‘The Importance of being Earnest’ is a comical play. The characters and the plot are both comical, but the play may be best described as a social comedy, a comedy of manors. Wilde uses many comic devices to make the play funny but I think the main focus is on using irony in this particular play. One type of irony Wilde uses is dramatic irony. Wilde withholds information from certain characters whilst the audience are fully aware of what is really going on. It is funny because of the ironic situation and the ways the characters react.
One example of this is the first conversation between Jack and Gwendolen. Gwendolen: My own Ernest! Jack: But you don’t really mean to say you couldn’t love me if my name wasn’t Ernest? Gwendolen: But your name is Ernest. This is dramatic irony because we as the audience are fully aware that Jack’s real name is Jack and not Ernest but Gwendolen is completely oblivious so we find it funny. In this way Wilde has created humour with the use of dramatic irony. Another form of irony that Wilde uses is Situational Irony.
Wilde uses situational irony when Jack discovers he is Algernon’s brother at the end of the play. The audience find it funny and it is categorized as situational irony because Jack had, earlier in the play, pretended to have a brother anyway and circumstances have it that we discover now that he had a brother all along, and it was Algernon! The final form of irony that Wilde uses is verbal irony. The play has many e...
xamples of verbal irony or sarcasm.
Jack says, “I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to town expressly to propose to her. Algernon replies sarcastically, “I thought you had come up for pleasure? ” This is amusing for the audience but Jack fails to see the funny side. Another example is when Jack says, “I haven’t asked you to dine with me anywhere tonight. ” Algernon replies, knowing that Jack had no intention of inviting him but using verbal irony, “I know. You are absurdly careless about sending out invitations. It is very foolish of you. Nothing annoys people so much as not receiving invitations. ” These are just two examples of the many times Wilde uses verbal irony to create humour in this play.
Another comic device Wilde uses to create social comedy is coincidence. Coincidence is closely linked with another comic device, surprise, in the play. One example is when Jack finds out his real name has been Ernest all along, “I always told you, Gwendolen, my name was Ernest, didn’t I? Well, it is Ernest after all. “. This is a surprise to the audience and characters and also a coincidence because he has been pretending to be called Ernest anyway. Put together these two comic devices are very humorous for the audience and Wilde successfully uses them at the end of the play.
Wilde uses women in the play to create humour because of the strong, overbearing characters they seem to play. All the things the men do in the play seem
to be either for the love of Cecily or Gwendolen or under the orders of Lady Bracknell (in the case of Dr. Chausable Miss Prism). For example the boys are willing to be christened under the name of Ernest to grant the girls wishes. An example of Lady Bracknell’s orders are when she orders Jack to, “Rise, sir, from this semi-recumbent position. It is most indecorous.
Jack immediately tries to do so though he is held back by Gwendolen. In this way, throughout the play, the men seem to be under the power of the women. At the time Wilde wrote this play this would have been a very strange idea for an audience as men would have been the powerful ones in society and women would have obeyed their husbands. A 1895 audience would, therefore, have found this whole new concept rather absurd and probably quite comical so Wilde has successfully created comedy, changing the roles of women and men in normal society, in the play.
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