The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People.
The story – Jack Worthing is a fashionable young man who lives in the country with his ward Cecily Cardew. He has invented a lively brother named Ernest whose supposed exploits give Jack an excuse to travel to London periodically. Jack is in love with Gwendolyn Fairfax, the cousin of his friend Algernon Moncrieff. Gwendolen, who thinks Jack’s name is Ernest, returns his love, but her mother, Lady Bracknell, objects to their marriage because Jack is an orphan who was found in a handbag at Victoria Station. Jack discovers that Algernon has been impersonating Ernest in order to court Cecily, who has always been in love with the imaginary Ernest. At the end 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.
The stage in Wilde’s time was dominated by simple melodramas, with short and fast scenes, rich in music and sounds effects, and characters without a psychological introspection, and by a French drama with complex plots and a happy solution for those who deserved. In this panorama Henrik Ibsen and Strindberg emerged two writers, who demonstrated the importance of a theatre based on human problems. Wilde’s answer to these forms was a drama full of intrigues that have the function to conceal a witty social criticism of the middle classes, with satirical elements as they deal with the foibles of society, the popular comedies and operettas and mass literature. The double life his characters lead is a means to feel free from social conventions. The situations appear absurd, the conversation are put upside-down by means of paradoxes, nonsense, puns and light satire: the title itself is a pun between Ernest, the name, and Earnest that means honest.