The Importance of Being Earnest

Definition

Theater

  • Oscar Wilde's self-proclaimed "trivial comedyfor serious people", first produced in London in 1895 at theSt James's Theatre. Its many revivals include the 1943 productionwith Edith Evans (as Lady Bracknell), John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft,and Cyril Richard.

    In the play, Algernon Moncrieff poses as Jack Worthing's fictitiousbrother, Ernest, in order to court Jack's ward. Visiting them is LadyBracknell, who opposes Jack's marriage to her daughter because ofhis uncertain lineage (he was found in a handbag in Victoria Station).His parentage is proven to be respectable, and both he and Algernonwin their loves.

    Wilde and his producer, Sir George Alexander, manager at StJames's, once argued for almost an hour about trimming the originalfour-act version to three. Wilde finally relented with one last shotat Alexander:

    The scene that you feel is superfluous cost me terrible exhaustinglabour and heart-rending strain. You may not believe me, but I assureyou on my honour that it must have taken fully five minutes to write.
    This brilliant comedy of manners did not delight everyone.George Bernard Shaw, as drama critic for The SaturdayReview, noted:
    I cannot say that I cared greatly for The Importance ofBeing Earnest...it leaves me with a sense of having wastedmy evening.
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