The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde (2023)

The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde

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Title: The Importance of Being Earnest
A Trivial Comedy for Serious People

Author: Oscar Wilde

Release Date: March 8, 1997 [eBook #844]
[Most recently updated: February 13, 2021]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8

Produced by: David Price

*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST ***

A Trivial Comedy for Serious People

THE PERSONS IN THE PLAY

John Worthing, J.P.
Algernon Moncrieff
Rev. Canon Chasuble, D.D.
Merriman, Butler
Lane, Manservant
Lady Bracknell
Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax
Cecily Cardew
Miss Prism, Governess

THE SCENES OF THE PLAY

ACT I. Algernon Moncrieff’s Flat in Half-MoonStreet, W.

ACT II. The Garden at the Manor House, Woolton.

ACT III. Drawing-Room at the Manor House, Woolton.

TIME: The Present.

LONDON: ST. JAMES’S THEATRE

Lessee and Manager: Mr. George Alexander

February 14th, 1895

* * * * *

John Worthing, J.P.: Mr. George Alexander.
Algernon Moncrieff: Mr. Allen Aynesworth.
Rev. Canon Chasuble, D.D.: Mr. H. H. Vincent.
Merriman: Mr. Frank Dyall.
Lane: Mr. F. Kinsey Peile.
Lady Bracknell: Miss Rose Leclercq.
Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax: Miss Irene Vanbrugh.
Cecily Cardew: Miss Evelyn Millard.
Miss Prism: Mrs. George Canninge.

FIRST ACT

SCENE

Morning-room in Algernon’s flat in Half-Moon Street. The room isluxuriously and artistically furnished. The sound of a piano is heard in theadjoining room.

[Lane is arranging afternoon tea on the table, and after the musichas ceased, Algernon enters.]

ALGERNON.
Did you hear what I was playing, Lane?

LANE.
I didn’t think it polite to listen, sir.

ALGERNON.
I’m sorry for that, for your sake. I don’t playaccurately—any one can play accurately—but I play with wonderfulexpression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keepscience for Life.

LANE.
Yes, sir.

ALGERNON.
And, speaking of the science of Life, have you got the cucumber sandwiches cutfor Lady Bracknell?

LANE.
Yes, sir. [Hands them on a salver.]

ALGERNON.
[Inspects them, takes two, and sits down on the sofa.] Oh! . . . by the way,Lane, I see from your book that on Thursday night, when Lord Shoreman and Mr.Worthing were dining with me, eight bottles of champagne are entered as havingbeen consumed.

LANE.
Yes, sir; eight bottles and a pint.

ALGERNON.
Why is it that at a bachelor’s establishment the servants invariablydrink the champagne? I ask merely for information.

LANE.
I attribute it to the superior quality of the wine, sir. I have often observedthat in married households the champagne is rarely of a first-rate brand.

ALGERNON.
Good heavens! Is marriage so demoralising as that?

LANE.
I believe it is a very pleasant state, sir. I have had very littleexperience of it myself up to the present. I have only been married once. Thatwas in consequence of a misunderstanding between myself and a young person.

ALGERNON.
[Languidly.] I don’t know that I am much interested in your familylife, Lane.

LANE.
No, sir; it is not a very interesting subject. I never think of it myself.

ALGERNON.
Very natural, I am sure. That will do, Lane, thank you.

LANE.
Thank you, sir. [Lane goes out.]

ALGERNON.
Lane’s views on marriage seem somewhat lax. Really, if the lower ordersdon’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem,as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.

[Enter Lane.]

LANE.
Mr. Ernest Worthing.

[Enter Jack.]

[Lane goes out.]

ALGERNON.
How are you, my dear Ernest? What brings you up to town?

JACK.
Oh, pleasure, pleasure! What else should bring one anywhere? Eating as usual, Isee, Algy!

ALGERNON.
[Stiffly.] I believe it is customary in good society to take some slightrefreshment at five o’clock. Where have you been since last Thursday?

JACK.
[Sitting down on the sofa.] In the country.

ALGERNON.
What on earth do you do there?

JACK.
[Pulling off his gloves.] When one is in town one amuses oneself. Whenone is in the country one amuses other people. It is excessively boring.

ALGERNON.
And who are the people you amuse?

JACK.
[Airily.] Oh, neighbours, neighbours.

ALGERNON.
Got nice neighbours in your part of Shropshire?

JACK.
Perfectly horrid! Never speak to one of them.

ALGERNON.
How immensely you must amuse them! [Goes over and takes sandwich.] By the way,Shropshire is your county, is it not?

JACK.
Eh? Shropshire? Yes, of course. Hallo! Why all these cups? Why cucumbersandwiches? Why such reckless extravagance in one so young? Who is coming totea?

ALGERNON.
Oh! merely Aunt Augusta and Gwendolen.

JACK.
How perfectly delightful!

ALGERNON.
Yes, that is all very well; but I am afraid Aunt Augusta won’t quiteapprove of your being here.

JACK.
May I ask why?

ALGERNON.
My dear fellow, the way you flirt with Gwendolen is perfectly disgraceful. Itis almost as bad as the way Gwendolen flirts with you.

JACK.
I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to town expressly to propose toher.

ALGERNON.
I thought you had come up for pleasure? . . . I call that business.

JACK.
How utterly unromantic you are!

ALGERNON.
I really don’t see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic tobe in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why, onemay be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then the excitement is all over.The very essence of romance is uncertainty. If ever I get married, I’llcertainly try to forget the fact.

JACK.
I have no doubt about that, dear Algy. The Divorce Court was specially inventedfor people whose memories are so curiously constituted.

ALGERNON.
Oh! there is no use speculating on that subject. Divorces are made inHeaven—[Jack puts out his hand to take a sandwich. Algernonat once interferes.] Please don’t touch the cucumber sandwiches. They areordered specially for Aunt Augusta. [Takes one and eats it.]

JACK.
Well, you have been eating them all the time.

ALGERNON.
That is quite a different matter. She is my aunt. [Takes plate from below.]Have some bread and butter. The bread and butter is for Gwendolen. Gwendolen isdevoted to bread and butter.

JACK.
[Advancing to table and helping himself.] And very good bread and butter it istoo.

ALGERNON.
Well, my dear fellow, you need not eat as if you were going to eat it all. Youbehave as if you were married to her already. You are not married to heralready, and I don’t think you ever will be.

JACK.
Why on earth do you say that?

ALGERNON.
Well, in the first place girls never marry the men they flirt with. Girlsdon’t think it right.

JACK.
Oh, that is nonsense!

ALGERNON.
It isn’t. It is a great truth. It accounts for the extraordinary numberof bachelors that one sees all over the place. In the second place, Idon’t give my consent.

JACK.
Your consent!

ALGERNON.
My dear fellow, Gwendolen is my first cousin. And before I allow you to marryher, you will have to clear up the whole question of Cecily. [Rings bell.]

JACK.
Cecily! What on earth do you mean? What do you mean, Algy, by Cecily! Idon’t know any one of the name of Cecily.

[Enter Lane.]

ALGERNON.
Bring me that cigarette case Mr. Worthing left in the smoking-room the lasttime he dined here.

LANE.
Yes, sir. [Lane goes out.]

JACK.
Do you mean to say you have had my cigarette case all this time? I wish togoodness you had let me know. I have been writing frantic letters to ScotlandYard about it. I was very nearly offering a large reward.

ALGERNON.
Well, I wish you would offer one. I happen to be more than usually hard up.

JACK.
There is no good offering a large reward now that the thing is found.

[Enter Lane with the cigarette case on a salver. Algernontakes it at once. Lane goes out.]

ALGERNON.
I think that is rather mean of you, Ernest, I must say. [Opens case andexamines it.] However, it makes no matter, for, now that I look at theinscription inside, I find that the thing isn’t yours after all.

JACK.
Of course it’s mine. [Moving to him.] You have seen me with it a hundredtimes, and you have no right whatsoever to read what is written inside. It is avery ungentlemanly thing to read a private cigarette case.

ALGERNON.
Oh! it is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read andwhat one shouldn’t. More than half of modern culture depends on what oneshouldn’t read.

JACK.
I am quite aware of the fact, and I don’t propose to discuss modernculture. It isn’t the sort of thing one should talk of in private. Isimply want my cigarette case back.

ALGERNON.
Yes; but this isn’t your cigarette case. This cigarette case is a presentfrom some one of the name of Cecily, and you said you didn’t know any oneof that name.

JACK.
Well, if you want to know, Cecily happens to be my aunt.

ALGERNON.
Your aunt!

JACK.
Yes. Charming old lady she is, too. Lives at Tunbridge Wells. Just give it backto me, Algy.

ALGERNON.
[Retreating to back of sofa.] But why does she call herself little Cecily ifshe is your aunt and lives at Tunbridge Wells? [Reading.] ‘From littleCecily with her fondest love.’

JACK.
[Moving to sofa and kneeling upon it.] My dear fellow, what on earth is therein that? Some aunts are tall, some aunts are not tall. That is a matter thatsurely an aunt may be allowed to decide for herself. You seem to think thatevery aunt should be exactly like your aunt! That is absurd! For Heaven’ssake give me back my cigarette case. [Follows Algernon round the room.]

ALGERNON.
Yes. But why does your aunt call you her uncle? ‘From little Cecily, withher fondest love to her dear Uncle Jack.’ There is no objection, I admit,to an aunt being a small aunt, but why an aunt, no matter what her size may be,should call her own nephew her uncle, I can’t quite make out. Besides,your name isn’t Jack at all; it is Ernest.

JACK.
It isn’t Ernest; it’s Jack.

ALGERNON.
You have always told me it was Ernest. I have introduced you to every one asErnest. You answer to the name of Ernest. You look as if your name was Ernest.You are the most earnest-looking person I ever saw in my life. It is perfectlyabsurd your saying that your name isn’t Ernest. It’s on your cards.Here is one of them. [Taking it from case.] ‘Mr. Ernest Worthing, B. 4,The Albany.’ I’ll keep this as a proof that your name is Ernest ifever you attempt to deny it to me, or to Gwendolen, or to any one else. [Putsthe card in his pocket.]

JACK.
Well, my name is Ernest in town and Jack in the country, and the cigarette casewas given to me in the country.

ALGERNON.
Yes, but that does not account for the fact that your small Aunt Cecily, wholives at Tunbridge Wells, calls you her dear uncle. Come, old boy, you had muchbetter have the thing out at once.

JACK.
My dear Algy, you talk exactly as if you were a dentist. It is very vulgar totalk like a dentist when one isn’t a dentist. It produces a falseimpression.

ALGERNON.
Well, that is exactly what dentists always do. Now, go on! Tell me the wholething. I may mention that I have always suspected you of being a confirmed andsecret Bunburyist; and I am quite sure of it now.

JACK.
Bunburyist? What on earth do you mean by a Bunburyist?

ALGERNON.
I’ll reveal to you the meaning of that incomparable expression as soon asyou are kind enough to inform me why you are Ernest in town and Jack in thecountry.

JACK.
Well, produce my cigarette case first.

ALGERNON.
Here it is. [Hands cigarette case.] Now produce your explanation, and pray makeit improbable. [Sits on sofa.]

JACK.
My dear fellow, there is nothing improbable about my explanation at all. Infact it’s perfectly ordinary. Old Mr. Thomas Cardew, who adopted me whenI was a little boy, made me in his will guardian to his grand-daughter, MissCecily Cardew. Cecily, who addresses me as her uncle from motives of respectthat you could not possibly appreciate, lives at my place in the country underthe charge of her admirable governess, Miss Prism.

ALGERNON.
Where is that place in the country, by the way?

JACK.
That is nothing to you, dear boy. You are not going to be invited . . . I maytell you candidly that the place is not in Shropshire.

ALGERNON.
I suspected that, my dear fellow! I have Bunburyed all over Shropshire on twoseparate occasions. Now, go on. Why are you Ernest in town and Jack in thecountry?

JACK.
My dear Algy, I don’t know whether you will be able to understand my realmotives. You are hardly serious enough. When one is placed in the position ofguardian, one has to adopt a very high moral tone on all subjects. It’sone’s duty to do so. And as a high moral tone can hardly be said toconduce very much to either one’s health or one’s happiness, inorder to get up to town I have always pretended to have a younger brother ofthe name of Ernest, who lives in the Albany, and gets into the most dreadfulscrapes. That, my dear Algy, is the whole truth pure and simple.

ALGERNON.
The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious ifit were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!

JACK.
That wouldn’t be at all a bad thing.

ALGERNON.
Literary criticism is not your forte, my dear fellow. Don’t try it. Youshould leave that to people who haven’t been at a University. They do itso well in the daily papers. What you really are is a Bunburyist. I was quiteright in saying you were a Bunburyist. You are one of the most advancedBunburyists I know.

JACK.
What on earth do you mean?

ALGERNON.
You have invented a very useful younger brother called Ernest, in order thatyou may be able to come up to town as often as you like. I have invented aninvaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to godown into the country whenever I choose. Bunbury is perfectly invaluable. If itwasn’t for Bunbury’s extraordinary bad health, for instance, Iwouldn’t be able to dine with you at Willis’s to-night, for I havebeen really engaged to Aunt Augusta for more than a week.

JACK.
I haven’t asked you to dine with me anywhere to-night.

ALGERNON.
I know. You are absurdly careless about sending out invitations. It is veryfoolish of you. Nothing annoys people so much as not receiving invitations.

JACK.
You had much better dine with your Aunt Augusta.

ALGERNON.
I haven’t the smallest intention of doing anything of the kind. To beginwith, I dined there on Monday, and once a week is quite enough to dine withone’s own relations. In the second place, whenever I do dine there I amalways treated as a member of the family, and sent down with either no woman atall, or two. In the third place, I know perfectly well whom she will place menext to, to-night. She will place me next Mary Farquhar, who always flirts withher own husband across the dinner-table. That is not very pleasant. Indeed, itis not even decent . . . and that sort of thing is enormously on the increase.The amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectlyscandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one’s clean linen inpublic. Besides, now that I know you to be a confirmed Bunburyist I naturallywant to talk to you about Bunburying. I want to tell you the rules.

JACK.
I’m not a Bunburyist at all. If Gwendolen accepts me, I am going to killmy brother, indeed I think I’ll kill him in any case. Cecily is a littletoo much interested in him. It is rather a bore. So I am going to get rid ofErnest. And I strongly advise you to do the same with Mr. . . . with yourinvalid friend who has the absurd name.

ALGERNON.
Nothing will induce me to part with Bunbury, and if you ever get married, whichseems to me extremely problematic, you will be very glad to know Bunbury. A manwho marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of it.

JACK.
That is nonsense. If I marry a charming girl like Gwendolen, and she is theonly girl I ever saw in my life that I would marry, I certainly won’twant to know Bunbury.

ALGERNON.
Then your wife will. You don’t seem to realise, that in married lifethree is company and two is none.

JACK.
[Sententiously.] That, my dear young friend, is the theory that the corruptFrench Drama has been propounding for the last fifty years.

ALGERNON.
Yes; and that the happy English home has proved in half the time.

JACK.
For heaven’s sake, don’t try to be cynical. It’s perfectlyeasy to be cynical.

ALGERNON.
My dear fellow, it isn’t easy to be anything nowadays. There’s sucha lot of beastly competition about. [The sound of an electric bell is heard.]Ah! that must be Aunt Augusta. Only relatives, or creditors, ever ring in thatWagnerian manner. Now, if I get her out of the way for ten minutes, so that youcan have an opportunity for proposing to Gwendolen, may I dine with youto-night at Willis’s?

