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What makes the play ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ funny?

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Introduction

What makes the play 'The Importance of Being Earnest' funny? Oscar Wilde's clever use of language, characters, dramatic irony and absurdity makes his play 'The Importance of Being Earnest' very funny. Wilde wrote the play with intentions of making a mild mockery of his contemporary upper-class society's manners and values. He does this very successfully by having his upper-class characters over-expressing their manners and their language to such an extent his characters are seen to be quite absurd. However, not all of the humour comes from mocking upper-class manners and values. The plot is quite ridiculous and so adds to the laughter of his audiences. The final result of adding all the funny parts about the play together is a play that cannot fail to make one laugh, even though it was not written for a modern audience. The language of the play is probably the most notable point about the play. Oscar Wilde was very renown for his witty use of puns and epigrams. There is in fact a pun in the play's title, 'Earnest' being a description of good morality and also being a Christian name 'Ernest'. To extend the pun further, Wilde incorporates the two meanings so that it is suggested that someone called Ernest is actually earnest: "You look as if your name was Ernest. You are the most earnest-looking man I ever saw in my life." ...read more.

Middle

For example the when Jack is in mourning for Ernest is very funny because the readers know that there is no Ernest so he hasn't died at all. Also Algernon is in his house pretending to be the imaginary Ernest and so is going to make Jack look like a fool. The ordeal with Gwendolen and Cecily having a dream to marry someone of the name of Ernest is also very funny because it is ridiculous. Both of them have an idea that a Christian name is more important than anything else about a husband, which is absurd. Gwendolen says "The only really safe name is Ernest" in conversation with Jack. It is absurd to think that a Christian name denotes safety. This is yet another example of dramatic irony because we know that Jack must be worried that Gwendolen will find out that he is not called Ernest. The same thing happens again in act two between Algy and Cecily. This conversation is even more unbelievable because Cecily admits to keeping a diary in which events that haven't happened and couldn't possibly have happened are written down in it. She tells Algy that they, her and Ernest, have been engaged for the last three months even though there is no Ernest and she had never met Algy. What makes the scene all the more absurd is that Algy simply goes along with it and no comment is made about her obsession with a fictitious man called Ernest. ...read more.

Conclusion

The comment is quite funny. Also when she thinks that Bunbury is ill she offers no condolence but is angered: "Well, I must say, Algernon, that I think it is high time that Mr Bunbury made up his mind whether he was going to live or die." This comment is very funny because it is absurd to think that one will make a decision to die. It is also very funny that she believes her dinner parties are more important than the life of an invalid. She is also quite pleased when she thinks Bunbury actually has died and brushes over any bereavement Algy might be feeling, although of course he wont be bereaved because there is no Bunbury. She strongly believes that what she wants is the most important thing and she makes the play very funny. The plot of course is completely absurd and so very funny. It is absurd that a baby was left in a handbag in mistake for a novel. Even more absurd is two different women fall in love with two different men purely because they believe their names are Ernest. And the most absurd of all is that after twenty-nine years of not knowing who he is Ernest turns out to be Ernest after all and 'brother Ernest' turns out to be Ernest's brother and all could have been discovered three years ago had Miss Prism seen the handbag. After close examination of the play it can be concluded that there isn't much about 'The Importance of Being Earnest' that isn't funny. Melissa Cherry ...read more.

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