often the integrity of marriage is questioned, along with the views of the people entering into matrimony. It soon becomes apparent that the Victorians were very concerned about how other perceived their marriages, and wanted their engagements and personal lives to be seen as socially ?correct? to onlookers. Nowhere is this more evident than in the conversation between Algernon and Cecily in Act II, when Cecily reveals that she has already dreamed up her engagement with Ernest (Algernon), and has broken the engagement off before. To Algernon?s amazement, she comments that, ?It would hardly have been a really serious engagement if it hadn't been broken off at least once.? This is yet another epigram that sounds naively matter-of-fact, reflecting the views of Victorian society, and Wilde uses this comment to satirise their preoccupation with image and appearances. This superficial view is also reflected through an earlier comment made by Gwendolen, who, despite declaring her love for Jack, insists that he propose to her properly: ?I think it would be an admirable opportunity [to propose]. And to spare you any possible disappointment, Mr. Worthing, I think it only fair to tell you quite frankly before-hand that I am fully determined to accept you.? Wilde ...read more.


her hyperbolic utterance of the question, ?A HANDBAG?? Her complete horror conveyed by Wilde?s character at the Jack?s lack of marriageable eligibility satirises the societal structures of the upper classes, and further reinforces the rigidity of the class system. However, there is another comment made that is even more demonstrative of Victorian preoccupation with social classes. Upon learning that Jack was found in a cloakroom, an outraged Lady Bracknell exclaims: ?You can hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dream of allowing our only daughter - a girl brought up with the utmost care - to marry into a cloak-room, and form an alliance with a parcel?? This is an extended metaphor, as it has more than once example of imagery relating to the idea of luggage. This is a notion that was considered ?common? to the Victorians, and Lady Bracknell?s disgust highlights the absolute horror many Victorians would have felt in this situation, whilst conveying the outrageousness through an amusing, nonsensical comment. The whole purpose of a ?comedy of manners? is to gently mock a certain class for their own amusement, by hyperbolising their trivialities and superficial preoccupations. This is certainly well achieved in The Importance of Being Earnest, especially when Wilde refers to marriage and courtship, because the perfect image of a marriage, the use marriage for achieving greater status, and the rigidity of the social structure were all deeply ingrained conventions in Victorian society. ...read more.

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