The Importance of Being Earnest

Sincere Triviality: The Comedy of Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde creates a successful, complex comedy by maintaining consistent conflict and contradiction in the action, dialogue, and characters of The Importance of Being Ernest. Dramatic or comedic action is essentially exaggerated conflict. Wilde preserves the conflict between what is and what should be important in every interaction. That which is most trivial is treated with the most sincerity, and vice versa. This reversal is his greatest contradiction and fundamental tool as a writer of comedies. By portraying the upper class, a group of people characteristically trivial in their social conventions, his exaggerations are close enough to reality to be convincing. Etiquette places importance on petty details that seem even sillier when they replace more important concerns. This does not mean, however, that his play is restricted to social commentary. He is using the inherent triviality of social intercourse as a dramatic vehicle.

In the first meeting of Cecily and Gwendolen, the conversation and stage directions provide both contradiction and conflict. It is when they should be the most emotional that they are the most restrained. When the two women discover that they are both engaged to Ernest Worthing, Gwendolen responds...

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