JACK.
I suppose so, if you want to.

ALGERNON.
Yes, but you must be serious about it. I hate people who are not serious aboutmeals. It is so shallow of them.

[Enter Lane.]

LANE.
Lady Bracknell and Miss Fairfax.

[Algernon goes forward to meet them. Enter Lady Bracknell andGwendolen.]

LADY BRACKNELL.
Good afternoon, dear Algernon, I hope you are behaving very well.

ALGERNON.
I’m feeling very well, Aunt Augusta.

LADY BRACKNELL.
That’s not quite the same thing. In fact the two things rarely gotogether. [Sees Jack and bows to him with icy coldness.]

ALGERNON.
[To Gwendolen.] Dear me, you are smart!

GWENDOLEN.
I am always smart! Am I not, Mr. Worthing?

JACK.
You’re quite perfect, Miss Fairfax.

GWENDOLEN.
Oh! I hope I am not that. It would leave no room for developments, and I intendto develop in many directions. [Gwendolen and Jack sit downtogether in the corner.]

LADY BRACKNELL.
I’m sorry if we are a little late, Algernon, but I was obliged to call ondear Lady Harbury. I hadn’t been there since her poor husband’sdeath. I never saw a woman so altered; she looks quite twenty years younger.And now I’ll have a cup of tea, and one of those nice cucumber sandwichesyou promised me.

ALGERNON.
Certainly, Aunt Augusta. [Goes over to tea-table.]

LADY BRACKNELL.
Won’t you come and sit here, Gwendolen?

GWENDOLEN.
Thanks, mamma, I’m quite comfortable where I am.

ALGERNON.
[Picking up empty plate in horror.] Good heavens! Lane! Why are there nocucumber sandwiches? I ordered them specially.

LANE.
[Gravely.] There were no cucumbers in the market this morning, sir. I went downtwice.

ALGERNON.
No cucumbers!

LANE.
No, sir. Not even for ready money.

ALGERNON.
That will do, Lane, thank you.

LANE.
Thank you, sir. [Goes out.]

ALGERNON.
I am greatly distressed, Aunt Augusta, about there being no cucumbers, not evenfor ready money.

LADY BRACKNELL.
It really makes no matter, Algernon. I had some crumpets with Lady Harbury, whoseems to me to be living entirely for pleasure now.

ALGERNON.
I hear her hair has turned quite gold from grief.

LADY BRACKNELL.
It certainly has changed its colour. From what cause I, of course, cannot say.[Algernon crosses and hands tea.] Thank you. I’ve quite a treatfor you to-night, Algernon. I am going to send you down with Mary Farquhar. Sheis such a nice woman, and so attentive to her husband. It’s delightful towatch them.

ALGERNON.
I am afraid, Aunt Augusta, I shall have to give up the pleasure of dining withyou to-night after all.

LADY BRACKNELL.
[Frowning.] I hope not, Algernon. It would put my table completely out. Youruncle would have to dine upstairs. Fortunately he is accustomed to that.

ALGERNON.
It is a great bore, and, I need hardly say, a terrible disappointment to me,but the fact is I have just had a telegram to say that my poor friend Bunburyis very ill again. [Exchanges glances with Jack.] They seem to think Ishould be with him.

LADY BRACKNELL.
It is very strange. This Mr. Bunbury seems to suffer from curiously bad health.

ALGERNON.
Yes; poor Bunbury is a dreadful invalid.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Well, I must say, Algernon, that I think it is high time that Mr. Bunbury madeup his mind whether he was going to live or to die. This shilly-shallying withthe question is absurd. Nor do I in any way approve of the modern sympathy withinvalids. I consider it morbid. Illness of any kind is hardly a thing to beencouraged in others. Health is the primary duty of life. I am always tellingthat to your poor uncle, but he never seems to take much notice . . . as far asany improvement in his ailment goes. I should be much obliged if you would askMr. Bunbury, from me, to be kind enough not to have a relapse on Saturday, forI rely on you to arrange my music for me. It is my last reception, and onewants something that will encourage conversation, particularly at the end ofthe season when every one has practically said whatever they had to say, which,in most cases, was probably not much.

ALGERNON.
I’ll speak to Bunbury, Aunt Augusta, if he is still conscious, and Ithink I can promise you he’ll be all right by Saturday. Of course themusic is a great difficulty. You see, if one plays good music, peopledon’t listen, and if one plays bad music people don’t talk. ButI’ll run over the programme I’ve drawn out, if you will kindly comeinto the next room for a moment.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Thank you, Algernon. It is very thoughtful of you. [Rising, and followingAlgernon.] I’m sure the programme will be delightful, after a fewexpurgations. French songs I cannot possibly allow. People always seem to thinkthat they are improper, and either look shocked, which is vulgar, or laugh,which is worse. But German sounds a thoroughly respectable language, andindeed, I believe is so. Gwendolen, you will accompany me.

GWENDOLEN.
Certainly, mamma.

[Lady Bracknell and Algernon go into the music-room,Gwendolen remains behind.]

JACK.
Charming day it has been, Miss Fairfax.

GWENDOLEN.
Pray don’t talk to me about the weather, Mr. Worthing. Whenever peopletalk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they meansomething else. And that makes me so nervous.

JACK.
I do mean something else.

GWENDOLEN.
I thought so. In fact, I am never wrong.

JACK.
And I would like to be allowed to take advantage of Lady Bracknell’stemporary absence . . .

GWENDOLEN.
I would certainly advise you to do so. Mamma has a way of coming back suddenlyinto a room that I have often had to speak to her about.

JACK.
[Nervously.] Miss Fairfax, ever since I met you I have admired you more thanany girl . . . I have ever met since . . . I met you.

GWENDOLEN.
Yes, I am quite well aware of the fact. And I often wish that in public, at anyrate, you had been more demonstrative. For me you have always had anirresistible fascination. Even before I met you I was far from indifferent toyou. [Jack looks at her in amazement.] We live, as I hope you know, Mr.Worthing, in an age of ideals. The fact is constantly mentioned in the moreexpensive monthly magazines, and has reached the provincial pulpits, I am told;and my ideal has always been to love some one of the name of Ernest. There issomething in that name that inspires absolute confidence. The moment Algernonfirst mentioned to me that he had a friend called Ernest, I knew I was destinedto love you.

JACK.
You really love me, Gwendolen?

GWENDOLEN.
Passionately!

JACK.
Darling! You don’t know how happy you’ve made me.

GWENDOLEN.
My own Ernest!

JACK.
But you don’t really mean to say that you couldn’t love me if myname wasn’t Ernest?

GWENDOLEN.
But your name is Ernest.

JACK.
Yes, I know it is. But supposing it was something else? Do you mean to say youcouldn’t love me then?

GWENDOLEN.
[Glibly.] Ah! that is clearly a metaphysical speculation, and like mostmetaphysical speculations has very little reference at all to the actual factsof real life, as we know them.

JACK.
Personally, darling, to speak quite candidly, I don’t much care about thename of Ernest . . . I don’t think the name suits me at all.

GWENDOLEN.
It suits you perfectly. It is a divine name. It has a music of its own. Itproduces vibrations.

JACK.
Well, really, Gwendolen, I must say that I think there are lots of other muchnicer names. I think Jack, for instance, a charming name.

GWENDOLEN.
Jack? . . . No, there is very little music in the name Jack, if any at all,indeed. It does not thrill. It produces absolutely no vibrations . . . I haveknown several Jacks, and they all, without exception, were more than usuallyplain. Besides, Jack is a notorious domesticity for John! And I pity any womanwho is married to a man called John. She would probably never be allowed toknow the entrancing pleasure of a single moment’s solitude. The onlyreally safe name is Ernest.

JACK.
Gwendolen, I must get christened at once—I mean we must get married atonce. There is no time to be lost.

GWENDOLEN.
Married, Mr. Worthing?

JACK.
[Astounded.] Well . . . surely. You know that I love you, and you led me tobelieve, Miss Fairfax, that you were not absolutely indifferent to me.

GWENDOLEN.
I adore you. But you haven’t proposed to me yet. Nothing has been said atall about marriage. The subject has not even been touched on.

JACK.
Well . . . may I propose to you now?

GWENDOLEN.
I think it would be an admirable opportunity. And to spare you any possibledisappointment, Mr. Worthing, I think it only fair to tell you quite franklybefore-hand that I am fully determined to accept you.

JACK.
Gwendolen!

GWENDOLEN.
Yes, Mr. Worthing, what have you got to say to me?

JACK.
You know what I have got to say to you.

GWENDOLEN.
Yes, but you don’t say it.

JACK.
Gwendolen, will you marry me? [Goes on his knees.]

GWENDOLEN.
Of course I will, darling. How long you have been about it! I am afraid youhave had very little experience in how to propose.

JACK.
My own one, I have never loved any one in the world but you.

GWENDOLEN.
Yes, but men often propose for practice. I know my brother Gerald does. All mygirl-friends tell me so. What wonderfully blue eyes you have, Ernest! They arequite, quite, blue. I hope you will always look at me just like that,especially when there are other people present. [Enter Lady Bracknell.]

LADY BRACKNELL.
Mr. Worthing! Rise, sir, from this semi-recumbent posture. It is mostindecorous.

GWENDOLEN.
Mamma! [He tries to rise; she restrains him.] I must beg you to retire. This isno place for you. Besides, Mr. Worthing has not quite finished yet.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Finished what, may I ask?

GWENDOLEN.
I am engaged to Mr. Worthing, mamma. [They rise together.]

LADY BRACKNELL.
Pardon me, you are not engaged to any one. When you do become engaged to someone, I, or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of thefact. An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant orunpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be allowedto arrange for herself . . . And now I have a few questions to put to you, Mr.Worthing. While I am making these inquiries, you, Gwendolen, will wait for mebelow in the carriage.

GWENDOLEN.
[Reproachfully.] Mamma!

(Video) THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST by OSCAR WILDE - FULL AudioBook | Greatest Audio Books

LADY BRACKNELL.
In the carriage, Gwendolen! [Gwendolen goes to the door. She andJack blow kisses to each other behind Lady Bracknell’sback. Lady Bracknell looks vaguely about as if she could not understandwhat the noise was. Finally turns round.] Gwendolen, the carriage!

GWENDOLEN.
Yes, mamma. [Goes out, looking back at Jack.]

LADY BRACKNELL.
[Sitting down.] You can take a seat, Mr. Worthing.

[Looks in her pocket for note-book and pencil.]

JACK.
Thank you, Lady Bracknell, I prefer standing.

LADY BRACKNELL.
[Pencil and note-book in hand.] I feel bound to tell you that you are not downon my list of eligible young men, although I have the same list as the dearDuchess of Bolton has. We work together, in fact. However, I am quite ready toenter your name, should your answers be what a really affectionate motherrequires. Do you smoke?

JACK.
Well, yes, I must admit I smoke.

LADY BRACKNELL.
I am glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation of some kind.There are far too many idle men in London as it is. How old are you?

JACK.
Twenty-nine.

LADY BRACKNELL.
A very good age to be married at. I have always been of opinion that a man whodesires to get married should know either everything or nothing. Which do youknow?

JACK.
[After some hesitation.] I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.

LADY BRACKNELL.
I am pleased to hear it. I do not approve of anything that tampers with naturalignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom isgone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately inEngland, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, itwould prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts ofviolence in Grosvenor Square. What is your income?

JACK.
Between seven and eight thousand a year.

LADY BRACKNELL.
[Makes a note in her book.] In land, or in investments?

JACK.
In investments, chiefly.

LADY BRACKNELL.
That is satisfactory. What between the duties expected of one duringone’s lifetime, and the duties exacted from one after one’s death,land has ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure. It gives one position, andprevents one from keeping it up. That’s all that can be said about land.

JACK.
I have a country house with some land, of course, attached to it, about fifteenhundred acres, I believe; but I don’t depend on that for my real income.In fact, as far as I can make out, the poachers are the only people who makeanything out of it.

LADY BRACKNELL.
A country house! How many bedrooms? Well, that point can be cleared upafterwards. You have a town house, I hope? A girl with a simple, unspoilednature, like Gwendolen, could hardly be expected to reside in the country.

JACK.
Well, I own a house in Belgrave Square, but it is let by the year to LadyBloxham. Of course, I can get it back whenever I like, at six months’notice.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Lady Bloxham? I don’t know her.

JACK.
Oh, she goes about very little. She is a lady considerably advanced in years.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Ah, nowadays that is no guarantee of respectability of character. What numberin Belgrave Square?

JACK.
149.

LADY BRACKNELL.
[Shaking her head.] The unfashionable side. I thought there was something.However, that could easily be altered.

JACK.
Do you mean the fashion, or the side?

LADY BRACKNELL.
[Sternly.] Both, if necessary, I presume. What are your politics?

JACK.
Well, I am afraid I really have none. I am a Liberal Unionist.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Oh, they count as Tories. They dine with us. Or come in the evening, at anyrate. Now to minor matters. Are your parents living?

JACK.
I have lost both my parents.

LADY BRACKNELL.
To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose bothlooks like carelessness. Who was your father? He was evidently a man of somewealth. Was he born in what the Radical papers call the purple of commerce, ordid he rise from the ranks of the aristocracy?

JACK.
I am afraid I really don’t know. The fact is, Lady Bracknell, I said Ihad lost my parents. It would be nearer the truth to say that my parents seemto have lost me . . . I don’t actually know who I am by birth. I was . .. well, I was found.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Found!

JACK.
The late Mr. Thomas Cardew, an old gentleman of a very charitable and kindlydisposition, found me, and gave me the name of Worthing, because he happened tohave a first-class ticket for Worthing in his pocket at the time. Worthing is aplace in Sussex. It is a seaside resort.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Where did the charitable gentleman who had a first-class ticket for thisseaside resort find you?

JACK.
[Gravely.] In a hand-bag.

LADY BRACKNELL.
A hand-bag?

JACK.
[Very seriously.] Yes, Lady Bracknell. I was in a hand-bag—a somewhatlarge, black leather hand-bag, with handles to it—an ordinary hand-bag infact.

LADY BRACKNELL.
In what locality did this Mr. James, or Thomas, Cardew come across thisordinary hand-bag?

JACK.
In the cloak-room at Victoria Station. It was given to him in mistake for hisown.

LADY BRACKNELL.
The cloak-room at Victoria Station?

JACK.
Yes. The Brighton line.

LADY BRACKNELL.
The line is immaterial. Mr. Worthing, I confess I feel somewhat bewildered bywhat you have just told me. To be born, or at any rate bred, in a hand-bag,whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for theordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of theFrench Revolution. And I presume you know what that unfortunate movement ledto? As for the particular locality in which the hand-bag was found, acloak-room at a railway station might serve to conceal a socialindiscretion—has probably, indeed, been used for that purpose beforenow—but it could hardly be regarded as an assured basis for a recognisedposition in good society.

JACK.
May I ask you then what you would advise me to do? I need hardly say I would doanything in the world to ensure Gwendolen’s happiness.

LADY BRACKNELL.
I would strongly advise you, Mr. Worthing, to try and acquire some relations assoon as possible, and to make a definite effort to produce at any rate oneparent, of either sex, before the season is quite over.

