Analyse the comic appeal of 'The Importance of Being Earnest' with close reference to the text.

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Earnest is descended from the great comic tradition.  Like Shakespeare's comedies (particularly , A Midsummer Night's Dream), Earnest gives us:

  • A struggle of old haters to overcome difficulty, often presented by young people
  • Separation and re-unification
  • Mistaken identities
  • A clever servant
  • Heightened tensions, often within a couple
  • One, intertwining plot
  • Frequent punning

Earnest is the blueprint for the modern romantic comedy.  It presages the television sitcom--the most dominant form of drama in our media age.  Earnest contains the same wit and humor of Will and Grace, in particular.  It is coded satire on sexuality.  It is an absurd love triangle.  Who loves who?  Who is gay?  Who is straight?  It's like a situational merry-go-round, fodder for an entire series of sitcoms.

It is perhaps the best example of Horatian satire ever staged.  Wilde expertly parodies the "novel of manners" in form and function: the double movement of a ciy man trying to escape the illegitimate and frivolous Victorian society contrasted with the country man who escapes to the city to find a mate works as high and low comedy.

Wilde's voice shines through his characters; his puns, verbal irony, and epigrams--in context or by themselves--ring so true.  As they say, "Irony is militant." His epigrams are funny and yet words to live by.  Algernon says, “More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read.”  Wilde presages the information age, the bombardment of words and images.  We could easily change "read" to "watch" or "speak" and the message would ring true.  Wilde knew that we would be victims of an overload of rhetoric which drains us and our language of meaning.

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The Importance of Being Earnest

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