In The Importance of Being Earnest, to what extent is Lady Bracknell a fool?

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Lady Bracknell is a fascinating character, and she actually comes out with some of the most memorable quotes of the entire play. She is one of the primary vehicles that Wilde uses to communicate his comedy of manners as he satirises his own society. A number of the pity aphorisms Lady Bracknell comes out with might, at surface value, indicate that she is a fool, because they make no sense. The following is a classic example:

Thirty-five is a very attractive age. London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained thirty-five for years. Lady Dumbleton is an instance in point. To my own knowledge she has been thirty-five ever since she arrived at the age of forty, which was many years ago now.

Clearly, it is impossible for Lady Dumbleton to be thirty-five, and yet, if Lady Bracknell's words are carefully analysed, she is obviously not a fool. She is merely commenting on the absurd lengths that some women go to in order to try and prevent aging. Lady Bracknell throughout the play is a stubborn protector of conservative forces, even though she herself is far from being conventional. In a play that is all about mocking a society that lends so much importance to surface appearances, it would be wrong to dismiss Lady Bracknell as being somewhat foolish. She is a fascinating character in her own right and can be seen to both be part of society and yet also somewhat separate in the way that Wilde uses her to mock it. Thus whilst it is possible to argue that Lady Bracknell is foolish in the way that society is so important to her, at the same time it is possible to also admire her character for the way that she has gained her position in society and will do nothing to jeopardise it.

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