JACK.
Well, I don’t see how I could possibly manage to do that. I can producethe hand-bag at any moment. It is in my dressing-room at home. I really thinkthat should satisfy you, Lady Bracknell.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Me, sir! What has it to do with me? You can hardly imagine that I and LordBracknell would dream of allowing our only daughter—a girl brought upwith the utmost care—to marry into a cloak-room, and form an alliancewith a parcel? Good morning, Mr. Worthing!

[Lady Bracknell sweeps out in majestic indignation.]

JACK.
Good morning! [Algernon, from the other room, strikes up the WeddingMarch. Jack looks perfectly furious, and goes to the door.] For goodness’sake don’t play that ghastly tune, Algy. How idiotic you are!

[The music stops and Algernon enters cheerily.]

ALGERNON.
Didn’t it go off all right, old boy? You don’t mean to sayGwendolen refused you? I know it is a way she has. She is always refusingpeople. I think it is most ill-natured of her.

JACK.
Oh, Gwendolen is as right as a trivet. As far as she is concerned, we areengaged. Her mother is perfectly unbearable. Never met such a Gorgon . . . Idon’t really know what a Gorgon is like, but I am quite sure that LadyBracknell is one. In any case, she is a monster, without being a myth, which israther unfair . . . I beg your pardon, Algy, I suppose I shouldn’t talkabout your own aunt in that way before you.

ALGERNON.
My dear boy, I love hearing my relations abused. It is the only thing thatmakes me put up with them at all. Relations are simply a tedious pack ofpeople, who haven’t got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor thesmallest instinct about when to die.

JACK.
Oh, that is nonsense!

ALGERNON.
It isn’t!

JACK.
Well, I won’t argue about the matter. You always want to argue aboutthings.

ALGERNON.
That is exactly what things were originally made for.

JACK.
Upon my word, if I thought that, I’d shoot myself . . . [A pause.] Youdon’t think there is any chance of Gwendolen becoming like her mother inabout a hundred and fifty years, do you, Algy?

ALGERNON.
All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does.That’s his.

JACK.
Is that clever?

ALGERNON.
It is perfectly phrased! and quite as true as any observation in civilised lifeshould be.

JACK.
I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays. You can’tgo anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolutepublic nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left.

ALGERNON.
We have.

JACK.
I should extremely like to meet them. What do they talk about?

ALGERNON.
The fools? Oh! about the clever people, of course.

JACK.
What fools!

ALGERNON.
By the way, did you tell Gwendolen the truth about your being Ernest in town,and Jack in the country?

JACK.
[In a very patronising manner.] My dear fellow, the truth isn’t quite thesort of thing one tells to a nice, sweet, refined girl. What extraordinaryideas you have about the way to behave to a woman!

ALGERNON.
The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her, if she is pretty, andto some one else, if she is plain.

JACK.
Oh, that is nonsense.

ALGERNON.
What about your brother? What about the profligate Ernest?

JACK.
Oh, before the end of the week I shall have got rid of him. I’ll say hedied in Paris of apoplexy. Lots of people die of apoplexy, quite suddenly,don’t they?

ALGERNON.
Yes, but it’s hereditary, my dear fellow. It’s a sort of thing thatruns in families. You had much better say a severe chill.

JACK.
You are sure a severe chill isn’t hereditary, or anything of that kind?

ALGERNON.
Of course it isn’t!

JACK.
Very well, then. My poor brother Ernest is carried off suddenly, in Paris, by asevere chill. That gets rid of him.

ALGERNON.
But I thought you said that . . . Miss Cardew was a little too much interestedin your poor brother Ernest? Won’t she feel his loss a good deal?

JACK.
Oh, that is all right. Cecily is not a silly romantic girl, I am glad to say.She has got a capital appetite, goes long walks, and pays no attention at allto her lessons.

ALGERNON.
I would rather like to see Cecily.

JACK.
I will take very good care you never do. She is excessively pretty, and she isonly just eighteen.

ALGERNON.
Have you told Gwendolen yet that you have an excessively pretty ward who isonly just eighteen?

JACK.
Oh! one doesn’t blurt these things out to people. Cecily and Gwendolenare perfectly certain to be extremely great friends. I’ll bet youanything you like that half an hour after they have met, they will be callingeach other sister.

ALGERNON.
Women only do that when they have called each other a lot of other thingsfirst. Now, my dear boy, if we want to get a good table at Willis’s, wereally must go and dress. Do you know it is nearly seven?

JACK.
[Irritably.] Oh! It always is nearly seven.

ALGERNON.
Well, I’m hungry.

JACK.
I never knew you when you weren’t . . .

ALGERNON.
What shall we do after dinner? Go to a theatre?

JACK.
Oh no! I loathe listening.

ALGERNON.
Well, let us go to the Club?

JACK.
Oh, no! I hate talking.

ALGERNON.
Well, we might trot round to the Empire at ten?

JACK.
Oh, no! I can’t bear looking at things. It is so silly.

ALGERNON.
Well, what shall we do?

JACK.
Nothing!

ALGERNON.
It is awfully hard work doing nothing. However, I don’t mind hard workwhere there is no definite object of any kind.

[Enter Lane.]

LANE.
Miss Fairfax.

[Enter Gwendolen. Lane goes out.]

ALGERNON.
Gwendolen, upon my word!

GWENDOLEN.
Algy, kindly turn your back. I have something very particular to say to Mr.Worthing.

ALGERNON.
Really, Gwendolen, I don’t think I can allow this at all.

GWENDOLEN.
Algy, you always adopt a strictly immoral attitude towards life. You are notquite old enough to do that. [Algernon retires to the fireplace.]

JACK.
My own darling!

GWENDOLEN.
Ernest, we may never be married. From the expression on mamma’s face Ifear we never shall. Few parents nowadays pay any regard to what their childrensay to them. The old-fashioned respect for the young is fast dying out.Whatever influence I ever had over mamma, I lost at the age of three. Butalthough she may prevent us from becoming man and wife, and I may marry someone else, and marry often, nothing that she can possibly do can alter myeternal devotion to you.

JACK.
Dear Gwendolen!

GWENDOLEN.
The story of your romantic origin, as related to me by mamma, with unpleasingcomments, has naturally stirred the deeper fibres of my nature. Your Christianname has an irresistible fascination. The simplicity of your character makesyou exquisitely incomprehensible to me. Your town address at the Albany I have.What is your address in the country?

JACK.
The Manor House, Woolton, Hertfordshire.

[Algernon, who has been carefully listening, smiles to himself, andwrites the address on his shirt-cuff. Then picks up the Railway Guide.]

GWENDOLEN.
There is a good postal service, I suppose? It may be necessary to do somethingdesperate. That of course will require serious consideration. I willcommunicate with you daily.

JACK.
My own one!

GWENDOLEN.
How long do you remain in town?

JACK.
Till Monday.

GWENDOLEN.
Good! Algy, you may turn round now.

ALGERNON.
Thanks, I’ve turned round already.

GWENDOLEN.
You may also ring the bell.

JACK.
You will let me see you to your carriage, my own darling?

GWENDOLEN.
Certainly.

JACK.
[To Lane, who now enters.] I will see Miss Fairfax out.

LANE.
Yes, sir. [Jack and Gwendolen go off.]

[Lane presents several letters on a salver to Algernon. It isto be surmised that they are bills, as Algernon, after looking at theenvelopes, tears them up.]

ALGERNON.
A glass of sherry, Lane.

LANE.
Yes, sir.

ALGERNON.
To-morrow, Lane, I’m going Bunburying.

LANE.
Yes, sir.

ALGERNON.
I shall probably not be back till Monday. You can put up my dress clothes, mysmoking jacket, and all the Bunbury suits . . .

LANE.
Yes, sir. [Handing sherry.]

ALGERNON.
I hope to-morrow will be a fine day, Lane.

LANE.
It never is, sir.

ALGERNON.
Lane, you’re a perfect pessimist.

LANE.
I do my best to give satisfaction, sir.

[Enter Jack. Lane goes off.]

JACK.
There’s a sensible, intellectual girl! the only girl I ever cared for inmy life. [Algernon is laughing immoderately.] What on earth are you soamused at?

ALGERNON.
Oh, I’m a little anxious about poor Bunbury, that is all.

JACK.
If you don’t take care, your friend Bunbury will get you into a seriousscrape some day.

ALGERNON.
I love scrapes. They are the only things that are never serious.

JACK.
Oh, that’s nonsense, Algy. You never talk anything but nonsense.

ALGERNON.
Nobody ever does.

[Jack looks indignantly at him, and leaves the room. Algernonlights a cigarette, reads his shirt-cuff, and smiles.]

ACT DROP

SECOND ACT

SCENE

Garden at the Manor House. A flight of grey stone steps leads up to thehouse. The garden, an old-fashioned one, full of roses. Time of year, July.Basket chairs, and a table covered with books, are set under a large yew-tree.

[Miss Prism discovered seated at the table. Cecily is at theback watering flowers.]

MISS PRISM.
[Calling.] Cecily, Cecily! Surely such a utilitarian occupation as the wateringof flowers is rather Moulton’s duty than yours? Especially at a momentwhen intellectual pleasures await you. Your German grammar is on the table.Pray open it at page fifteen. We will repeat yesterday’s lesson.

CECILY.
[Coming over very slowly.] But I don’t like German. It isn’t at alla becoming language. I know perfectly well that I look quite plain after myGerman lesson.

MISS PRISM.
Child, you know how anxious your guardian is that you should improve yourselfin every way. He laid particular stress on your German, as he was leaving fortown yesterday. Indeed, he always lays stress on your German when he is leavingfor town.

CECILY.
Dear Uncle Jack is so very serious! Sometimes he is so serious that I think hecannot be quite well.

MISS PRISM.
[Drawing herself up.] Your guardian enjoys the best of health, and his gravityof demeanour is especially to be commended in one so comparatively young as heis. I know no one who has a higher sense of duty and responsibility.

CECILY.
I suppose that is why he often looks a little bored when we three are together.

MISS PRISM.
Cecily! I am surprised at you. Mr. Worthing has many troubles in his life. Idlemerriment and triviality would be out of place in his conversation. You mustremember his constant anxiety about that unfortunate young man his brother.

CECILY.
I wish Uncle Jack would allow that unfortunate young man, his brother, to comedown here sometimes. We might have a good influence over him, Miss Prism. I amsure you certainly would. You know German, and geology, and things of that kindinfluence a man very much. [Cecily begins to write in her diary.]

MISS PRISM.
[Shaking her head.] I do not think that even I could produce any effect on acharacter that according to his own brother’s admission is irretrievablyweak and vacillating. Indeed I am not sure that I would desire to reclaim him.I am not in favour of this modern mania for turning bad people into good peopleat a moment’s notice. As a man sows so let him reap. You must put awayyour diary, Cecily. I really don’t see why you should keep a diary atall.

CECILY.
I keep a diary in order to enter the wonderful secrets of my life. If Ididn’t write them down, I should probably forget all about them.

MISS PRISM.
Memory, my dear Cecily, is the diary that we all carry about with us.

CECILY.
Yes, but it usually chronicles the things that have never happened, andcouldn’t possibly have happened. I believe that Memory is responsible fornearly all the three-volume novels that Mudie sends us.

MISS PRISM.
Do not speak slightingly of the three-volume novel, Cecily. I wrote one myselfin earlier days.

CECILY.
Did you really, Miss Prism? How wonderfully clever you are! I hope it did notend happily? I don’t like novels that end happily. They depress me somuch.

MISS PRISM.
The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.

CECILY.
I suppose so. But it seems very unfair. And was your novel ever published?

MISS PRISM.
Alas! no. The manuscript unfortunately was abandoned. [Cecily starts.] Iuse the word in the sense of lost or mislaid. To your work, child, thesespeculations are profitless.

CECILY.
[Smiling.] But I see dear Dr. Chasuble coming up through the garden.

MISS PRISM.
[Rising and advancing.] Dr. Chasuble! This is indeed a pleasure.

[Enter Canon Chasuble.]

CHASUBLE.
And how are we this morning? Miss Prism, you are, I trust, well?

CECILY.
Miss Prism has just been complaining of a slight headache. I think it would doher so much good to have a short stroll with you in the Park, Dr. Chasuble.

MISS PRISM.
Cecily, I have not mentioned anything about a headache.

CECILY.
No, dear Miss Prism, I know that, but I felt instinctively that you had aheadache. Indeed I was thinking about that, and not about my German lesson,when the Rector came in.

CHASUBLE.
I hope, Cecily, you are not inattentive.

CECILY.
Oh, I am afraid I am.

CHASUBLE.
That is strange. Were I fortunate enough to be Miss Prism’s pupil, Iwould hang upon her lips. [Miss Prism glares.] I spokemetaphorically.—My metaphor was drawn from bees. Ahem! Mr. Worthing, Isuppose, has not returned from town yet?

MISS PRISM.
We do not expect him till Monday afternoon.

CHASUBLE.
Ah yes, he usually likes to spend his Sunday in London. He is not one of thosewhose sole aim is enjoyment, as, by all accounts, that unfortunate young manhis brother seems to be. But I must not disturb Egeria and her pupil anylonger.

MISS PRISM.
Egeria? My name is Lætitia, Doctor.

CHASUBLE.
[Bowing.] A classical allusion merely, drawn from the Pagan authors. I shallsee you both no doubt at Evensong?

MISS PRISM.
I think, dear Doctor, I will have a stroll with you. I find I have a headacheafter all, and a walk might do it good.

CHASUBLE.
With pleasure, Miss Prism, with pleasure. We might go as far as the schools andback.

MISS PRISM.
That would be delightful. Cecily, you will read your Political Economy in myabsence. The chapter on the Fall of the Rupee you may omit. It is somewhat toosensational. Even these metallic problems have their melodramatic side.

[Goes down the garden with Dr. Chasuble.]

CECILY.
[Picks up books and throws them back on table.] Horrid Political Economy!Horrid Geography! Horrid, horrid German!

[Enter Merriman with a card on a salver.]

MERRIMAN.
Mr. Ernest Worthing has just driven over from the station. He has brought hisluggage with him.

CECILY.
[Takes the card and reads it.] ‘Mr. Ernest Worthing, B. 4, The Albany,W.’ Uncle Jack’s brother! Did you tell him Mr. Worthing was intown?

MERRIMAN.
Yes, Miss. He seemed very much disappointed. I mentioned that you and MissPrism were in the garden. He said he was anxious to speak to you privately fora moment.

CECILY.
Ask Mr. Ernest Worthing to come here. I suppose you had better talk to thehousekeeper about a room for him.

MERRIMAN.
Yes, Miss.

[Merriman goes off.]

CECILY.
I have never met any really wicked person before. I feel rather frightened. Iam so afraid he will look just like every one else.

[Enter Algernon, very gay and debonnair.] He does!

ALGERNON.
[Raising his hat.] You are my little cousin Cecily, I’m sure.

CECILY.
You are under some strange mistake. I am not little. In fact, I believe I ammore than usually tall for my age. [Algernon is rather taken aback.] ButI am your cousin Cecily. You, I see from your card, are Uncle Jack’sbrother, my cousin Ernest, my wicked cousin Ernest.

ALGERNON.
Oh! I am not really wicked at all, cousin Cecily. You mustn’t think thatI am wicked.

CECILY.
If you are not, then you have certainly been deceiving us all in a veryinexcusable manner. I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretendingto be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.

ALGERNON.
[Looks at her in amazement.] Oh! Of course I have been rather reckless.

CECILY.
I am glad to hear it.

ALGERNON.
In fact, now you mention the subject, I have been very bad in my own small way.

CECILY.
I don’t think you should be so proud of that, though I am sure it musthave been very pleasant.

