How does Oscar Wilde produce humour in The Importance of Being Earnest?
In The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde utilizes wit and satire to create a humorous effect.
Wilde’s plays are famously witty. He plays on words to create exchanges with minor misunderstandings, such as when Jack admits to Lady Bracknell that his parents are dead. Her response is as follows:
“To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”
Her seemingly insensitive response is funny because of the very nature of the comment: she does not appear to understand the implication that Jack’s parents are dead, and upon learning that Jack had never known who they were, she advises him to produce at least one parent of either sex. Lady Bracknell continues in this vein for the entirety of the play, embodying the snobbish upper class and showcasing their shallowness. Her outright rudeness is humorous in itself, and her outrageous views satirize the upper class.
Algernon is one of the foremost sources of humor in the play. Algernon exemplifies the aestheticism that Wilde championed; he is concerned with his own pleasure and style over any sort of conventional morality. As a confessed Bunburyist, Algernon sneaks away from his responsibilities in the city under the guise of visiting an ill friend in the country; with no guilt whatsoever he lies to maintain his current lifestyle. He is often seen as being heartless, and indeed acts in an according manner—when Jack becomes angry at him for calmly eating muffins after Gwendolyn and Cecily have decided that they are no longer engaged to either man, Algernon only responds:
"Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them."
Jack responds quite reasonably given the circumstances: "I say it’s perfectly heartless your eating muffins at all, under the circumstances.” This is just one of the many displays of wit present in The Importance of Being Earnest.