The Importance of Being Earnest Introduction
by Oscar Wilde

The Importance of Being Earnest book cover
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So you’re going to teach The Importance of Being Earnest. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, Oscar Wilde’s classic play has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. While it has its challenging spots, teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. It will give them unique insight into puns and situational irony, as well as important themes surrounding conformity, morality and truth, hypocrisy, and romantic love. This guide highlights the text's most salient aspects to keep in mind before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance 

  • Publication Date: 1895 
  • Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level:
  • Approximate Word Count: 17, 000 
  • Author: Oscar Wilde 
  • Country of Origin: England 
  • Genre: Comedy, Farce 
  • Literary Period: Victorian 
  • Conflict: Person vs. Self, Person vs. Person, Person vs. Society 
  • Literary Devices: Dramatic Irony 
  • Setting: London, England; Hertfordshire, England; late 1800s 
  • Mood: Humorous, Witty, Absurd

Texts That Go Well With The Importance of Being Earnest

Handbag, Or the Importance of Being Someone by Mark Ravenhill (1998). Mark Ravenhill’s turn-of-the-millennium update of Wilde’s comedy tells the story of two same-sex couples who navigate the waters of adoption and artificial insemination. Like its source material, the play explores the difficulties of leading an unconventional life in a strict society. 

Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare (c 1598). Shakespeare’s classic romantic comedy of errors shares many thematic concerns with Wilde’s play: the morality of infidelity, the malleability of gender roles, the consequences of deception, and the frustrations of mistaken identity. 

Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw (1913). Henry Higgins endeavors to transform a common flower girl into a cultured lady who will be accepted by the upper classes and aristocracy as “one of their own.” Her attempts to adapt to rigid moral conventions produce much of the comedy of the play. Like Wilde’s play, Pygmalion explores the themes of leading a double life...

(The entire section is 495 words.)