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Rezension bezieht sich auf: The Importance of Being Earnest (Taschenbuch)
'The Importance of Being Earnest'
a play by Oscar Wilde
Algernon Moncrieff is visited by his best friend Ernest Worthing, who wants to propose to Algernon's cousin, Gwendolen. But he refuses to grant Ernest his wish until he explains why he owns a cigarette case that bears an inscription to 'dear Uncle Jack.' As it turns out Ernest is leading a double life: in the country, he goes by the name of Jack and pretends to have a brother named Ernest living in London. By this he can assume a serious attitude for the benefit of his young ward Cecily and lead a 'free' live in the city. After hearing this story, Algernon admits that he engages in a similar lifestyle: he pretends to have an invalid friend named Bunbury in the country, so whenever Algernon wants to avoid social obligations, he pretends to visit him instead.
When Lady Bracknell finally arrives with her daughter Gwendolen, Jack proposes to her. Gwendolen accepts happily, but confesses to only love him for his name: Ernest. Because of this Jack decides to be christened as Ernest. After Lady Bracknell finds out about the engagement she forbids her daughter to ever see him again.
A few days later at Jack's country house, Algernon arrives and announces himself as Ernest Worthing in order to propose to Cecily. As it turns out, Cecily has for some time imagined herself in love with her Uncle Jack's wicked younger brother and Algernon easily sweeps her off her feet. But like Gwendolen, Cecily loves her fiancé for his name so Algernon decides to be christened as Ernest as well. Something Jack is not very happy about.
To make matters worse Gwendolen arrives from London. When she and Cecily meet and they discover that they are both engaged to 'Ernest', Jack and Algernon are in trouble.
The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People is the last and most popular play by Oscar Wilde. Set in late Victorian England, the humorous play is brimming with witty and nonsensical dialogues and even though the play was written over a hundred years ago the wit is still entertaining and fascinating up to date. What fascinated me the most was that below the surface of the light, brittle comedy, Wilde hides a serious subtext that takes aim at self-righteous moralism and hypocrisy, the very aspects of Victorian society that would play a part in Oscar Wilde's downfall shortly after the first staging of his play. Moreover he accomplishes this without affecting the light atmosphere surrounding it. One is perfectly capable of reading the play without having to notice its deeper meaning while still getting an enjoyable read out of it.
It is also important to mention, that The Importance of Being Earnes is a nonsense play. This means that the characters say the opposite of what is normal or expected, everything is turned upside down and reminds us of the innocence of childhood, the paradise of innocence. For example, when Jack announces the death of his brother and Miss Prims replies: 'What a lesson for him! I trust he will profit by it.' or when little Cecily says that, 'It is always painful to part from people whom one has known for a very brief space of time. The absence of old friends one can endure with equanimity. But even a momentary separation from anyone to whom one has just been introduced is almost unbearable.'. The play is full of such statements that make us smile and or even laugh out loud at their absurdity. Sometimes we even have to read them again, not understanding what the character is trying to say, only to find out that they were really saying nonsense. Some might find lines like these annoying, others hilarious, I find them simply fascinating.
As we have already heard, the characters in the play act like children - they are doing and saying things with such innocence, unaware of possible consequences. One point of critique is that the character of Algernon and Jack, as well as Gwendolen and Cecily are very similar. They act and think in the same way and it might be argued that it would have been more interesting if the couples were at least in some points opposing or unique, leading to different approaches and solutions to their problem.
The last point of my review will deal with the name 'Earnest' and its double meaning in this play. The book does not only deal with the fact that it is important for Algernon and Jack to be 'Ernest' but also with the character trait 'earnest'. If a person is earnest it means he or she is serious and sincere, something that is not a desired trait in The Importance of Being Earnest. It can present as boringness, smugness, a sense of duty and other similar traits that were associated with the Victorian character. Being earnest is something that has to be avoided at all costs in the play, so it is quite interesting that the name 'Earnest' is so popular with Gwendolen and Cecily.
To sum it all up, The Importance of Being Earnes is without a doubt one of the best plays of its time. The story, even though it is in parts predictable, is written to perfection. The dialogues are witty, entertaining and well thought out. After reading the book the wish arises in the reader to see it performed on stage, as Wilde intended his masterpiece to be experienced.
The Importance of Being Earnest
- A Trivial Comedy for Serious People
The Persons of the play:
John Worthing, J.P.; Algernon Moncrieff; Rev. Canon Chasuble, D.D.; Mr. Gribsby, Solicitor; Merriman, Butler; Lane, Manservant; Moulton, Gardener; Lady Bracknell; Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax; Cecily Cardew; Miss Prism, Governess
London: ST. James's Theatre
February 14th, 1895