Hyperbole is a figure of speech that uses extreme exaggeration for emphasis or to highlight a contrast, often with humorous intent. In this play, Oscar Wilde’s characters often speak in hyperbole, suggesting their overly emotional reactions to varied situations.
This tendency is evident throughout act 1. When Algernon inquires about Jack’s neighbors in the Shropshire countryside where he has been staying, Jack claims first that he “amuses [his]… neighbours,” but also that he does not know them: “‘Never speak to them.’” This is an obvious, as well as untrue, exaggeration.
The two young men continue conversing for some time, interspersing the exchange of information—such as Jack’s intention to propose to Gwendolen—with friendly banter. Among the instances of hyperbole are observations about the food and about marriage.
Commenting on the cucumber sandwiches that Algernon has laid out, Jack asks “ Why such reckless extravagance in one so young?”
Algernon expresses his...
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