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Key Facts

Key Facts

full title · The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People

author · Oscar Wilde

type of work · Play

genre · Social comedy; comedy of manners; satire; intellectual farce

language · English

time and place written · Summer 1894 in Worthing, England

date of first production · February 14, 1895. In part because of Wilde’s disgrace, the play was not published until 1899.

publisher · L. Smithers

tone · Light, scintillating, effervescent, deceptively flippant

setting (time) · 1890s

setting (place) · London (Act I) and Hertfordshire, a rural county not far from London (Acts II and III)

protagonist · John Worthing, known as “Ernest” by his friends in town (i.e., London) and as “Jack” by his friends and relations in the country

major conflict · Jack faces many obstacles to his romantic union with Gwendolen. One obstacle is presented by Lady Bracknell, who objects to what she refers to as Jack’s “origins” (i.e. his inability to define his family background). Another obstacle is Gwendolen’s obsession with the name “Ernest,” since she does not know Jack’s real name.

rising action · Algernon discovers that Jack is leading a double life and that he has a pretty young ward named Cecily. The revelation of Jack’s origins causes Lady Bracknell to forbid his union with Gwendolen. Identifying himself as “Ernest,” Algernon visits Jack’s house in the country and falls in love with Cecily.

climax · Gwendolen and Cecily discover that both Jack and Algernon have been lying to them and that neither is really named “Ernest.”

falling action · Miss Prism is revealed to be the governess who mistakenly abandoned Jack as a baby and Jack is discovered to be Algernon’s elder brother.

themes · The nature of marriage; the constraints of morality; hypocrisy vs. inventiveness; the importance of not being “earnest”

motifs · Puns; inversion; death; the dandy

symbols · The double life; food; fiction and writing

foreshadowing · In stage comedy and domestic melodrama, foreshadowing often takes the form of objects, ideas, or plot points whose very existence in the play signals to the audience that they will come up again. The fact that Jack was adopted as a baby, for instance, predicates a recognition scene in which Jack’s true identity is revealed and the plot is resolved by means of some incredible coincidence. Miss Prism’s “three-volume novel” is another example: Her very mention of it ensures that it will be important later. An instance of foreshadowing that operates in the more usual way is Jack’s assertion that Cecily and Gwendolen will be “calling each other sister” within half an hour of having met, followed by Algernon’s that “[w]omen only do that when they have called each other a lot of other things first.” This is literally what happens between Cecily and Gwendolen in Act II.

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by Aoife96, October 30, 2013

Help!!! Who wrote this brilliant spark note???


15 out of 19 people found this helpful

ABU Maisoon Al-otafi

by abood-0733, December 18, 2013

SparkNotes helpful to reader or searcher.


3 out of 3 people found this helpful

Evaluate Importance of Being Earnest as a comedy.

by touhidsm, July 01, 2014

Read the full answer at

Oscar Wilde is an incredibly funny and witty writer. His humor in The Importance of Being Earnest relies on creating absurd situations and characters whose lack of insight causes them to respond to these situations in inappropriate ways.

Earnest is also a satire because it makes fun of its characters – most of whom are members of the aristocratic class. Think about how proud Lady Bracknell is, ... Read more


46 out of 48 people found this helpful

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