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Friday, 22 March 2019

Comment on The Importance of Being Earnest as a comedy of manners

The Importance of Being Earnest is a comedy of manners which scarcely has any action. It is based on dialogue, which takes the form of paradoxes, epigrams and irony. This produces a great comic effect upon the readers and the audience. The play contains abundant paradoxical statements, witty epigrams, ironical or sarcastic remarks that are made by the characters in the course of their interaction. This evokes laughter and humour of the audience.

A paradox is a statement which appears to be self-contradictory but it is essentially true; or it may mean a statement expressing an idea which is contrary to the established opinion. Almost every character in The Importance of Being Earnest makes paradoxical remarks which are witty. We all accept the view that truth is always pure and simple, but Algernon remarks:

"The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility".

Jack makes a number of paradoxical remarks. On seeing tea-cups and cucumber sandwiches laid out for tea, he says, "Why all these cups? Why cucumber sandwiches? Why such reckless extravagance in one so young?

"Gwendolen also gives paradoxical statements when her mother Lady Bracknell does not give her approval to Jack's proposal of marriage: "The old-fashioned respect for the young is dying out". Lady Bracknell is, of course, a master of paradox in the play. When she finds Cecily affluent, she immediately approves of her marriage to her nephew Algernon, " who has nothing but his debts to depend upon". During a heated argument, Lady Bracknell confesses, "I dislike arguments of any kind. They are always vulgar, and often convincing".

Irony is the recognition of the incongruity or difference between reality and appearance. It lies in the contrast between what is said and what is actually meant. The Importance of Being Earnest contains plenty of comic irony which is a kind of mockery or deception and its force derives from the pleasure in contrasting 'appearances' with 'reality'. For example, when Lady Bracknell has been nasty to Jack, he remarks, "How extremely kind of you, Lady Bracknell!

"Algernon goes to Jack's country house, in the guise of his younger brother just when Jack arrives there to announce Ernest's 'death' from a severe chill in Paris. This gives rise to several funny situations and verbal skirmishes between the two friends, who later turn out to be brothers.

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