George Bernard Shaw's critique of The Importance of Being Earnest appeared in the Saturday Review on February 23, 1895. Shaw employs two main rhetorical strategies to criticize the play. One is to condemn it with faint praise, and the other is to associate Wilde's writing with that of popular light dramatists who were not considered the intellectual equals of Wilde or Shaw.
When condemning the play with faint praise, Shaw expresses the view that it is an old play, perhaps one of Wilde's first, which he was unable to stage when he wrote it and has brought out now that he is famous. He concludes with the assessment,
On the whole I must decline to accept The Importance of Being Earnest as a day less than ten years old; and I am altogether unable to perceive any uncommon excellence in its presentations.
Shaw admits that the play is amusing and says that he laughed at various points as he watched it, but he says that it is vacuous and farcical, a waste of an evening. This is related to his strategy of comparing The Importance of Being Earnest to the work of both Henry Arthur Jones, the writer of popular melodramas, and W. S. Gilbert, who wrote the libretti for the comic operas for which Sir Arthur Sullivan provided the music. Both writers were regarded as lowbrow and trivial compared to Wilde, who said that when writing drama,
The first rule is not to write like Henry Arthur Jones; the second and third rules are the same.
Shaw, therefore, dismisses The Importance of Being Earnest as trivial light comedy, without any claim on the attention of serious or discerning audiences.