Long-haired Wilde in one of his velvet suits
“The Importance of Being Earnest; A Trivial Comedy for Serious People” (full title) deals with issues of morality, wit, hypocrisy, romance, alter-egos and double-lives, and marriage, all against a backdrop of late Victorian society.
Jack Worthing. A seemingly responsible and respectable young man who leads a double life. In Hertfordshire, where he has a country estate, Jack is known as Jack. In London he is known as Ernest. As a baby, Jack was discovered in a handbag in the cloakroom of Victoria Station by an old man who adopted him and subsequently made Jack guardian to his granddaughter, Cecily Cardew. Jack is in love with his friend Algernon’s cousin, Gwendolen Fairfax. The initials after his name indicate that he is a Justice of the Peace.
Algernon Moncrieff. A charming, idle bachelor, nephew of Lady Bracknell, cousin of Gwendolen Fairfax, and best friend of Jack Worthing, whom he has known for years as Ernest. Algernon is brilliant, witty, selfish, amoral, and given to making delightful paradoxical and epigrammatic pronouncements. He has invented a fictional friend, “Bunbury,” an invalid whose frequent sudden relapses allow Algernon to wriggle out of unpleasant or dull social obligations.
Gwendolen Fairfax. Algernon’s cousin and Lady Bracknell’s daughter. Gwendolen is in love with Jack, whom she knows as Ernest. A follower of high fashion and society, Gwendolen speaks with authority on matters of taste and morality. She is sophisticated, intellectual, cosmopolitan, and pretentious. Gwendolen is fixated on the name Ernest and says she will not marry a man without that name.
A scene with Algernon and Jack from the original production
Cecily Cardew. Jack’s ward, the granddaughter of the old gentlemen who found and adopted Jack when Jack was a baby. Cecily is probably the most realistically drawn character in the play. Like Gwendolen, she is obsessed with the name Ernest, but she is even more intrigued by the idea of wickedness. This idea, rather than the virtuous-sounding name, has prompted her to fall in love with Jack’s brother Ernest in her imagination and to invent an elaborate romance and courtship between them.
Lady Bracknell. Algernon’s snobbish, domineering aunt and Gwendolen’s mother. Lady Bracknell married well, and her primary goal in life is to see her daughter do the same. She is cunning, narrow-minded, authoritarian, and possibly the most quotable character in the play.
Miss Prism – Cecily’s governess. Miss Prism is an endless source of clichés. She highly approves of Jack’s presumed respectability and harshly criticizes his “unfortunate” brother. Miss Prism’s severe pronouncements have a way of going so far over the top that they inspire laughter. Despite her rigidity, Miss Prism seems to have a softer side. She speaks of having once written a novel whose manuscript was “lost” or “abandoned.” Also, she has romantic feelings for Rev. Chasuble.
Rev. Canon Chasuble, D.D. – The rector on Jack’s estate. Both Jack and Algernon approach Dr. Chasuble to request that they be christened “Ernest.” Dr. Chasuble entertains secret romantic feelings for Miss Prism.
Friday 3/27 begin play in class. Act I writing topic for your journal: “Wilde’s characterization of Algernon, Jack, Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen; What can be said about these people?” Impress your classmates with your awesome response for Tuesday 3/31.
Tuesday 3/31 Begin act II in class, finish out if necessary. “Comment on Wilde’s use of language, wit and humor in Act II. What’s the effect of all this talk? What does it do for the play?” Impress your classmates with your awesome response and deep insights. For Thursday, 4/2
Thursday 4/2 film. Vocab for act I and II is : precept, celibacy, misanthrope, affliction, preponderance, grimace, attentive, demeanor, candour, horticulture, metropolitan, mercenary, preliminary, nigh, ostentatious. (15)
Monday 4/6 Begin Act III in class, finish out if necessary. Find five more juicy vocabulary words from Act III. Journal response to ponder; “Lady Bracknell is by far the most important character in the play.” More film for next time.
A Quiz on The IOBE and vocabulary words will happen on Thursday, 4/16. It will contain your 15 vocabulary words, 15 multiple choice questions about the play itself, 5 short answer questions about Oscar Wilde, AND an in class essay that will be based on one of your journal responses. Open book and note for the essay part.