Large decorated carriages drawn by massive gallant horses, beautiful women dressed in striking gowns throwing magnificent parties, and five o’ clock tea times are common aspects of the Victorian Era. This is the period that a person should imagine while reading many of the works composed by Oscar Wilde.
The Importance of Being Earnest is one of the most important plays written by Oscar Wilde. The setting takes place in London during the present time of its production, February 1895 in the Victorian Era. Both main characters, John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, find an escape from their everyday lives through a pseudonym or false identity. John, usually referred to as Jack, uses the name of Ernest to retreat into the city from his life in the country with his eighteen-year-old ward Cecily. The story begins with Jack informing his friend, Algernon, that he is planning to propose to his first cousin, Gwendolen. Upon hearing this news, Algernon confronts Jack, who he knows as Ernest, with his discover of Cecily. When Jack ultimately tells Algernon about his false identity in the city, Algernon also confesses to having a pseudonym for the country. The plot unravels after Gwendolen accepts Jack’s proposal, under the name of Ernest, and Algernon decides to also use the identity of Ernest to meet Cecily at Jack’s country home. The conflicts arise when everyone ends up at Jack’s home, each knowing each other by a separate name.
Oscar Wilde was born in 1854 in Dublin, Ireland to an aristocratic family in the midst of the Victorian Era. Wilde was marked as a brilliant child, receiving scholarships to Trinity College and Oxford University. He preferred to speak about and entertain the importance of ideas in life and often attacked the Victorian society’s narrow mindedness and superficiality, as seen in The Importance of Being Earnest (Meisel 253). Many of Oscar’s books and poems contain a moral lesson regarding the destruction of complacency. Three months after the premiere of The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde attended his third trial for homosexuality and was sentenced to two years in prison (Wilde “Note” v). After his release, he fled England for Paris, where he died three years later with only his wit still intact (Meisel 253).
Oscar Wilde uses The Importance of Being Earnest to satirize the aristocracy of English society. Through this play, Wilde marks them with hypocrisy and superficiality. As defined by The American Heritage Dictionary, the root of superficiality is defined as being concerned with only what is apparent or obvious; apparent rather than actual or substantial; and trivial, insignificant (“Superficial” 1220). This word can be broken down into three sub words: superficial, shallow, and cursory.
Superficial applies to thought and action concerned largely with the obvious, sometimes implying lack of genuine interest or sincerity. Shallow emphasizes lack of intellectual or emotional depth in persons or their works;...