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To What Extent Does The Presentation Of Love And Marriage In Act 1 Set Up The Comedy In The Rest Of The Play?

1589 words - 7 pages

Wilde’s ‘The Importance Of Being Earnest’ explores various themes of love and marriage, especially in Act 1, where marriage in Victorian society is widely contradicted as a ‘very pleasant state,’ instead using various comedic devises, such as puns, double entendres and inversions to mock its virtue and morality.
Wilde creates comedy through the presentation of Victorian views on the functionality of marriage, ridiculing it as a social tool. The fact that Victorian society does not value the ‘love’ and romance of marriage is witnessed from the exposition, where Algernon’s mockery of social constraints is shown through his statements of “is marriage so demoralizing as that?” and “I really ...view middle of the document...

We also witness the fact that Algernon’s main priorities are not harmonious with the rest of civilization, and therefore this heightens our awareness of Algernon as an individual, and so his eccentricities could be seen as increasingly humorous.
In addition, Algernon and Jack’s views of love and marriage are far from harmonious, further setting up the comedy in the rest of the play. High comedy is created through the Algernon’s epigram “in married life, three is company and two is none,” a pithy aphorism which further trivializes the basis of marriage, stating it undesirable, and humorously chastises the conservative audience. Structurally, this establishes the witticism “divorces are made in heaven,” which widely contradicts the maxim ‘marriage made in heaven,’ a paradox exposing the absurd, insincere nature of the upper class, who we, as an audience, tend to mock. This generates a huge sense of satisfaction when Algernon finally meets and falls in love with Cecily, describing her as “like a pink rose,” creating an antithesis framed by Algernon’s initial mockery of marriage, which eventually results in his yearning for love and forgiveness. One of the most important implications of Algernon’s initial ignorance of society’s values, revealing his sceptical views and anxieties about the happiness of married couples is, perhaps, the underlying inevitable factor that he cannot ignore them forever. Here, Wilde conveys the message that this narrow-minded society always takes over in the end, as is evidenced by his eventual following of conventions. Algernon’s understanding of marriage shifts from mistrust to adherence, and this evolution epitomises wider themes of struggle between compliance and rebellion, an aspect fundamental to ‘Earnest.’ This subtle introduction of the serious complications of love and marriage is a stark contrast to Jack’s far more romantic – “[she and Jack blow kisses]” – and somewhat naïve views, and this establishes the comedy in Act 1, perhaps because it is comical that a highly respected life event such as marriage causes an entirely ambiguous and subjective reaction in two upper class citizens.
Furthermore, Wilde amplifies comedy through the exploration of Victorian hypocrisy around marriages based on social hierarchy and lineage. Although Algernon has “always suspected [Jack] of being a confirmed secret Bunburyist,” Jack furiously denies it, maintaining the view that he does not lead a double life and engage in elaborate deception. However, Jack’s inversion not only highlights the hypocrisy of his nature, but also creates dramatic irony, as it is obvious to the audience that Jack’s deceit is apparent through ‘Ernest,’ despite his high sense of morality. The comedy created through Jack’s duplicity continues the running married gag which treats Victorian perception of “married bliss” with gallows humour. Wilde arguably uses clever wit to present this darker subtext, whilst still maintaining comedy in the form of truth in...

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