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Characters and Stage Directions in "The Importance of Being Earnest"

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In Earnest, Wilde does not include very many stage directions but whenever he does it is significant. At the beginning of act one, it says, "the flat is luxuriously and artistically furnished." This description connotes to wealth and luxurious lifestyles. However, it is ironic because Algernon, despite being an aristocrat does not have any money. Similarly, at the beginning of act two, the countryhouse is described as "a flight of grey stones leading up to the house. The garden, an old-fashioned one, full of roses." This setting connotes to a typical romantic atmosphere, one found in a typical Jane Austen novel. This is again ironic because neither love stories in this play have any real love or passion. Thus, the setting contributes to the main themes of appearance and reality and superficiality, both essential themes to this play. In Earnest, mere characterization is used to convey a significant theme in this play. Two of the main characters, Cecily Cardew and Gwendolen Fairfax are characterized similarly by Wilde. This can be seen when Gwendolen says "we live in an age of ideals...says in expensive monthly magazines." She basically tells Jack, her "lover" that ideals come from magazines and not society itself. This makes her seem quite foolish and superficial, Wilde demonstrates the same superficiality with Cecily, where she says "I've always dreamt of marrying a man named Ernest." ...read more.


Wildes shows that there is no difference, later on, between the two supposed spheres. In addition, whenever Jack leaves for the country, he always stresses on Cecily's "German", to Miss Prism, as she says whenever "he is leaving for town". Further emphasizing that Jack has to do something of high moral to make him feel better about his actions. Similarly, Jack appears to have a different identity to maintain his reputation. It illustrates that he is dictated and controlled by the Aristocracy. However, incomparison, Algernon is more accepting of being a "bunburyist" which shows him to be honest of his behavior. Whereas, Jack hides this fact even to Algernon, who already knows of his behavior, stating that all married men have a doubled life, "three is company and two is none". Wilde cleverly illustrates that perhaps men are constrained by society that they have ignored their own desire. Wilde satirizes the fact that the aristocracy is superficial despite that they are meant to be superior. It seems that Jack had to carefully maintain his reputation due to the pressures of society and class. Wilde shows that Jack's two identities have be a waste of efforts as he is both Jack and Ernest, Wilde presents a moral paradox. It seems to question the real significance of "being Earnet" as Jack does not fulfill this but ends up having a considerably better life. ...read more.


Contrastingly, Lady Bracknell signifies the hierarchy and hypocrisy in the Victorian society. After Lady Bracknell saw Cecily she commented, "There are distinct social possibilities in her profile". This shows her adherence to the idea of society and status. When Algy commented he doesn't care, she replied sternly "Only those who cannot get into society speak ill of society." Lady Bracknell takes great pride as part of a high social class. Ironically enough, while she claims she despises "mercenary" marriages, her own marriage to Lord Bracknell is a mercenary one. Should the roots of Lady Bracknell be considered, her status is much lower than Jack's and should be in no position to pass judgement over Jack and Gwendolen's engagement. This is a perfect examination of Victorian hypocrisy, and Lady Bracknell proved to be the very symbol of such a hypocritical and superficial society. On the opposite spectrum of social hierarchy, Lane and Poncia both have distinct purposes in their respective plays. At Victorian times, when Earnest was performed onstage and the dialogue between Lane and Algy plays out, it would appear to be most comedic and ridiculous to a Victorian audience as their own relationship with their butlers would be very different between Lane and Algy's. This exaggeration of character and extreme irony pokes fun at Victorian social stereotypes and expectations and stimulates the Victorian audience to question or examine their own relationships with their butlers. The purpose of Lane is to investigate and poke fun at Victorian hierarchy and ridicule Victorian social expectations. ...read more.

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