Illustration of Jack Worthing in a top hat and formal attire, and a concerned expression on his face

The Importance of Being Earnest

by Oscar Wilde
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Compare and contrast the dramatic conventions in relation to the thematic goals in The Importance of Being Earnest and William Shakespeare's As You Like It.

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Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnestand William Shakespeare's As You Like It are plays from very different time periods that bear striking similarities. Both are comedies of identity that end with the two main couples happily together after a series of humorous misunderstandings. In Shakespeare's time, it...

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Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest and William Shakespeare's As You Like It are plays from very different time periods that bear striking similarities. Both are comedies of identity that end with the two main couples happily together after a series of humorous misunderstandings. In Shakespeare's time, it was dramatic convention that all comedies ended in marriage, and As You Like It sticks to this formula. While Earnest also delivers happy endings to its young lovers, the times and conventions had changed, and the play leaves the couples at an engagement rather than a marriage.

Both plays deal with themes of identity and deception, though these themes are carried through in rather different ways. In As You Like It, Rosalind and Celia disguise themselves in order to travel safely through the forest of Arden. In Earnest, both Jack and Algernon pretend to be named Earnest in order to escape their day-to-day lives and win the affection of the women they love. Thus, while As You Like It uses costume changes and disguises, the characters of Earnest's deceptions are purely verbal.

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