ALGERNON.
It is much pleasanter being here with you.

CECILY.
I can’t understand how you are here at all. Uncle Jack won’t beback till Monday afternoon.

ALGERNON.
That is a great disappointment. I am obliged to go up by the first train onMonday morning. I have a business appointment that I am anxious . . . to miss?

CECILY.
Couldn’t you miss it anywhere but in London?

ALGERNON.
No: the appointment is in London.

CECILY.
Well, I know, of course, how important it is not to keep a business engagement,if one wants to retain any sense of the beauty of life, but still I think youhad better wait till Uncle Jack arrives. I know he wants to speak to you aboutyour emigrating.

ALGERNON.
About my what?

CECILY.
Your emigrating. He has gone up to buy your outfit.

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ALGERNON.
I certainly wouldn’t let Jack buy my outfit. He has no taste in necktiesat all.

CECILY.
I don’t think you will require neckties. Uncle Jack is sending you toAustralia.

ALGERNON.
Australia! I’d sooner die.

CECILY.
Well, he said at dinner on Wednesday night, that you would have to choosebetween this world, the next world, and Australia.

ALGERNON.
Oh, well! The accounts I have received of Australia and the next world, are notparticularly encouraging. This world is good enough for me, cousin Cecily.

CECILY.
Yes, but are you good enough for it?

ALGERNON.
I’m afraid I’m not that. That is why I want you to reform me. Youmight make that your mission, if you don’t mind, cousin Cecily.

CECILY.
I’m afraid I’ve no time, this afternoon.

ALGERNON.
Well, would you mind my reforming myself this afternoon?

CECILY.
It is rather Quixotic of you. But I think you should try.

ALGERNON.
I will. I feel better already.

CECILY.
You are looking a little worse.

ALGERNON.
That is because I am hungry.

CECILY.
How thoughtless of me. I should have remembered that when one is going to leadan entirely new life, one requires regular and wholesome meals. Won’t youcome in?

ALGERNON.
Thank you. Might I have a buttonhole first? I never have any appetite unless Ihave a buttonhole first.

CECILY.
A Marechal Niel? [Picks up scissors.]

ALGERNON.
No, I’d sooner have a pink rose.

CECILY.
Why? [Cuts a flower.]

ALGERNON.
Because you are like a pink rose, Cousin Cecily.

CECILY.
I don’t think it can be right for you to talk to me like that. Miss Prismnever says such things to me.

ALGERNON.
Then Miss Prism is a short-sighted old lady. [Cecily puts the rose inhis buttonhole.] You are the prettiest girl I ever saw.

CECILY.
Miss Prism says that all good looks are a snare.

ALGERNON.
They are a snare that every sensible man would like to be caught in.

CECILY.
Oh, I don’t think I would care to catch a sensible man. I shouldn’tknow what to talk to him about.

[They pass into the house. Miss Prism and Dr. Chasublereturn.]

MISS PRISM.
You are too much alone, dear Dr. Chasuble. You should get married. Amisanthrope I can understand—a womanthrope, never!

CHASUBLE.
[With a scholar’s shudder.] Believe me, I do not deserve so neologistic aphrase. The precept as well as the practice of the Primitive Church wasdistinctly against matrimony.

MISS PRISM.
[Sententiously.] That is obviously the reason why the Primitive Church has notlasted up to the present day. And you do not seem to realise, dear Doctor, thatby persistently remaining single, a man converts himself into a permanentpublic temptation. Men should be more careful; this very celibacy leads weakervessels astray.

CHASUBLE.
But is a man not equally attractive when married?

MISS PRISM.
No married man is ever attractive except to his wife.

CHASUBLE.
And often, I’ve been told, not even to her.

MISS PRISM.
That depends on the intellectual sympathies of the woman. Maturity can alwaysbe depended on. Ripeness can be trusted. Young women are green. [Dr.Chasuble starts.] I spoke horticulturally. My metaphor was drawn fromfruits. But where is Cecily?

CHASUBLE.
Perhaps she followed us to the schools.

[Enter Jack slowly from the back of the garden. He is dressed in thedeepest mourning, with crape hatband and black gloves.]

MISS PRISM.
Mr. Worthing!

CHASUBLE.
Mr. Worthing?

MISS PRISM.
This is indeed a surprise. We did not look for you till Monday afternoon.

JACK.
[Shakes Miss Prism’s hand in a tragic manner.] I have returnedsooner than I expected. Dr. Chasuble, I hope you are well?

CHASUBLE.
Dear Mr. Worthing, I trust this garb of woe does not betoken some terriblecalamity?

JACK.
My brother.

MISS PRISM.
More shameful debts and extravagance?

CHASUBLE.
Still leading his life of pleasure?

JACK.
[Shaking his head.] Dead!

CHASUBLE.
Your brother Ernest dead?

JACK.
Quite dead.

MISS PRISM.
What a lesson for him! I trust he will profit by it.

CHASUBLE.
Mr. Worthing, I offer you my sincere condolence. You have at least theconsolation of knowing that you were always the most generous and forgiving ofbrothers.

JACK.
Poor Ernest! He had many faults, but it is a sad, sad blow.

CHASUBLE.
Very sad indeed. Were you with him at the end?

JACK.
No. He died abroad; in Paris, in fact. I had a telegram last night from themanager of the Grand Hotel.

CHASUBLE.
Was the cause of death mentioned?

JACK.
A severe chill, it seems.

MISS PRISM.
As a man sows, so shall he reap.

CHASUBLE.
[Raising his hand.] Charity, dear Miss Prism, charity! None of us are perfect.I myself am peculiarly susceptible to draughts. Will the interment take placehere?

JACK.
No. He seems to have expressed a desire to be buried in Paris.

CHASUBLE.
In Paris! [Shakes his head.] I fear that hardly points to any very seriousstate of mind at the last. You would no doubt wish me to make some slightallusion to this tragic domestic affliction next Sunday. [Jack presseshis hand convulsively.] My sermon on the meaning of the manna in the wildernesscan be adapted to almost any occasion, joyful, or, as in the present case,distressing. [All sigh.] I have preached it at harvest celebrations,christenings, confirmations, on days of humiliation and festal days. The lasttime I delivered it was in the Cathedral, as a charity sermon on behalf of theSociety for the Prevention of Discontent among the Upper Orders. The Bishop,who was present, was much struck by some of the analogies I drew.

JACK.
Ah! that reminds me, you mentioned christenings I think, Dr. Chasuble? Isuppose you know how to christen all right? [Dr. Chasuble looksastounded.] I mean, of course, you are continually christening, aren’tyou?

MISS PRISM.
It is, I regret to say, one of the Rector’s most constant duties in thisparish. I have often spoken to the poorer classes on the subject. But theydon’t seem to know what thrift is.

CHASUBLE.
But is there any particular infant in whom you are interested, Mr. Worthing?Your brother was, I believe, unmarried, was he not?

JACK.
Oh yes.

MISS PRISM.
[Bitterly.] People who live entirely for pleasure usually are.

JACK.
But it is not for any child, dear Doctor. I am very fond of children. No! thefact is, I would like to be christened myself, this afternoon, if you havenothing better to do.

CHASUBLE.
But surely, Mr. Worthing, you have been christened already?

JACK.
I don’t remember anything about it.

CHASUBLE.
But have you any grave doubts on the subject?

JACK.
I certainly intend to have. Of course I don’t know if the thing wouldbother you in any way, or if you think I am a little too old now.

CHASUBLE.
Not at all. The sprinkling, and, indeed, the immersion of adults is a perfectlycanonical practice.

JACK.
Immersion!

CHASUBLE.
You need have no apprehensions. Sprinkling is all that is necessary, or indeedI think advisable. Our weather is so changeable. At what hour would you wishthe ceremony performed?

JACK.
Oh, I might trot round about five if that would suit you.

CHASUBLE.
Perfectly, perfectly! In fact I have two similar ceremonies to perform at thattime. A case of twins that occurred recently in one of the outlying cottages onyour own estate. Poor Jenkins the carter, a most hard-working man.

JACK.
Oh! I don’t see much fun in being christened along with other babies. Itwould be childish. Would half-past five do?

CHASUBLE.
Admirably! Admirably! [Takes out watch.] And now, dear Mr. Worthing, I will notintrude any longer into a house of sorrow. I would merely beg you not to be toomuch bowed down by grief. What seem to us bitter trials are often blessings indisguise.

MISS PRISM.
This seems to me a blessing of an extremely obvious kind.

[Enter Cecily from the house.]

CECILY.
Uncle Jack! Oh, I am pleased to see you back. But what horrid clothes you havegot on! Do go and change them.

MISS PRISM.
Cecily!

CHASUBLE.
My child! my child! [Cecily goes towards Jack; he kisses her browin a melancholy manner.]

CECILY.
What is the matter, Uncle Jack? Do look happy! You look as if you hadtoothache, and I have got such a surprise for you. Who do you think is in thedining-room? Your brother!

JACK.
Who?

CECILY.
Your brother Ernest. He arrived about half an hour ago.

JACK.
What nonsense! I haven’t got a brother.

CECILY.
Oh, don’t say that. However badly he may have behaved to you in the pasthe is still your brother. You couldn’t be so heartless as to disown him.I’ll tell him to come out. And you will shake hands with him, won’tyou, Uncle Jack? [Runs back into the house.]

CHASUBLE.
These are very joyful tidings.

MISS PRISM.
After we had all been resigned to his loss, his sudden return seems to mepeculiarly distressing.

JACK.
My brother is in the dining-room? I don’t know what it all means. I thinkit is perfectly absurd.

[Enter Algernon and Cecily hand in hand. They come slowly upto Jack.]

JACK.
Good heavens! [Motions Algernon away.]

ALGERNON.
Brother John, I have come down from town to tell you that I am very sorry forall the trouble I have given you, and that I intend to lead a better life inthe future. [Jack glares at him and does not take his hand.]

CECILY.
Uncle Jack, you are not going to refuse your own brother’s hand?

JACK.
Nothing will induce me to take his hand. I think his coming down heredisgraceful. He knows perfectly well why.

CECILY.
Uncle Jack, do be nice. There is some good in every one. Ernest has just beentelling me about his poor invalid friend Mr. Bunbury whom he goes to visit sooften. And surely there must be much good in one who is kind to an invalid, andleaves the pleasures of London to sit by a bed of pain.

JACK.
Oh! he has been talking about Bunbury, has he?

CECILY.
Yes, he has told me all about poor Mr. Bunbury, and his terrible state ofhealth.

JACK.
Bunbury! Well, I won’t have him talk to you about Bunbury or aboutanything else. It is enough to drive one perfectly frantic.

ALGERNON.
Of course I admit that the faults were all on my side. But I must say that Ithink that Brother John’s coldness to me is peculiarly painful. Iexpected a more enthusiastic welcome, especially considering it is the firsttime I have come here.

CECILY.
Uncle Jack, if you don’t shake hands with Ernest I will never forgiveyou.

JACK.
Never forgive me?

CECILY.
Never, never, never!

JACK.
Well, this is the last time I shall ever do it. [Shakes with Algernonand glares.]

CHASUBLE.
It’s pleasant, is it not, to see so perfect a reconciliation? I think wemight leave the two brothers together.

MISS PRISM.
Cecily, you will come with us.

CECILY.
Certainly, Miss Prism. My little task of reconciliation is over.

CHASUBLE.
You have done a beautiful action to-day, dear child.

MISS PRISM.
We must not be premature in our judgments.

CECILY.
I feel very happy. [They all go off except Jack and Algernon.]

JACK.
You young scoundrel, Algy, you must get out of this place as soon as possible.I don’t allow any Bunburying here.

[Enter Merriman.]

MERRIMAN.
I have put Mr. Ernest’s things in the room next to yours, sir. I supposethat is all right?

JACK.
What?

MERRIMAN.
Mr. Ernest’s luggage, sir. I have unpacked it and put it in the room nextto your own.

JACK.
His luggage?

MERRIMAN.
Yes, sir. Three portmanteaus, a dressing-case, two hat-boxes, and a largeluncheon-basket.

ALGERNON.
I am afraid I can’t stay more than a week this time.

JACK.
Merriman, order the dog-cart at once. Mr. Ernest has been suddenly called backto town.

MERRIMAN.
Yes, sir. [Goes back into the house.]

ALGERNON.
What a fearful liar you are, Jack. I have not been called back to town at all.

JACK.
Yes, you have.

ALGERNON.
I haven’t heard any one call me.

JACK.
Your duty as a gentleman calls you back.

ALGERNON.
My duty as a gentleman has never interfered with my pleasures in the smallestdegree.

JACK.
I can quite understand that.

ALGERNON.
Well, Cecily is a darling.

JACK.
You are not to talk of Miss Cardew like that. I don’t like it.

ALGERNON.
Well, I don’t like your clothes. You look perfectly ridiculous in them.Why on earth don’t you go up and change? It is perfectly childish to bein deep mourning for a man who is actually staying for a whole week with you inyour house as a guest. I call it grotesque.

JACK.
You are certainly not staying with me for a whole week as a guest or anythingelse. You have got to leave . . . by the four-five train.

ALGERNON.
I certainly won’t leave you so long as you are in mourning. It would bemost unfriendly. If I were in mourning you would stay with me, I suppose. Ishould think it very unkind if you didn’t.

JACK.
Well, will you go if I change my clothes?

ALGERNON.
Yes, if you are not too long. I never saw anybody take so long to dress, andwith such little result.

JACK.
Well, at any rate, that is better than being always over-dressed as you are.

ALGERNON.
If I am occasionally a little over-dressed, I make up for it by being alwaysimmensely over-educated.

JACK.
Your vanity is ridiculous, your conduct an outrage, and your presence in mygarden utterly absurd. However, you have got to catch the four-five, and I hopeyou will have a pleasant journey back to town. This Bunburying, as you call it,has not been a great success for you.

[Goes into the house.]

ALGERNON.
I think it has been a great success. I’m in love with Cecily, and that iseverything.

[Enter Cecily at the back of the garden. She picks up the can andbegins to water the flowers.] But I must see her before I go, and makearrangements for another Bunbury. Ah, there she is.

CECILY.
Oh, I merely came back to water the roses. I thought you were with Uncle Jack.

ALGERNON.
He’s gone to order the dog-cart for me.

CECILY.
Oh, is he going to take you for a nice drive?

ALGERNON.
He’s going to send me away.

CECILY.
Then have we got to part?

ALGERNON.
I am afraid so. It’s a very painful parting.

CECILY.
It is always painful to part from people whom one has known for a very briefspace of time. The absence of old friends one can endure with equanimity. Buteven a momentary separation from anyone to whom one has just been introduced isalmost unbearable.

ALGERNON.
Thank you.

[Enter Merriman.]

MERRIMAN.
The dog-cart is at the door, sir. [Algernon looks appealingly atCecily.]

CECILY.
It can wait, Merriman for . . . five minutes.

MERRIMAN.
Yes, Miss. [Exit Merriman.]

ALGERNON.
I hope, Cecily, I shall not offend you if I state quite frankly and openly thatyou seem to me to be in every way the visible personification of absoluteperfection.

CECILY.
I think your frankness does you great credit, Ernest. If you will allow me, Iwill copy your remarks into my diary. [Goes over to table and begins writing indiary.]

ALGERNON.
Do you really keep a diary? I’d give anything to look at it. May I?

