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The play opens at a party at Sir Robert Chiltern's house in Grosvenor Square, London. The party exemplifies much of the play's tendency towards quick and witty conversation. The Chiltern home is regal and their guests are impeccably dressed. Much of the action takes place in the Chiltern home's Octagonal room. Lady Chiltern stands at the top of her regal staircase greeting arriving friends. Behind her, on the back wall, hangs Boucher's "Triumph of Love." The tapestry plays a prominent role in the play, and highlights the theme of love conquering all.
This first scene consists of many conversations between various guests. Mrs. Marchmont and Lady Basildon discuss the tedious, boring and uninteresting Hartlock parties, and the triviality of men. Mrs. Marchmont mentions that she has come to the party to be educated, while Lady Basildon admits she despises education. Mrs. Marchmont notes that Lady Chiltern is often encouraging her and others to expand their educations and find purpose in life, which seems to be a futile pursuit as few in London society take their lives or careers very seriously.