How does Wilde use dramatic comedy to explore gender roles of upper-class Victorians?
Wilde effectively and regularly utilises the typical conventions of dramatic comedy to present a plot in which characters move away from a strict Victorian society: especially with regard to gender roles. Adhering to the conventions of a typical Comedy of Manners play, Wilde aims to comment, and most likely mock a civilisation heavily concerned with appearances, and upholding traditional values. He also firmly follows the codes of a dramatic comedy by using comic inversions to create a sense of disorder and subsequently discomfort within audiences, particularly Victorians. Wilde repeatedly questions the idea of the role of both women and men in the rigid, Victorian era and is shown to both conform and subvert the differing expectations of both sexes.
Primarily, Wilde portrays our two male leads as on the surface, high class males leading a stereotypical 'bachelor' lifestyle, initially adhering to the masculine gender role. The first discussion we see between Algernon and Jack centres around the art of 'bunburying', referring to a single male who is able to travel around the country by forming an elaborate deception, yet remaining respectable and conservative on the surface, a hobby in which both of our male leads partake in.
After Jack's admission of pretending to have 'a younger brother of the name of Earnest' we learn that this excuse allows Jack to travel up to town to socialise, leading a generally luxurious lifestyle, unknown to those who remain at his country home, this plot point links to a typical feature of a Comedy of Manners play, that the countryside was generally dull, while cities were thriving. Jack’s lifestyle is similar to that of the stereotypical Victorian upper class male, usually partaking in multiple leisurely activities, including: drinking, gambling and attending dining clubs, while being able to initiate as many romantic interactions as he wishes with little consequence.
Algernon also admits soon after that 'If it wasn't for Bunbury's extraordinary bad health... wouldn't be able to dine with you at Willis's tonight', implying that he too enjoys the materialistic pleasures in life, yet desires to maintain a respectable image. This scene highlights both Jack and Algernon's ability to consistently, and successfully escape the responsibilities of an upper class society.
Thus, by adhering to the typical, exaggerated stereotypes of Victorian bachelors, a clear and consistently explored convention of dramatic comedy, it may be Wilde's intention for audiences to perceive these men as immoral, or perhaps even selfishly only concerned with their own well beings. Although Wilde may be alternatively implying that due to the repressive nature and expectations of this social class, males were provoked to explore their desires elsewhere from their everyday lives and families.
Moreover, contrary to Algernon's arguable...