CECILY.
Oh no. [Puts her hand over it.] You see, it is simply a very young girl’srecord of her own thoughts and impressions, and consequently meant forpublication. When it appears in volume form I hope you will order a copy. Butpray, Ernest, don’t stop. I delight in taking down from dictation. I havereached ‘absolute perfection’. You can go on. I am quite ready formore.

ALGERNON.
[Somewhat taken aback.] Ahem! Ahem!

CECILY.
Oh, don’t cough, Ernest. When one is dictating one should speak fluentlyand not cough. Besides, I don’t know how to spell a cough. [Writes asAlgernon speaks.]

ALGERNON.
[Speaking very rapidly.] Cecily, ever since I first looked upon your wonderfuland incomparable beauty, I have dared to love you wildly, passionately,devotedly, hopelessly.

CECILY.
I don’t think that you should tell me that you love me wildly,passionately, devotedly, hopelessly. Hopelessly doesn’t seem to make muchsense, does it?

ALGERNON.
Cecily!

[Enter Merriman.]

MERRIMAN.
The dog-cart is waiting, sir.

ALGERNON.
Tell it to come round next week, at the same hour.

MERRIMAN.
[Looks at Cecily, who makes no sign.] Yes, sir.

[Merriman retires.]

CECILY.
Uncle Jack would be very much annoyed if he knew you were staying on till nextweek, at the same hour.

ALGERNON.
Oh, I don’t care about Jack. I don’t care for anybody in the wholeworld but you. I love you, Cecily. You will marry me, won’t you?

CECILY.
You silly boy! Of course. Why, we have been engaged for the last three months.

ALGERNON.
For the last three months?

CECILY.
Yes, it will be exactly three months on Thursday.

ALGERNON.
But how did we become engaged?

CECILY.
Well, ever since dear Uncle Jack first confessed to us that he had a youngerbrother who was very wicked and bad, you of course have formed the chief topicof conversation between myself and Miss Prism. And of course a man who is muchtalked about is always very attractive. One feels there must be something inhim, after all. I daresay it was foolish of me, but I fell in love with you,Ernest.

ALGERNON.
Darling! And when was the engagement actually settled?

CECILY.
On the 14th of February last. Worn out by your entire ignorance of myexistence, I determined to end the matter one way or the other, and after along struggle with myself I accepted you under this dear old tree here. Thenext day I bought this little ring in your name, and this is the little banglewith the true lover’s knot I promised you always to wear.

ALGERNON.
Did I give you this? It’s very pretty, isn’t it?

CECILY.
Yes, you’ve wonderfully good taste, Ernest. It’s the excuseI’ve always given for your leading such a bad life. And this is the boxin which I keep all your dear letters. [Kneels at table, opens box, andproduces letters tied up with blue ribbon.]

ALGERNON.
My letters! But, my own sweet Cecily, I have never written you any letters.

CECILY.
You need hardly remind me of that, Ernest. I remember only too well that I wasforced to write your letters for you. I wrote always three times a week, andsometimes oftener.

ALGERNON.
Oh, do let me read them, Cecily?

CECILY.
Oh, I couldn’t possibly. They would make you far too conceited. [Replacesbox.] The three you wrote me after I had broken off the engagement are sobeautiful, and so badly spelled, that even now I can hardly read them withoutcrying a little.

ALGERNON.
But was our engagement ever broken off?

CECILY.
Of course it was. On the 22nd of last March. You can see the entry if you like.[Shows diary.] ‘To-day I broke off my engagement with Ernest. I feel itis better to do so. The weather still continues charming.’

ALGERNON.
But why on earth did you break it off? What had I done? I had done nothing atall. Cecily, I am very much hurt indeed to hear you broke it off. Particularlywhen the weather was so charming.

CECILY.
It would hardly have been a really serious engagement if it hadn’t beenbroken off at least once. But I forgave you before the week was out.

ALGERNON.
[Crossing to her, and kneeling.] What a perfect angel you are, Cecily.

CECILY.
You dear romantic boy. [He kisses her, she puts her fingers through his hair.]I hope your hair curls naturally, does it?

ALGERNON.
Yes, darling, with a little help from others.

CECILY.
I am so glad.

ALGERNON.
You’ll never break off our engagement again, Cecily?

CECILY.
I don’t think I could break it off now that I have actually met you.Besides, of course, there is the question of your name.

ALGERNON.
Yes, of course. [Nervously.]

CECILY.
You must not laugh at me, darling, but it had always been a girlish dream ofmine to love some one whose name was Ernest. [Algernon rises,Cecily also.] There is something in that name that seems to inspireabsolute confidence. I pity any poor married woman whose husband is not calledErnest.

ALGERNON.
But, my dear child, do you mean to say you could not love me if I had someother name?

CECILY.
But what name?

ALGERNON.
Oh, any name you like—Algernon—for instance . . .

CECILY.
But I don’t like the name of Algernon.

ALGERNON.
Well, my own dear, sweet, loving little darling, I really can’t see whyyou should object to the name of Algernon. It is not at all a bad name. Infact, it is rather an aristocratic name. Half of the chaps who get into theBankruptcy Court are called Algernon. But seriously, Cecily . . . [Moving toher] . . . if my name was Algy, couldn’t you love me?

CECILY.
[Rising.] I might respect you, Ernest, I might admire your character, but Ifear that I should not be able to give you my undivided attention.

ALGERNON.
Ahem! Cecily! [Picking up hat.] Your Rector here is, I suppose, thoroughlyexperienced in the practice of all the rites and ceremonials of the Church?

CECILY.
Oh, yes. Dr. Chasuble is a most learned man. He has never written a singlebook, so you can imagine how much he knows.

ALGERNON.
I must see him at once on a most important christening—I mean on mostimportant business.

CECILY.
Oh!

ALGERNON.
I shan’t be away more than half an hour.

CECILY.
Considering that we have been engaged since February the 14th, and that I onlymet you to-day for the first time, I think it is rather hard that you shouldleave me for so long a period as half an hour. Couldn’t you make ittwenty minutes?

ALGERNON.
I’ll be back in no time.

[Kisses her and rushes down the garden.]

(Video) The Importance of Being Earnest - Virtual Reader's Theater

CECILY.
What an impetuous boy he is! I like his hair so much. I must enter his proposalin my diary.

[Enter Merriman.]

MERRIMAN.
A Miss Fairfax has just called to see Mr. Worthing. On very important business,Miss Fairfax states.

CECILY.
Isn’t Mr. Worthing in his library?

MERRIMAN.
Mr. Worthing went over in the direction of the Rectory some time ago.

CECILY.
Pray ask the lady to come out here; Mr. Worthing is sure to be back soon. Andyou can bring tea.

MERRIMAN.
Yes, Miss. [Goes out.]

CECILY.
Miss Fairfax! I suppose one of the many good elderly women who are associatedwith Uncle Jack in some of his philanthropic work in London. I don’tquite like women who are interested in philanthropic work. I think it is soforward of them.

[Enter Merriman.]

MERRIMAN.
Miss Fairfax.

[Enter Gwendolen.]

[Exit Merriman.]

CECILY.
[Advancing to meet her.] Pray let me introduce myself to you. My name is CecilyCardew.

GWENDOLEN.
Cecily Cardew? [Moving to her and shaking hands.] What a very sweet name!Something tells me that we are going to be great friends. I like you alreadymore than I can say. My first impressions of people are never wrong.

CECILY.
How nice of you to like me so much after we have known each other such acomparatively short time. Pray sit down.

GWENDOLEN.
[Still standing up.] I may call you Cecily, may I not?

CECILY.
With pleasure!

GWENDOLEN.
And you will always call me Gwendolen, won’t you?

CECILY.
If you wish.

GWENDOLEN.
Then that is all quite settled, is it not?

CECILY.
I hope so. [A pause. They both sit down together.]

GWENDOLEN.
Perhaps this might be a favourable opportunity for my mentioning who I am. Myfather is Lord Bracknell. You have never heard of papa, I suppose?

CECILY.
I don’t think so.

GWENDOLEN.
Outside the family circle, papa, I am glad to say, is entirely unknown. I thinkthat is quite as it should be. The home seems to me to be the proper sphere forthe man. And certainly once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties hebecomes painfully effeminate, does he not? And I don’t like that. Itmakes men so very attractive. Cecily, mamma, whose views on education areremarkably strict, has brought me up to be extremely short-sighted; it is partof her system; so do you mind my looking at you through my glasses?

CECILY.
Oh! not at all, Gwendolen. I am very fond of being looked at.

GWENDOLEN.
[After examining Cecily carefully through a lorgnette.] You are here ona short visit, I suppose.

CECILY.
Oh no! I live here.

GWENDOLEN.
[Severely.] Really? Your mother, no doubt, or some female relative of advancedyears, resides here also?

CECILY.
Oh no! I have no mother, nor, in fact, any relations.

GWENDOLEN.
Indeed?

CECILY.
My dear guardian, with the assistance of Miss Prism, has the arduous task oflooking after me.

GWENDOLEN.
Your guardian?

CECILY.
Yes, I am Mr. Worthing’s ward.

GWENDOLEN.
Oh! It is strange he never mentioned to me that he had a ward. How secretive ofhim! He grows more interesting hourly. I am not sure, however, that the newsinspires me with feelings of unmixed delight. [Rising and going to her.] I amvery fond of you, Cecily; I have liked you ever since I met you! But I am boundto state that now that I know that you are Mr. Worthing’s ward, I cannothelp expressing a wish you were—well, just a little older than you seemto be—and not quite so very alluring in appearance. In fact, if I mayspeak candidly—

CECILY.
Pray do! I think that whenever one has anything unpleasant to say, one shouldalways be quite candid.

GWENDOLEN.
Well, to speak with perfect candour, Cecily, I wish that you were fullyforty-two, and more than usually plain for your age. Ernest has a strongupright nature. He is the very soul of truth and honour. Disloyalty would be asimpossible to him as deception. But even men of the noblest possible moralcharacter are extremely susceptible to the influence of the physical charms ofothers. Modern, no less than Ancient History, supplies us with many mostpainful examples of what I refer to. If it were not so, indeed, History wouldbe quite unreadable.

CECILY.
I beg your pardon, Gwendolen, did you say Ernest?

GWENDOLEN.
Yes.

CECILY.
Oh, but it is not Mr. Ernest Worthing who is my guardian. It is hisbrother—his elder brother.

GWENDOLEN.
[Sitting down again.] Ernest never mentioned to me that he had a brother.

CECILY.
I am sorry to say they have not been on good terms for a long time.

GWENDOLEN.
Ah! that accounts for it. And now that I think of it I have never heard any manmention his brother. The subject seems distasteful to most men. Cecily, youhave lifted a load from my mind. I was growing almost anxious. It would havebeen terrible if any cloud had come across a friendship like ours, would itnot? Of course you are quite, quite sure that it is not Mr. Ernest Worthing whois your guardian?

CECILY.
Quite sure. [A pause.] In fact, I am going to be his.

GWENDOLEN.
[Inquiringly.] I beg your pardon?

CECILY.
[Rather shy and confidingly.] Dearest Gwendolen, there is no reason why Ishould make a secret of it to you. Our little county newspaper is sure tochronicle the fact next week. Mr. Ernest Worthing and I are engaged to bemarried.

GWENDOLEN.
[Quite politely, rising.] My darling Cecily, I think there must be some slighterror. Mr. Ernest Worthing is engaged to me. The announcement will appear inthe Morning Post on Saturday at the latest.

CECILY.
[Very politely, rising.] I am afraid you must be under some misconception.Ernest proposed to me exactly ten minutes ago. [Shows diary.]

GWENDOLEN.
[Examines diary through her lorgnettte carefully.] It is certainly verycurious, for he asked me to be his wife yesterday afternoon at 5.30. If youwould care to verify the incident, pray do so. [Produces diary of her own.] Inever travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational toread in the train. I am so sorry, dear Cecily, if it is any disappointment toyou, but I am afraid I have the prior claim.

CECILY.
It would distress me more than I can tell you, dear Gwendolen, if it caused youany mental or physical anguish, but I feel bound to point out that since Ernestproposed to you he clearly has changed his mind.

GWENDOLEN.
[Meditatively.] If the poor fellow has been entrapped into any foolish promiseI shall consider it my duty to rescue him at once, and with a firm hand.

CECILY.
[Thoughtfully and sadly.] Whatever unfortunate entanglement my dear boy mayhave got into, I will never reproach him with it after we are married.

GWENDOLEN.
Do you allude to me, Miss Cardew, as an entanglement? You are presumptuous. Onan occasion of this kind it becomes more than a moral duty to speak one’smind. It becomes a pleasure.

CECILY.
Do you suggest, Miss Fairfax, that I entrapped Ernest into an engagement? Howdare you? This is no time for wearing the shallow mask of manners. When I see aspade I call it a spade.

GWENDOLEN.
[Satirically.] I am glad to say that I have never seen a spade. It is obviousthat our social spheres have been widely different.

[Enter Merriman, followed by the footman. He carries a salver, tablecloth, and plate stand. Cecily is about to retort. The presence of theservants exercises a restraining influence, under which both girls chafe.]

MERRIMAN.
Shall I lay tea here as usual, Miss?

CECILY.
[Sternly, in a calm voice.] Yes, as usual. [Merriman begins to cleartable and lay cloth. A long pause. Cecily and Gwendolen glare ateach other.]

GWENDOLEN.
Are there many interesting walks in the vicinity, Miss Cardew?

CECILY.
Oh! yes! a great many. From the top of one of the hills quite close one can seefive counties.

GWENDOLEN.
Five counties! I don’t think I should like that; I hate crowds.

CECILY.
[Sweetly.] I suppose that is why you live in town? [Gwendolen bites herlip, and beats her foot nervously with her parasol.]

GWENDOLEN.
[Looking round.] Quite a well-kept garden this is, Miss Cardew.

CECILY.
So glad you like it, Miss Fairfax.

GWENDOLEN.
I had no idea there were any flowers in the country.

CECILY.
Oh, flowers are as common here, Miss Fairfax, as people are in London.

GWENDOLEN.
Personally I cannot understand how anybody manages to exist in the country, ifanybody who is anybody does. The country always bores me to death.

CECILY.
Ah! This is what the newspapers call agricultural depression, is it not? Ibelieve the aristocracy are suffering very much from it just at present. It isalmost an epidemic amongst them, I have been told. May I offer you some tea,Miss Fairfax?

GWENDOLEN.
[With elaborate politeness.] Thank you. [Aside.] Detestable girl! But I requiretea!

CECILY.
[Sweetly.] Sugar?

GWENDOLEN.
[Superciliously.] No, thank you. Sugar is not fashionable any more.[Cecily looks angrily at her, takes up the tongs and puts four lumps ofsugar into the cup.]

CECILY.
[Severely.] Cake or bread and butter?

GWENDOLEN.
[In a bored manner.] Bread and butter, please. Cake is rarely seen at the besthouses nowadays.

CECILY.
[Cuts a very large slice of cake, and puts it on the tray.] Hand that to MissFairfax.

[Merriman does so, and goes out with footman. Gwendolen drinksthe tea and makes a grimace. Puts down cup at once, reaches out her hand to thebread and butter, looks at it, and finds it is cake. Rises in indignation.]

GWENDOLEN.
You have filled my tea with lumps of sugar, and though I asked most distinctlyfor bread and butter, you have given me cake. I am known for the gentleness ofmy disposition, and the extraordinary sweetness of my nature, but I warn you,Miss Cardew, you may go too far.

CECILY.
[Rising.] To save my poor, innocent, trusting boy from the machinations of anyother girl there are no lengths to which I would not go.

