In The Importance Of Being Earnest, how is humour enhanced through comic timing and patterns in Act 3?   

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shakespeareguru eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Act Three of any comedy with a three act structure is about tying up all the complications that have been introduced in Act One and developed in Act Two.  The Importance of Being Earnest has an interesting comic structure, as it fits the criteria of a few comic styles:  Farce, Comedy of Manners, and Comedy in the classic sense (which involves romantic complications and ends in at least one marriage).

The patterns that you can look for in Act Three of Earnest are:

  • The classical Comic ending in preparation for a wedding.  Though there have been obstacles, both young couples are resolved towards marriage by the end of the play.
  • The resolving of the farcical patterns of identity in the play.  Who is Earnest?  Is anyone named Earnest?  And what about lineage?  All of the questions of identity, a common confusion in a Farce, are resolved.
  • And everything is played out through great conversational wit and banter, a hallmark of the Comedy of Manners.

It is the wit and banter that relies heavily on comic timing.  But, because this is a script that actors must interpret, you won't find "timing" in the play itself.  To observe and appreciate the effect of the comic timing, you must see the play as it was meant to be experienced, performed live by actors.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Patterns in The Importance of Being Earnest are used on purpose on Act 3 because this is the act in which the triviality of the whole play will  be unveiled. This means that, the closer we get to the "serious truth", the more ridiculous it is supposed to be and the more farcical it has to appear. After all, it is like Wilde said "A Trivial Comedy". Therefore, the patterns in the story are mostly seen in the actions of Gwendolyn and Cecily as a PAIR, and then the actions of Jack and Algernon as a PAIR. What the girls do (eating, then fighting, then being angry at the men, then escaping) are similarly the same thing Jack and Algernon do when they are left alone. With the repetition of actions and the repetition of words on both sides, the entire comedy looks weird and becomes almost ridiculous. But that was the idea of it all.

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The Importance of Being Earnest

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