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. Clearly, she means relations of high status, as proof that Jack belongs to the same social class.

The Importance of Being Earnest is a comedy of manners, and marriage is a concern of Wilde’s throughout. Neil King states that, “Comedy of Manners is a broad term which defines a drama in which the social behaviour (or manners) of a section of the community is humorously portrayed.” This is certainly apparent in Wilde’s work, where he draws on the ridiculousness of his society’s boundaries and conventions, and satirises the upper classes through the use of epigrams and hyperbole, in order to present a play that is both effective in terms of comedy, and conveys an underlying message of the ridiculous nature of Victorian society.

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There are many instances in the play where Wilde confronts the idea that marriage is a business transaction, to great comedic effect. This idea is first presented in Act 1, when Jack confides in Algernon that he came to town to propose to Gwendolen, and Algy replies, “I thought you had come up for pleasure? . . . I call that business,” articulating Victorian society’s normalisation of marrying for money; Algernon is surprised far more that Jack actually wishes to marry Gwendolen for love. However, referring to marriage as bluntly as “a business transaction” would still have been unexpected to ...

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