Introduction to Literature:
The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)

Act I
Act II
Theatrical Performance Photos
Relevant Links
"Wilde Words", Caricatures, Pictures, and Illustration
The play as a whole

The Importance of Being est

Above: Oscar Wilde in "aesthetic" costume during his lecture tour of America, 1882.  Photograph by Napoleon Sarony
Right: "Oscar Wilde on Our Cast-Iron Stoves" From Harper's Weekly, 1882, Cartoon illustration by Thomas Nast

Act One

  1. The play's story-- marriage, its manners and obstacles--is actually quite a common one in fiction (literature and best-sellers) and especially comedies.  The characters' views of marriage are both a source of laughter and an issue for serious discussion.  What does each character in this act (i.e. Jack, Algernon, Gwendolen, Lady Bracknell, and Lane) think about love, engagement, and marriage?

  3. Jack, Algernon, Gwendolen and Lady Bracknell are all from the upper class. What are their value standards? In other words, what are the things they think are importnat, or "serous"? ( Pay special attention to Lady Bracknell's inquiries of Jack.)

  5. Besides the aristocrats, there is Lane as a servant in this play. How is presented in the beginning of Act I? E.g. his views about marriage, his lies, and his drinking his master's champagne.)

  7. 4. What are the lies you have found in Act I? What is Bunburying? Is lying easy or difficult for the characters?

  9. The play is a comedy of manners. What is comic about it? What are the foibles that are satirized in Act I?

  10. Comedy of Manners: A term used to describe a play deriving its comedy from the social habits (manners and the mores) of a given society, usually the dominant one at the time the play is written. A comedy of manners typically chronicles the foibles of the upper classes, with some attention to the lower classes as they interact with the gentry in their roles as servant, tradespeople, and the like.]
  11. Plays are to be performed.  Usually stage direction offers directors/actors suggestions about setting and action.  This play has a minimum of stage direction, and you definitely can provide some more--about the character's gesture, expression and action, if not about setting.  Try to do it on one piece of dialogue (for instance, Lady Bracknell's examination of Jack.)  You can keep the late-19th-century setting, or put it in Taiwanese context.

Act Two


  1. How are Cecily and Ms. Prism different from each other, as is revealed in their conversation in the beginning of Act II? In Cecily's conversation with Algernon that follows, we see more of the things Cecily hates or values. What are they?

  3. How are Jack's and Algernon's lies revealed in this Act? How do they react to this farcical revelation?

  5. How does the issue of name (Ernest) get complicated or more "serious" in this Act?

  7. What does the dialogue between Cecily and Gwendolen show about their personality and their manners?  

Act Three