How closely does The Importance of Being Earnest resemble a comedy of manners?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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A "comedy of manners" is defined as: "A comedy concerned with the social actions and behavior of members of a highly sophisticated, upper-class society. Low-class characters are normally subordinate in interest or are played against the foilbles of their 'betters'. Such comedy emphasizes wit, whether true or false, and more often than not takes an arch view of the love game." [Bacon, Wallace A. The Art of Interpretation. 2nd ed.]

It fits in every way according to this definition.

"A comedy concerned with the social actions and behavior of members of a highly sophisticated, upper-class society"

Indeed Earnest is a parody of the manners and customs of the upper classes while also an attempt to establish how meaningless each of them would be without money. Each aspect of their behavior, from the way they speak, to the way they spend the money they have (and not have), the way they address their counterparts, and their list of priorities are all mocked.

"Low-class characters are normally subordinate in interest or are played against the foilbles of their 'betters'."

You see how the manservants of each household are treated by their masters, especially Lane, who is clearly Algy's emotional sponge. Similarly, in the Gwendolyn/Cecily showdown, Cecily is almost accepting the harsh words about her lack of society and although she avenges these words with "sugar and cake" she nearly almost admits to all that Gwendolyn said to her.

"Such comedy emphasizes wit, whether true or false, and more often than not takes an arch view of the love game."

The entire time this play satirizes the reasons behind falling in love, finding a partner, and looking for love in general. The wittiest phrases, which are the trademark of Oscar Wilde come each time, one stronger than the other. It is definately a play of this genre.

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