The Importance of Being Earnest Analysis

Oscar Wilde

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Moncrieff’s flat

Moncrieff’s flat. Elegant London flat of the bachelor Algernon Moncrieff in which the first act of the play is set. The flat is complete with butler and other accoutrements of a life of leisure. This milieu provides the backdrop for Algernon’s insouciance, wit, and idle life. The drawback to his lovely home is its proximity to the home of his aunt, Lady Bracknell, a dragon lady and master of the non sequitur. Her incursions into Algernon’s life often force him to flee to the country to care for his invalid friend, Bunbury, whom he has invented for this purpose.

Manor House

Manor House. Hertfordshire home of Algernon’s friend Jack Worthing, who also has a London home. This house provides the setting for the second and third acts of the play. Worthing is the guardian of Miss Cecily Cardew, who is instructed in the German language by her governess, Miss Prism, and in religion by the Reverend Canon Chasuble; they all reside in this rural retreat. Worthing escapes to London by receiving phone calls from an imaginary brother whom he must rescue from scrapes.

While Algernon escapes London to care for his imaginary sick friend Bunbury in the country, Worthing escapes from the country by looking out for his imaginary brother in the city. The two worlds of the play collide and make for comic results when Algernon comes to the Manor House posing as Worthing’s brother Ernest. The arrival of Lady Bracknell leads to exposure of the imaginary friendships and identities and makes possible true love among the young people.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, England witnessed a cultural and artistic turn against the values of Queen Victoria's reign...

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Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

Romantic Comedy
Most commonly seen in Shakespeare's romance plays like As You Like...

(The entire section is 421 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

  • 1800s: Theatre is one of the most popular forms of mass entertainment. The number of theatres built in England...

(The entire section is 218 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

  • Wilde's play revolves around the necessity of telling lies in order to keep polite society polite. Is such dishonesty really necessary?...

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Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

  • Universal International Films released a film adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest in 1953. Directed by Anthony Asquith,...

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What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Beckson, Karl. "Oscar Wilde." In Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, Volume 4:...

(The entire section is 286 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Ellmann, Richard. Oscar Wilde. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988. A study that focuses on Wilde’s recklessness, which provides background for The Importance of Being Earnest. Includes detailed references to the play’s creation, variant editions and versions, and amendations. Full of comical, lurid stories that add fodder to the Wilde legend.

Ericksen, Donald H. Oscar Wilde. Boston: Twayne, 1977. Regards The Importance of Being Earnest as the culmination of Wilde’s dramatic creativity. In this play, he integrates his aesthetic principles well despite the contrived language, plot, and characters. Ericksen demonstrates that the play is a satire on the priggishness and hypocrisy often associated with late Victorian high society.

Ganz, Arthur. Realms of the Self: Variations on a Theme in Modern Literature. New York: New York University Press, 1980. Includes two excellent essays on The Importance of Being Earnest, as well as many allusions to it. Discusses the play as a conduit for self-discovery for all ages and lifestyles. Ganz exhibits a firm understanding of theatrical ploys and gimmicks.

Paglia, Camille. “The English Epicene: Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.” In Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990. A scintillating, provocative study of Wilde’s marketing of the 1890’s lifestyle. Discusses the extroverted, audience-pleasing aspects of Wilde’s play.

Powell, Kerry. Oscar Wilde and the Theatre of the 1890’s. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Provides extensive discussion of the London stage, with many behind-the-scenes glimpses. Discusses the various actors who performed in the play and analyzes the typical ingredients of Victorian farce. Includes an appendix of one hundred names and biographical information for each.