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Friday, 22 March 2019

Trace the elements of wit and humour?

The Importance of Being Earnest is Oscar Wilde's triumph of comic writing, though it has several improbabilities and absurdity. In fact, the merit of the play lies in the fact that the laughter it gives rise to is absolutely free from any bitter after thought. The personages are ridiculous but Wilde does not ridicule them-young men about town, rebellious daughters, a clergyman, a prim governess and a glib valet. He makes us laugh at their conduct.

There is hardly any action in The Importance of Being Earnest. The only action that we find in the first act is such developments as Jack Worthing's visit to Algernon's flat in London, the arrival of Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen, Jack's proposal of marriage to Gwendolen and her immediate acceptance, Jack's decision to change his name to Ernest and Lady Bracknell's rejection to Jack as her son-in-law after she learns of his unknown parentage.In the second act, we find the mutual attracting between Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble; Algernon unexpected visit to Jack's country house in the guise of Ernest, the verbal exchanges between Jack and Algernon, Algernon's proposal to Cecily who accepts it with amazing alacrity, the misunderstanding between Gwendolen and Cecily.In the third act, we find Lady Bracknell's arrival in search of her daughter who has fled from her London home, her cross examination of Cecily before giving her approval to Algernon's marriage to her, the resolution of the mystery concerning Jack's birth and the happy-note ending when the three sets of lovers-Jack and Gwendolen, Algernon and Cecily, and Dr. Chasuble and Miss Prism-are united in matrimony.

This is the so-called plot in the play. Yet it holds the reader's as well as the audience's interest through its wits and humour emanating from the verbal exchanges between several characters. Each of them gives instances of brilliant wit and repartee. It is not laboured, but spontaneous and effortless.

When Jack arrives in London in order to propose marriage to Gwendolen, Algernon says: "I thought you had come up for pleasure ?............... I call that business.......... I really don't see anything romantic in proposing". Jack retorts: "I have no doubt about that, dear Algy. The Divorce Court was specially invented for people whose memories are so curiously constituted".

And so it goes on till the formidable Lady Bracknell arrives on the scene with her daughter Gwendolen. When she learns that Algernon would be away that evening on the pretext of seeing his constantly ailing friend, Mr.Bunbury, she tells Algernon: " well, I must say, Algernon, that I think it is high time that Mr. Bunbury made up his mind whether he was going to live or die. This shelly-sallying with the question is absurd".

She turns down Jack's proposal of marriage to her daughter Gwendolen.Thus witty exchanges and repartee keep us interested in the play, rather than its plot or action, and herein lies Oscar Wilde's triumph as a playwright.

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