GWENDOLEN.
From the moment I saw you I distrusted you. I felt that you were false anddeceitful. I am never deceived in such matters. My first impressions of peopleare invariably right.

CECILY.
It seems to me, Miss Fairfax, that I am trespassing on your valuable time. Nodoubt you have many other calls of a similar character to make in theneighbourhood.

[Enter Jack.]

GWENDOLEN.
[Catching sight of him.] Ernest! My own Ernest!

JACK.
Gwendolen! Darling! [Offers to kiss her.]

GWENDOLEN.
[Draws back.] A moment! May I ask if you are engaged to be married to thisyoung lady? [Points to Cecily.]

JACK.
[Laughing.] To dear little Cecily! Of course not! What could have put such anidea into your pretty little head?

GWENDOLEN.
Thank you. You may! [Offers her cheek.]

CECILY.
[Very sweetly.] I knew there must be some misunderstanding, Miss Fairfax. Thegentleman whose arm is at present round your waist is my guardian, Mr. JohnWorthing.

GWENDOLEN.
I beg your pardon?

CECILY.
This is Uncle Jack.

GWENDOLEN.
[Receding.] Jack! Oh!

[Enter Algernon.]

CECILY.
Here is Ernest.

ALGERNON.
[Goes straight over to Cecily without noticing any one else.] My ownlove! [Offers to kiss her.]

CECILY.
[Drawing back.] A moment, Ernest! May I ask you—are you engaged to bemarried to this young lady?

ALGERNON.
[Looking round.] To what young lady? Good heavens! Gwendolen!

CECILY.
Yes! to good heavens, Gwendolen, I mean to Gwendolen.

ALGERNON.
[Laughing.] Of course not! What could have put such an idea into your prettylittle head?

CECILY.
Thank you. [Presenting her cheek to be kissed.] You may. [Algernonkisses her.]

GWENDOLEN.
I felt there was some slight error, Miss Cardew. The gentleman who is nowembracing you is my cousin, Mr. Algernon Moncrieff.

CECILY.
[Breaking away from Algernon.] Algernon Moncrieff! Oh! [The two girlsmove towards each other and put their arms round each other’s waists asif for protection.]

CECILY.
Are you called Algernon?

ALGERNON.
I cannot deny it.

CECILY.
Oh!

GWENDOLEN.
Is your name really John?

JACK.
[Standing rather proudly.] I could deny it if I liked. I could deny anything ifI liked. But my name certainly is John. It has been John for years.

CECILY.
[To Gwendolen.] A gross deception has been practised on both of us.

GWENDOLEN.
My poor wounded Cecily!

CECILY.
My sweet wronged Gwendolen!

GWENDOLEN.
[Slowly and seriously.] You will call me sister, will you not? [They embrace.Jack and Algernon groan and walk up and down.]

CECILY.
[Rather brightly.] There is just one question I would like to be allowed to askmy guardian.

GWENDOLEN.
An admirable idea! Mr. Worthing, there is just one question I would like to bepermitted to put to you. Where is your brother Ernest? We are both engaged tobe married to your brother Ernest, so it is a matter of some importance to usto know where your brother Ernest is at present.

JACK.
[Slowly and hesitatingly.] Gwendolen—Cecily—it is very painful forme to be forced to speak the truth. It is the first time in my life that I haveever been reduced to such a painful position, and I am really quiteinexperienced in doing anything of the kind. However, I will tell you quitefrankly that I have no brother Ernest. I have no brother at all. I never had abrother in my life, and I certainly have not the smallest intention of everhaving one in the future.

CECILY.
[Surprised.] No brother at all?

JACK.
[Cheerily.] None!

GWENDOLEN.
[Severely.] Had you never a brother of any kind?

JACK.
[Pleasantly.] Never. Not even of any kind.

GWENDOLEN.
I am afraid it is quite clear, Cecily, that neither of us is engaged to bemarried to any one.

CECILY.
It is not a very pleasant position for a young girl suddenly to find herselfin. Is it?

GWENDOLEN.
Let us go into the house. They will hardly venture to come after us there.

CECILY.
No, men are so cowardly, aren’t they?

[They retire into the house with scornful looks.]

JACK.
This ghastly state of things is what you call Bunburying, I suppose?

ALGERNON.
Yes, and a perfectly wonderful Bunbury it is. The most wonderful Bunbury I haveever had in my life.

JACK.
Well, you’ve no right whatsoever to Bunbury here.

ALGERNON.
That is absurd. One has a right to Bunbury anywhere one chooses. Every seriousBunburyist knows that.

JACK.
Serious Bunburyist! Good heavens!

ALGERNON.
Well, one must be serious about something, if one wants to have any amusementin life. I happen to be serious about Bunburying. What on earth you are seriousabout I haven’t got the remotest idea. About everything, I should fancy.You have such an absolutely trivial nature.

JACK.
Well, the only small satisfaction I have in the whole of this wretched businessis that your friend Bunbury is quite exploded. You won’t be able to rundown to the country quite so often as you used to do, dear Algy. And a verygood thing too.

ALGERNON.
Your brother is a little off colour, isn’t he, dear Jack? You won’tbe able to disappear to London quite so frequently as your wicked custom was.And not a bad thing either.

JACK.
As for your conduct towards Miss Cardew, I must say that your taking in asweet, simple, innocent girl like that is quite inexcusable. To say nothing ofthe fact that she is my ward.

ALGERNON.
I can see no possible defence at all for your deceiving a brilliant, clever,thoroughly experienced young lady like Miss Fairfax. To say nothing of the factthat she is my cousin.

JACK.
I wanted to be engaged to Gwendolen, that is all. I love her.

ALGERNON.
Well, I simply wanted to be engaged to Cecily. I adore her.

JACK.
There is certainly no chance of your marrying Miss Cardew.

ALGERNON.
I don’t think there is much likelihood, Jack, of you and Miss Fairfaxbeing united.

JACK.
Well, that is no business of yours.

ALGERNON.
If it was my business, I wouldn’t talk about it. [Begins to eat muffins.]It is very vulgar to talk about one’s business. Only people likestock-brokers do that, and then merely at dinner parties.

JACK.
How can you sit there, calmly eating muffins when we are in this horribletrouble, I can’t make out. You seem to me to be perfectly heartless.

ALGERNON.
Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter wouldprobably get on my cuffs. One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is theonly way to eat them.

JACK.
I say it’s perfectly heartless your eating muffins at all, under thecircumstances.

ALGERNON.
When I am in trouble, eating is the only thing that consoles me. Indeed, when Iam in really great trouble, as any one who knows me intimately will tell you, Irefuse everything except food and drink. At the present moment I am eatingmuffins because I am unhappy. Besides, I am particularly fond of muffins.[Rising.]

JACK.
[Rising.] Well, that is no reason why you should eat them all in that greedyway. [Takes muffins from Algernon.]

ALGERNON.
[Offering tea-cake.] I wish you would have tea-cake instead. I don’t liketea-cake.

JACK.
Good heavens! I suppose a man may eat his own muffins in his own garden.

ALGERNON.
But you have just said it was perfectly heartless to eat muffins.

JACK.
I said it was perfectly heartless of you, under the circumstances. That is avery different thing.

ALGERNON.
That may be. But the muffins are the same. [He seizes the muffin-dish fromJack.]

JACK.
Algy, I wish to goodness you would go.

ALGERNON.
You can’t possibly ask me to go without having some dinner. It’sabsurd. I never go without my dinner. No one ever does, except vegetarians andpeople like that. Besides I have just made arrangements with Dr. Chasuble to bechristened at a quarter to six under the name of Ernest.

JACK.
My dear fellow, the sooner you give up that nonsense the better. I madearrangements this morning with Dr. Chasuble to be christened myself at 5.30,and I naturally will take the name of Ernest. Gwendolen would wish it. Wecan’t both be christened Ernest. It’s absurd. Besides, I have aperfect right to be christened if I like. There is no evidence at all that Ihave ever been christened by anybody. I should think it extremely probable Inever was, and so does Dr. Chasuble. It is entirely different in your case. Youhave been christened already.

ALGERNON.
Yes, but I have not been christened for years.

JACK.
Yes, but you have been christened. That is the important thing.

ALGERNON.
Quite so. So I know my constitution can stand it. If you are not quite sureabout your ever having been christened, I must say I think it rather dangerousyour venturing on it now. It might make you very unwell. You can hardly haveforgotten that some one very closely connected with you was very nearly carriedoff this week in Paris by a severe chill.

JACK.
Yes, but you said yourself that a severe chill was not hereditary.

ALGERNON.
It usen’t to be, I know—but I daresay it is now. Science is alwaysmaking wonderful improvements in things.

JACK.
[Picking up the muffin-dish.] Oh, that is nonsense; you are always talkingnonsense.

ALGERNON.
Jack, you are at the muffins again! I wish you wouldn’t. There are onlytwo left. [Takes them.] I told you I was particularly fond of muffins.

JACK.
But I hate tea-cake.

ALGERNON.
Why on earth then do you allow tea-cake to be served up for your guests? Whatideas you have of hospitality!

JACK.
Algernon! I have already told you to go. I don’t want you here. Whydon’t you go!

ALGERNON.
I haven’t quite finished my tea yet! and there is still one muffin left.[Jack groans, and sinks into a chair. Algernon still continueseating.]

ACT DROP

THIRD ACT

SCENE

Morning-room at the Manor House.

[Gwendolen and Cecily are at the window, looking out into thegarden.]

GWENDOLEN.
The fact that they did not follow us at once into the house, as any one elsewould have done, seems to me to show that they have some sense of shame left.

CECILY.
They have been eating muffins. That looks like repentance.

GWENDOLEN.
[After a pause.] They don’t seem to notice us at all. Couldn’t youcough?

CECILY.
But I haven’t got a cough.

GWENDOLEN.
They’re looking at us. What effrontery!

CECILY.
They’re approaching. That’s very forward of them.

GWENDOLEN.
Let us preserve a dignified silence.

CECILY.
Certainly. It’s the only thing to do now. [Enter Jack followed byAlgernon. They whistle some dreadful popular air from a British Opera.]

GWENDOLEN.
This dignified silence seems to produce an unpleasant effect.

CECILY.
A most distasteful one.

GWENDOLEN.
But we will not be the first to speak.

CECILY.
Certainly not.

GWENDOLEN.
Mr. Worthing, I have something very particular to ask you. Much depends on yourreply.

CECILY.
Gwendolen, your common sense is invaluable. Mr. Moncrieff, kindly answer me thefollowing question. Why did you pretend to be my guardian’s brother?

ALGERNON.
In order that I might have an opportunity of meeting you.

CECILY.
[To Gwendolen.] That certainly seems a satisfactory explanation, does itnot?

GWENDOLEN.
Yes, dear, if you can believe him.

CECILY.
I don’t. But that does not affect the wonderful beauty of his answer.

GWENDOLEN.
True. In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing.Mr. Worthing, what explanation can you offer to me for pretending to have abrother? Was it in order that you might have an opportunity of coming up totown to see me as often as possible?

JACK.
Can you doubt it, Miss Fairfax?

GWENDOLEN.
I have the gravest doubts upon the subject. But I intend to crush them. This isnot the moment for German scepticism. [Moving to Cecily.] Theirexplanations appear to be quite satisfactory, especially Mr. Worthing’s.That seems to me to have the stamp of truth upon it.

CECILY.
I am more than content with what Mr. Moncrieff said. His voice alone inspiresone with absolute credulity.

GWENDOLEN.
Then you think we should forgive them?

CECILY.
Yes. I mean no.

GWENDOLEN.
True! I had forgotten. There are principles at stake that one cannot surrender.Which of us should tell them? The task is not a pleasant one.

CECILY.
Could we not both speak at the same time?

GWENDOLEN.
An excellent idea! I nearly always speak at the same time as other people. Willyou take the time from me?

CECILY.
Certainly. [Gwendolen beats time with uplifted finger.]

GWENDOLEN and CECILY [Speaking together.] Your Christian names are still aninsuperable barrier. That is all!

JACK and ALGERNON [Speaking together.] Our Christian names! Is that all? Butwe are going to be christened this afternoon.

GWENDOLEN.
[To Jack.] For my sake you are prepared to do this terrible thing?

JACK.
I am.

CECILY.
[To Algernon.] To please me you are ready to face this fearful ordeal?

ALGERNON.
I am!

GWENDOLEN.
How absurd to talk of the equality of the sexes! Where questions ofself-sacrifice are concerned, men are infinitely beyond us.

JACK.
We are. [Clasps hands with Algernon.]

CECILY.
They have moments of physical courage of which we women know absolutelynothing.

GWENDOLEN.
[To Jack.] Darling!

ALGERNON.
[To Cecily.] Darling! [They fall into each other’s arms.]

(Video) Favorite Free Classics on Project Gutenberg

[Enter Merriman. When he enters he coughs loudly, seeing thesituation.]

MERRIMAN.
Ahem! Ahem! Lady Bracknell!

JACK.
Good heavens!

[Enter Lady Bracknell. The couples separate in alarm. ExitMerriman.]

LADY BRACKNELL.
Gwendolen! What does this mean?

GWENDOLEN.
Merely that I am engaged to be married to Mr. Worthing, mamma.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Come here. Sit down. Sit down immediately. Hesitation of any kind is a sign ofmental decay in the young, of physical weakness in the old. [Turns toJack.] Apprised, sir, of my daughter’s sudden flight by her trustymaid, whose confidence I purchased by means of a small coin, I followed her atonce by a luggage train. Her unhappy father is, I am glad to say, under theimpression that she is attending a more than usually lengthy lecture by theUniversity Extension Scheme on the Influence of a permanent income on Thought.I do not propose to undeceive him. Indeed I have never undeceived him on anyquestion. I would consider it wrong. But of course, you will clearly understandthat all communication between yourself and my daughter must cease immediatelyfrom this moment. On this point, as indeed on all points, I am firm.

JACK.
I am engaged to be married to Gwendolen, Lady Bracknell!

LADY BRACKNELL.
You are nothing of the kind, sir. And now, as regards Algernon! . . . Algernon!

ALGERNON.
Yes, Aunt Augusta.

LADY BRACKNELL.
May I ask if it is in this house that your invalid friend Mr. Bunbury resides?

ALGERNON.
[Stammering.] Oh! No! Bunbury doesn’t live here. Bunbury is somewhereelse at present. In fact, Bunbury is dead.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Dead! When did Mr. Bunbury die? His death must have been extremely sudden.

ALGERNON.
[Airily.] Oh! I killed Bunbury this afternoon. I mean poor Bunbury died thisafternoon.

LADY BRACKNELL.
What did he die of?

ALGERNON.
Bunbury? Oh, he was quite exploded.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Exploded! Was he the victim of a revolutionary outrage? I was not aware thatMr. Bunbury was interested in social legislation. If so, he is well punishedfor his morbidity.

ALGERNON.
My dear Aunt Augusta, I mean he was found out! The doctors found out thatBunbury could not live, that is what I mean—so Bunbury died.

LADY BRACKNELL.
He seems to have had great confidence in the opinion of his physicians. I amglad, however, that he made up his mind at the last to some definite course ofaction, and acted under proper medical advice. And now that we have finally gotrid of this Mr. Bunbury, may I ask, Mr. Worthing, who is that young personwhose hand my nephew Algernon is now holding in what seems to me a peculiarlyunnecessary manner?

