The Importance of Being Earnest

Drama as an Instrument of Social Critique College

Social critique has long been at the heart of drama, whether through satire, allegory or more direct devices, enabling dramatists to comment on the state of the world as they see it, to pose their own idealized version of society or to put forward their own political views in the form of their choosing.cIn Oscar Wilde’s Comedy of Manners The Importance of Being Earnest and G.B. Shaw’s Tragicomedy Pygmalion, comedy enables both playwrights to tear apart social traditions whilst maintaining the dramatic appeal of their art in a time when realist prose was the primary mechanism for rendering society’s failings. Wilde’s play is Aristotelian in nature as it remains mutually exclusive from tragedy. Shaw was writing in a time of greater political change and, as a member of the Fabian Society, he was more concerned with social welfare than Wilde, who’s mantra ‘Art for Art’s sake’ inspired his ideology of hedonistic socialism in the ‘Decadent Nineties’, a time when socialism was still a fledgling concept.

The hypocrisy of society is a theme which dominates both plays, and both playwrights use staging to illustrate the superficial sensibilities of their characters. Lady Bracknell is shown to have a ‘pencil and notebook in hand’ as she...

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