The Importance of Being Earnest
"A Trivial Comedy for Serious People"
Oscar Wilde’s "The Importance of Being Earnest" is an extremely entertaining, farcical comedy driven by mistaken identities and bantering dialogue. It follows the story of two men who assume the identity “Ernest” in order to avoid their social obligations and pursue their love interests. Over a series of humorous bumbles, that which is serious is made trivial and that which is trivial is made serious. This play is a satire that functions within Victorian social customs in order to criticize the very institutions it depicts. Wilde particularly mocks earnestness, an extremely important value in Victorian society, as no one seems to have a particular conviction towards anything. Many critics have read Wilde’s own experience with a double life in the play’s themes. After The Importance debuted, Wilde was accused of homosexual activities, subsequently imprisoned, and then exiled. While his work was once shunned for the playwright’s so-called “indiscretions,” his clever dialogue and dry, situational humor have become the foundation for modern British comedy and shows like The Office or Arrested Development. The Importance of Being Earnest plays with humor, absurdity, and serious social critique to show the audience that the “truth is rarely pure and never simple.”