How are stock characters used in The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde?  

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Most of the characters in The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde are based on the prototypical stock characters of Roman comedy. They are often used for humorous effect. Some of the stock characters are:

Lane: Algernon's butler is an example of the servus callidus, the clever servant. This tends to be funny because of the incongruity of the servant who can appear smarter and more "noble" than his master.

Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing: These are slightly older and smarter versions of the adulescens, the young male lover who is a typical protagonist. The comedy in Wilde comes from the way that the two young men at first go against type by appearing worldly and cynical, but then reveal themselves as just as romantic and impulsive as their prototype. 

Lady Bracknell: She fits the role of the matrona, and is an hyperbolic version of this stock character. The humor is derives from the way she inverts gender roles, by being a powerful force in a patriarchal world.

Reverend Chasuble: This is a stock character of the senex, the old man, who creates comedy by falling in love in a somewhat incongruous fashion. 

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The Importance of Being Earnest

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