JACK.
That lady is Miss Cecily Cardew, my ward. [Lady Bracknell bows coldly toCecily.]

ALGERNON.
I am engaged to be married to Cecily, Aunt Augusta.

LADY BRACKNELL.
I beg your pardon?

CECILY.
Mr. Moncrieff and I are engaged to be married, Lady Bracknell.

LADY BRACKNELL.
[With a shiver, crossing to the sofa and sitting down.] I do not know whetherthere is anything peculiarly exciting in the air of this particular part ofHertfordshire, but the number of engagements that go on seems to meconsiderably above the proper average that statistics have laid down for ourguidance. I think some preliminary inquiry on my part would not be out ofplace. Mr. Worthing, is Miss Cardew at all connected with any of the largerrailway stations in London? I merely desire information. Until yesterday I hadno idea that there were any families or persons whose origin was a Terminus.[Jack looks perfectly furious, but restrains himself.]

JACK.
[In a clear, cold voice.] Miss Cardew is the grand-daughter of the late Mr.Thomas Cardew of 149 Belgrave Square, S.W.; Gervase Park, Dorking, Surrey; andthe Sporran, Fifeshire, N.B.

LADY BRACKNELL.
That sounds not unsatisfactory. Three addresses always inspire confidence, evenin tradesmen. But what proof have I of their authenticity?

JACK.
I have carefully preserved the Court Guides of the period. They are open toyour inspection, Lady Bracknell.

LADY BRACKNELL.
[Grimly.] I have known strange errors in that publication.

JACK.
Miss Cardew’s family solicitors are Messrs. Markby, Markby, and Markby.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Markby, Markby, and Markby? A firm of the very highest position in theirprofession. Indeed I am told that one of the Mr. Markby’s is occasionallyto be seen at dinner parties. So far I am satisfied.

JACK.
[Very irritably.] How extremely kind of you, Lady Bracknell! I have also in mypossession, you will be pleased to hear, certificates of Miss Cardew’sbirth, baptism, whooping cough, registration, vaccination, confirmation, andthe measles; both the German and the English variety.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Ah! A life crowded with incident, I see; though perhaps somewhat too excitingfor a young girl. I am not myself in favour of premature experiences. [Rises,looks at her watch.] Gwendolen! the time approaches for our departure. We havenot a moment to lose. As a matter of form, Mr. Worthing, I had better ask youif Miss Cardew has any little fortune?

JACK.
Oh! about a hundred and thirty thousand pounds in the Funds. That is all.Goodbye, Lady Bracknell. So pleased to have seen you.

LADY BRACKNELL.
[Sitting down again.] A moment, Mr. Worthing. A hundred and thirty thousandpounds! And in the Funds! Miss Cardew seems to me a most attractive young lady,now that I look at her. Few girls of the present day have any really solidqualities, any of the qualities that last, and improve with time. We live, Iregret to say, in an age of surfaces. [To Cecily.] Come over here, dear.[Cecily goes across.] Pretty child! your dress is sadly simple, and yourhair seems almost as Nature might have left it. But we can soon alter all that.A thoroughly experienced French maid produces a really marvellous result in avery brief space of time. I remember recommending one to young Lady Lancing,and after three months her own husband did not know her.

JACK.
And after six months nobody knew her.

LADY BRACKNELL.
[Glares at Jack for a few moments. Then bends, with a practised smile,to Cecily.] Kindly turn round, sweet child. [Cecily turnscompletely round.] No, the side view is what I want. [Cecily presentsher profile.] Yes, quite as I expected. There are distinct social possibilitiesin your profile. The two weak points in our age are its want of principle andits want of profile. The chin a little higher, dear. Style largely depends onthe way the chin is worn. They are worn very high, just at present. Algernon!

ALGERNON.
Yes, Aunt Augusta!

LADY BRACKNELL.
There are distinct social possibilities in Miss Cardew’s profile.

ALGERNON.
Cecily is the sweetest, dearest, prettiest girl in the whole world. And Idon’t care twopence about social possibilities.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’tget into it do that. [To Cecily.] Dear child, of course you know thatAlgernon has nothing but his debts to depend upon. But I do not approve ofmercenary marriages. When I married Lord Bracknell I had no fortune of anykind. But I never dreamed for a moment of allowing that to stand in my way.Well, I suppose I must give my consent.

ALGERNON.
Thank you, Aunt Augusta.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Cecily, you may kiss me!

CECILY.
[Kisses her.] Thank you, Lady Bracknell.

LADY BRACKNELL.
You may also address me as Aunt Augusta for the future.

CECILY.
Thank you, Aunt Augusta.

LADY BRACKNELL.
The marriage, I think, had better take place quite soon.

ALGERNON.
Thank you, Aunt Augusta.

CECILY.
Thank you, Aunt Augusta.

LADY BRACKNELL.
To speak frankly, I am not in favour of long engagements. They give people theopportunity of finding out each other’s character before marriage, whichI think is never advisable.

JACK.
I beg your pardon for interrupting you, Lady Bracknell, but this engagement isquite out of the question. I am Miss Cardew’s guardian, and she cannotmarry without my consent until she comes of age. That consent I absolutelydecline to give.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Upon what grounds may I ask? Algernon is an extremely, I may almost say anostentatiously, eligible young man. He has nothing, but he looks everything.What more can one desire?

JACK.
It pains me very much to have to speak frankly to you, Lady Bracknell, aboutyour nephew, but the fact is that I do not approve at all of his moralcharacter. I suspect him of being untruthful. [Algernon andCecily look at him in indignant amazement.]

LADY BRACKNELL.
Untruthful! My nephew Algernon? Impossible! He is an Oxonian.

JACK.
I fear there can be no possible doubt about the matter. This afternoon duringmy temporary absence in London on an important question of romance, he obtainedadmission to my house by means of the false pretence of being my brother. Underan assumed name he drank, I’ve just been informed by my butler, an entirepint bottle of my Perrier-Jouet, Brut, ’89; wine I was speciallyreserving for myself. Continuing his disgraceful deception, he succeeded in thecourse of the afternoon in alienating the affections of my only ward. Hesubsequently stayed to tea, and devoured every single muffin. And what makeshis conduct all the more heartless is, that he was perfectly well aware fromthe first that I have no brother, that I never had a brother, and that Idon’t intend to have a brother, not even of any kind. I distinctly toldhim so myself yesterday afternoon.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Ahem! Mr. Worthing, after careful consideration I have decided entirely tooverlook my nephew’s conduct to you.

JACK.
That is very generous of you, Lady Bracknell. My own decision, however, isunalterable. I decline to give my consent.

LADY BRACKNELL.
[To Cecily.] Come here, sweet child. [Cecily goes over.] How oldare you, dear?

CECILY.
Well, I am really only eighteen, but I always admit to twenty when I go toevening parties.

LADY BRACKNELL.
You are perfectly right in making some slight alteration. Indeed, no womanshould ever be quite accurate about her age. It looks so calculating . . . [Ina meditative manner.] Eighteen, but admitting to twenty at evening parties.Well, it will not be very long before you are of age and free from therestraints of tutelage. So I don’t think your guardian’s consentis, after all, a matter of any importance.

JACK.
Pray excuse me, Lady Bracknell, for interrupting you again, but it is only fairto tell you that according to the terms of her grandfather’s will MissCardew does not come legally of age till she is thirty-five.

LADY BRACKNELL.
That does not seem to me to be a grave objection. Thirty-five is a veryattractive age. London society is full of women of the very highest birth whohave, of their own free choice, remained thirty-five for years. Lady Dumbletonis an instance in point. To my own knowledge she has been thirty-five eversince she arrived at the age of forty, which was many years ago now. I see noreason why our dear Cecily should not be even still more attractive at the ageyou mention than she is at present. There will be a large accumulation ofproperty.

CECILY.
Algy, could you wait for me till I was thirty-five?

ALGERNON.
Of course I could, Cecily. You know I could.

CECILY.
Yes, I felt it instinctively, but I couldn’t wait all that time. I hatewaiting even five minutes for anybody. It always makes me rather cross. I amnot punctual myself, I know, but I do like punctuality in others, and waiting,even to be married, is quite out of the question.

ALGERNON.
Then what is to be done, Cecily?

CECILY.
I don’t know, Mr. Moncrieff.

LADY BRACKNELL.
My dear Mr. Worthing, as Miss Cardew states positively that she cannot waittill she is thirty-five—a remark which I am bound to say seems to me toshow a somewhat impatient nature—I would beg of you to reconsider yourdecision.

JACK.
But my dear Lady Bracknell, the matter is entirely in your own hands. Themoment you consent to my marriage with Gwendolen, I will most gladly allow yournephew to form an alliance with my ward.

LADY BRACKNELL.
[Rising and drawing herself up.] You must be quite aware that what you proposeis out of the question.

JACK.
Then a passionate celibacy is all that any of us can look forward to.

LADY BRACKNELL.
That is not the destiny I propose for Gwendolen. Algernon, of course, canchoose for himself. [Pulls out her watch.] Come, dear, [Gwendolen rises]we have already missed five, if not six, trains. To miss any more might exposeus to comment on the platform.

[Enter Dr. Chasuble.]

CHASUBLE.
Everything is quite ready for the christenings.

LADY BRACKNELL.
The christenings, sir! Is not that somewhat premature?

CHASUBLE.
[Looking rather puzzled, and pointing to Jack and Algernon.] Boththese gentlemen have expressed a desire for immediate baptism.

LADY BRACKNELL.
At their age? The idea is grotesque and irreligious! Algernon, I forbid you tobe baptized. I will not hear of such excesses. Lord Bracknell would be highlydispleased if he learned that that was the way in which you wasted your timeand money.

CHASUBLE.
Am I to understand then that there are to be no christenings at all thisafternoon?

JACK.
I don’t think that, as things are now, it would be of much practicalvalue to either of us, Dr. Chasuble.

CHASUBLE.
I am grieved to hear such sentiments from you, Mr. Worthing. They savour of theheretical views of the Anabaptists, views that I have completely refuted infour of my unpublished sermons. However, as your present mood seems to be onepeculiarly secular, I will return to the church at once. Indeed, I have justbeen informed by the pew-opener that for the last hour and a half Miss Prismhas been waiting for me in the vestry.

LADY BRACKNELL.
[Starting.] Miss Prism! Did I hear you mention a Miss Prism?

CHASUBLE.
Yes, Lady Bracknell. I am on my way to join her.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Pray allow me to detain you for a moment. This matter may prove to be one ofvital importance to Lord Bracknell and myself. Is this Miss Prism a female ofrepellent aspect, remotely connected with education?

CHASUBLE.
[Somewhat indignantly.] She is the most cultivated of ladies, and the verypicture of respectability.

LADY BRACKNELL.
It is obviously the same person. May I ask what position she holds in yourhousehold?

CHASUBLE.
[Severely.] I am a celibate, madam.

JACK.
[Interposing.] Miss Prism, Lady Bracknell, has been for the last three yearsMiss Cardew’s esteemed governess and valued companion.

LADY BRACKNELL.
In spite of what I hear of her, I must see her at once. Let her be sent for.

CHASUBLE.
[Looking off.] She approaches; she is nigh.

[Enter Miss Prism hurriedly.]

MISS PRISM.
I was told you expected me in the vestry, dear Canon. I have been waiting foryou there for an hour and three-quarters. [Catches sight of LadyBracknell, who has fixed her with a stony glare. Miss Prism growspale and quails. She looks anxiously round as if desirous to escape.]

LADY BRACKNELL.
[In a severe, judicial voice.] Prism! [Miss Prism bows her head inshame.] Come here, Prism! [Miss Prism approaches in a humble manner.]Prism! Where is that baby? [General consternation. The Canon starts backin horror. Algernon and Jack pretend to be anxious to shieldCecily and Gwendolen from hearing the details of a terriblepublic scandal.] Twenty-eight years ago, Prism, you left Lord Bracknell’shouse, Number 104, Upper Grosvenor Street, in charge of a perambulator thatcontained a baby of the male sex. You never returned. A few weeks later,through the elaborate investigations of the Metropolitan police, theperambulator was discovered at midnight, standing by itself in a remote cornerof Bayswater. It contained the manuscript of a three-volume novel of more thanusually revolting sentimentality. [Miss Prism starts in involuntaryindignation.] But the baby was not there! [Every one looks at MissPrism.] Prism! Where is that baby? [A pause.]

MISS PRISM.
Lady Bracknell, I admit with shame that I do not know. I only wish I did. Theplain facts of the case are these. On the morning of the day you mention, a daythat is for ever branded on my memory, I prepared as usual to take the baby outin its perambulator. I had also with me a somewhat old, but capacious hand-bagin which I had intended to place the manuscript of a work of fiction that I hadwritten during my few unoccupied hours. In a moment of mental abstraction, forwhich I never can forgive myself, I deposited the manuscript in the basinette,and placed the baby in the hand-bag.

JACK.
[Who has been listening attentively.] But where did you deposit the hand-bag?

MISS PRISM.
Do not ask me, Mr. Worthing.

JACK.
Miss Prism, this is a matter of no small importance to me. I insist on knowingwhere you deposited the hand-bag that contained that infant.

MISS PRISM.
I left it in the cloak-room of one of the larger railway stations in London.

JACK.
What railway station?

MISS PRISM.
[Quite crushed.] Victoria. The Brighton line. [Sinks into a chair.]

JACK.
I must retire to my room for a moment. Gwendolen, wait here for me.

GWENDOLEN.
If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life. [ExitJack in great excitement.]

CHASUBLE.
What do you think this means, Lady Bracknell?

LADY BRACKNELL.
I dare not even suspect, Dr. Chasuble. I need hardly tell you that in familiesof high position strange coincidences are not supposed to occur. They arehardly considered the thing.

[Noises heard overhead as if some one was throwing trunks about. Every onelooks up.]

CECILY.
Uncle Jack seems strangely agitated.

CHASUBLE.
Your guardian has a very emotional nature.

LADY BRACKNELL.
This noise is extremely unpleasant. It sounds as if he was having an argument.I dislike arguments of any kind. They are always vulgar, and often convincing.

CHASUBLE.
[Looking up.] It has stopped now. [The noise is redoubled.]

LADY BRACKNELL.
I wish he would arrive at some conclusion.

GWENDOLEN.
This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last. [Enter Jack with ahand-bag of black leather in his hand.]

JACK.
[Rushing over to Miss Prism.] Is this the hand-bag, Miss Prism? Examineit carefully before you speak. The happiness of more than one life depends onyour answer.

MISS PRISM.
[Calmly.] It seems to be mine. Yes, here is the injury it received through theupsetting of a Gower Street omnibus in younger and happier days. Here is thestain on the lining caused by the explosion of a temperance beverage, anincident that occurred at Leamington. And here, on the lock, are my initials. Ihad forgotten that in an extravagant mood I had had them placed there. The bagis undoubtedly mine. I am delighted to have it so unexpectedly restored to me.It has been a great inconvenience being without it all these years.

JACK.
[In a pathetic voice.] Miss Prism, more is restored to you than this hand-bag.I was the baby you placed in it.

MISS PRISM.
[Amazed.] You?

JACK.
[Embracing her.] Yes . . . mother!

MISS PRISM.
[Recoiling in indignant astonishment.] Mr. Worthing! I am unmarried!

JACK.
Unmarried! I do not deny that is a serious blow. But after all, who has theright to cast a stone against one who has suffered? Cannot repentance wipe outan act of folly? Why should there be one law for men, and another for women?Mother, I forgive you. [Tries to embrace her again.]

MISS PRISM.
[Still more indignant.] Mr. Worthing, there is some error. [Pointing to LadyBracknell.] There is the lady who can tell you who you really are.

JACK.
[After a pause.] Lady Bracknell, I hate to seem inquisitive, but would youkindly inform me who I am?

LADY BRACKNELL.
I am afraid that the news I have to give you will not altogether please you.You are the son of my poor sister, Mrs. Moncrieff, and consequentlyAlgernon’s elder brother.

JACK.
Algy’s elder brother! Then I have a brother after all. I knew I had abrother! I always said I had a brother! Cecily,—how could you have everdoubted that I had a brother? [Seizes hold of Algernon.] Dr. Chasuble,my unfortunate brother. Miss Prism, my unfortunate brother. Gwendolen, myunfortunate brother. Algy, you young scoundrel, you will have to treat me withmore respect in the future. You have never behaved to me like a brother in allyour life.

ALGERNON.
Well, not till to-day, old boy, I admit. I did my best, however, though I wasout of practice.

[Shakes hands.]

GWENDOLEN.
[To Jack.] My own! But what own are you? What is your Christian name,now that you have become some one else?

JACK.
Good heavens! . . . I had quite forgotten that point. Your decision on thesubject of my name is irrevocable, I suppose?

GWENDOLEN.
I never change, except in my affections.

CECILY.
What a noble nature you have, Gwendolen!

JACK.
Then the question had better be cleared up at once. Aunt Augusta, a moment. Atthe time when Miss Prism left me in the hand-bag, had I been christenedalready?

LADY BRACKNELL.
Every luxury that money could buy, including christening, had been lavished onyou by your fond and doting parents.

JACK.
Then I was christened! That is settled. Now, what name was I given? Let me knowthe worst.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Being the eldest son you were naturally christened after your father.

JACK.
[Irritably.] Yes, but what was my father’s Christian name?

LADY BRACKNELL.
[Meditatively.] I cannot at the present moment recall what the General’sChristian name was. But I have no doubt he had one. He was eccentric, I admit.But only in later years. And that was the result of the Indian climate, andmarriage, and indigestion, and other things of that kind.

JACK.
Algy! Can’t you recollect what our father’s Christian name was?

ALGERNON.
My dear boy, we were never even on speaking terms. He died before I was a yearold.

JACK.
His name would appear in the Army Lists of the period, I suppose, Aunt Augusta?

LADY BRACKNELL.
The General was essentially a man of peace, except in his domestic life. But Ihave no doubt his name would appear in any military directory.

JACK.
The Army Lists of the last forty years are here. These delightful recordsshould have been my constant study. [Rushes to bookcase and tears the booksout.] M. Generals . . . Mallam, Maxbohm, Magley, what ghastly names theyhave—Markby, Migsby, Mobbs, Moncrieff! Lieutenant 1840, Captain,Lieutenant-Colonel, Colonel, General 1869, Christian names, Ernest John. [Putsbook very quietly down and speaks quite calmly.] I always told you, Gwendolen,my name was Ernest, didn’t I? Well, it is Ernest after all. I mean itnaturally is Ernest.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Yes, I remember now that the General was called Ernest, I knew I had someparticular reason for disliking the name.

GWENDOLEN.
Ernest! My own Ernest! I felt from the first that you could have no other name!

JACK.
Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all hislife he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?

GWENDOLEN.
I can. For I feel that you are sure to change.

JACK.
My own one!

CHASUBLE.
[To Miss Prism.] Lætitia! [Embraces her]

MISS PRISM.
[Enthusiastically.] Frederick! At last!

ALGERNON.
Cecily! [Embraces her.] At last!

JACK.
Gwendolen! [Embraces her.] At last!

LADY BRACKNELL.
My nephew, you seem to be displaying signs of triviality.

JACK.
On the contrary, Aunt Augusta, I’ve now realised for the first time in mylife the vital Importance of Being Earnest.

TABLEAU

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FAQs

What is Wilde message in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

Oscar Wilde. “[The Importance of Being Earnest] is exquisitely trivial, a delicate bubble of fancy, and it has its philosophy… That we should treat all the trivial things of life very seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality.”

What is the summary of the play Importance of Being Earnest? ›

John Worthing, a carefree young gentleman, is the inventor of a fictitious brother, “Ernest,” whose wicked ways afford John an excuse to leave his country home from time to time and journey to London, where he stays with his close friend and confidant, Algernon Moncrieff.

What is The Importance of Being Earnest meaning? ›

Earnestness, which refers to both the quality of being serious and the quality of being sincere, is the play's primary object of satire.

Is The Importance of Being Earnest public domain? ›

This masterpiece is probably the most famous of all comedies. This version is in the Public Domain and does not require a licensing fee for performance.

What is the conclusion of The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

Ultimately it is revealed that Jack is really Lady Bracknell's nephew, that his real name is Ernest, and that Algernon is actually his brother. The play ends with both couples happily united. This article was most recently revised and updated by Kathleen Kuiper.

What are the major themes in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

The Importance of Being Earnest is a comic play by Oscar Wilde that engages themes such as marriage, class, social expectations, and the lifestyles of the English upper class. The play focuses on two men, Algernon and Jack, who are both leading double lives.

What is the main conflict in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

The major conflict in this play is that Jack wants to marry Gwendolen, who believes his name is really Ernest-and loves him for that, and that he cannot because Lady Bracknell does not approve of Jack's background.

Who are the 4 main characters in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

Jack Worthing (Ernest), a young gentleman from the country, in love with Gwendolen Fairfax. Algernon Moncrieff, a young gentleman from London, the nephew of Lady Bracknell, in love with Cecily Cardew. Gwendolen Fairfax, a young lady, loved by Jack Worthing.

Why did Jack call himself Ernest? ›

Why does Jack Worthing call himself "Ernest" when he is in "town" (London)? Jack Worthing calls himself "Ernest" instead when he is in London because his "brother" that he came up with is full of mischief and misbehavior, so Jack is able to escape to London and misbehave on account of his brother.

What is ironic about the title The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

It is very ironic for two reasons. The first being that Earnest is not even the real name of her “true love.” Gwendolen is unaware that his name is, in fact, Jack. Then every other character is left very unaware that she even got the tattoo in the first place, but not the audience.

What does Wilde criticize in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

Wilde's Main Criticism in the Play Is with the Institution of Marriage: The Importance of being Earnest by Oscar Wilde uses satire to ridicule the cultural norms of marriage love and mind-set which were very rigid during the Victorian Age.

How is irony used in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

Situational irony is when the direct opposite happens of what one was thinking was going to happen. In the play Jack makes up a fake character, Ernest, as his brother and thinks that he will never have a brother. As Jack said, “I have no brother at all.

Is Oscar Wilde out of copyright? ›

Original works by Oscar Wilde are in the public domain (worldwide, since Wilde died more than 100 years ago). We intended not to use any copyrighted material for this site or, if not possible, to indicate the copyright of the respective object.

Is the play Arsenic and Old Lace in public domain? ›

I can tell you Arsenic and Old Lace is not in the public domain.It is licensed through Dramatis...

Does The Importance of Being Earnest have a moral? ›

In 'The Importance of Being Earnest,' the characters have a distorted sense of morality as they typically hold others to a much higher standard than they follow. Algernon judges Lane because of his lax sense of moral responsibility regarding marriage while Algernon holds views against monogamy in marriage.

What is the thesis of The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

The Importance of Being Earnest Essay Thesis Statement

It can be contended that The Importance of Being Earnest is in essence a play on morality since the major argument surfacing after its reading relates to honesty as being the best policy.

How do you teach The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

Learning Objectives for The Importance of Being Earnest

Identify the pun central to the play and analyze its meaning. Comment on the irony between the elegant demeanor of the characters and their absurd conversations and behavior. Discuss the meaning of the play's subtitle "a trivial play for serious people."

What literary devices are used in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

Both, irony and hyperbole are two clever literary techniques used by Oscar Wilde in the “Importance of Being Earnest” to portray his criticism towards the upper-class Victorian society in a comedic manner.

What is the theme of marriage in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

One major theme of The Importance of Being Earnest is the nature of marriage. Throughout the entire play, marriage and morality serve as the catalyst for the play, inspiring the plot and raising speculation about the moral character of each person.

Who is the antagonist in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

This story is a bit unusual, as it is more rooted in satire than anything else, in that its antagonist is Lady Bracknell. This is because she opposes the main intentions of the protagonist.

Who is the protagonist in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

John (Jack/Ernest) Worthing, J.P.

The play's protagonist. Jack Worthing is 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.

What time period is The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

The Importance of Being Earnest opened in the West End of London in February 1894 during an era when many of the religious, social, political, and economic structures were experiencing change — The Victorian Age (the last 25-30 years of the 1800s).

Who has the most lines in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

Cecily's dominance in almost all statistical categories in Act 2 was something I wanted to get to the bottom of. Not only is she introduced first in Act 2, she ends up interacting with every other character, and she ends up with the most lines, with almost twice as many lines as the next highest character, Jack.

What makes The Importance of Being Earnest a comedy? ›

Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest can be seen as a comedy of manners. The play is categorized as a farce, or a humorous play or film involving unlikely situations, due to its outrageous storyline and exaggerated characters. It satirizes the upper class, depicting them as ridiculous for their folly.

Is The Importance of Being Earnest a satire? ›

The importance of being earnest by Oscar Wilde uses satire to ridicule the cultural norms of marriage love and mind-set which were very rigid during the Victorian Age.

Why does Jack lie about his name? ›

Jack uses his alter-ego Ernest to keep his honorable image intact. Ernest enables Jack to escape the boundaries of his real life and act as he wouldn't dare to under his real identity. Ernest provides a convenient excuse and disguise for Jack, and Jack feels no qualms about invoking Ernest whenever necessary.

Why does Cecily fall in love with earnest? ›

She is obsessed with the name Ernest just as Gwendolen is, but wickedness is primarily what leads her to fall in love with “Uncle Jack's brother,” whose reputation is wayward enough to intrigue her. Like Algernon and Jack, she is a fantasist.

How does Jack claim his brother has died? ›

However, Jack returns early in mourning clothes claiming that his brother Ernest has died in Paris. He is shocked to find Algy there posing as Ernest. He orders a dogcart — a small horse-drawn carriage — to send Algy back to London, but it is too late. Algernon is in love with Cecily and plans to stay there.

What is the difference between earnest and Ernest? ›

The word earnest is derived from the Old English word eornost which means serious intent. Earnest may be used as an adjective or noun, related words are earnestness and earnestly. Ernest is a masculine name. The name Ernest is derived from the German names Ernst and Ernust.

What does Oscar Wilde make fun of in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

In The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde pokes fun at the upper class by showing them to be fickle, dishonest and snobbish.

Who is hypocritical in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

One of the most prominent uses of hypocrisy in the play is through Lady Bracknell's refusal to consent for marriage between Jack and Gwendolen, and then giving consent for a marriage between Algernon and Cecily.

What is ironic about Cecily's attitude toward the name Ernest? ›

Regardless of whether it is Jack or Algernon taking on the role, Ernest is always a symbol of deception rather than sincerity. Cecily's confidence in the name Ernest is especially ironic, since all she knows of her guardian's brother is that he is always getting into trouble.

What does food symbolize in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

Food symbolizes excess, or overindulgence. For instance, Algernon cannot stop eating cucumber sandwiches, or muffins when they are put in front of him, suggesting that his appetites are just as excessive as his eccentric, flamboyant, and extravagant airs.

What does the handbag symbolize in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

The handbag in which Jack was found as a baby is a symbol for the comedy of errors. Jack's inadvertent abandonment in a place as obscure and ridiculous as a handbag at a train station demonstrates the absurd results that arise when silly, as well as serious, mistakes are made.

Who is the foil in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

Throughout the play, Wilde uses character foil to juxtapose two characters “Cecily and Gwendolen” creating highlights of their values and qualities of their character. Cecily and Gwendolen are two lead females in Wilde's play “The Importance of Being Earnest”.

What does Wilde criticize in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

Wilde's Main Criticism in the Play Is with the Institution of Marriage: The Importance of being Earnest by Oscar Wilde uses satire to ridicule the cultural norms of marriage love and mind-set which were very rigid during the Victorian Age.

What does Oscar Wilde satire in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

The Importance of Being Earnest is a comedy of manners, whereby Oscar Wilde uses satire to ridicule marriage, love and the mentality of the Victorian aristocratic society. It can also be referred to as a satiric comedy.

What does Oscar Wilde make fun of in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

In The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde pokes fun at the upper class by showing them to be fickle, dishonest and snobbish.

What does The Importance of Being Earnest reveal about Victorian society? ›

The play The Importance of Being Ernest Oscar Wilde ridicules Victorian customs and traditions, marriage and particularly the pursuit of love. In Victorian times earnestness was considered as of the topmost ideals for reforming the lower classes. Later on, it spread to the upper class as well.

How is The Importance of Being Earnest a comedy of manners? ›

Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest can be seen as a comedy of manners. The play is categorized as a farce, or a humorous play or film involving unlikely situations, due to its outrageous storyline and exaggerated characters. It satirizes the upper class, depicting them as ridiculous for their folly.

What influenced The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

Although the themes in The Importance of Being Earnest address Victorian social issues, the structure of the play was largely influenced by French theatre, melodrama, social drama, and farce. Wilde was quite familiar with these genres, and borrowed from them freely.

Do you think The Importance of Being Earnest is a social satire? ›

The audience can watch and laugh at their unwise behaviors. It also moralizes the audience and compels them to think twice on their attitude in case the audience belongs to the upper class. Thus, these incidents also prove that “Importance of Being Earnest” is a social satire.

How is The Importance of Being Earnest a social satire? ›

“The Importance of Being Earnest” is an iconic play of the Irish playwright and poet Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900). Structurally the play is a romantic comedy. But the play satirizes social conventions about class, relationships, acceptable behavior, and art. The jokes satirize the social conventions of free choice.

How is marriage presented in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

In The Importance of Being Earnest, Algernon represents a modern mindset toward marriage because he is skeptical about the happiness of couples in marriage and has fears about committing to one woman—unlike Jack, who holds more traditional nineteenth-century views on marriage.

What literary device is used in the title The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

Both, irony and hyperbole are two clever literary techniques used by Oscar Wilde in the “Importance of Being Earnest” to portray his criticism towards the upper-class Victorian society in a comedic manner.

What does The Importance of Being Earnest say about education? ›

Important Quotes Explained

The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.”

How do you teach The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

Learning Objectives for The Importance of Being Earnest

Identify the pun central to the play and analyze its meaning. Comment on the irony between the elegant demeanor of the characters and their absurd conversations and behavior. Discuss the meaning of the play's subtitle "a trivial play for serious people."

What is the main conflict in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

The major conflict in this play is that Jack wants to marry Gwendolen, who believes his name is really Ernest-and loves him for that, and that he cannot because Lady Bracknell does not approve of Jack's background.

Who is hypocritical in The Importance of Being Earnest? ›

One of the most prominent uses of hypocrisy in the play is through Lady Bracknell's refusal to consent for marriage between Jack and Gwendolen, and then giving consent for a marriage between Algernon and Cecily.

Was The Importance of Being Earnest controversial? ›

The controversy emerged from Oscar Wilde's homosexual relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, who was also a poet. Alfred's father, The Marquess of Queensberry, disapproved of the relationship and threatened to disrupt the show, which had gay subtext. Wilde issued a libel charge against the Marquess but lost the case.

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