The Importance of Being Earnest
Study Questions and Essay Topics
1. In The Importance of Being Earnest, characters often use words such as bad and wicked and make pronouncements about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. Do true virtue or wickedness appear in the play?
2. Gwendolen’s father, Lord Bracknell, never appears in the play, yet Lady Bracknell mentions him often. What picture of his life and marriage do we get from the things she and Gwendolen say about him?
3. A play differs from a novel or film in that it requires a performance by live actors pretending to be characters they are not before a live audience that allows itself to be fooled. What is gained by the fact that The Importance of Being Earnest was written as a play?
Suggested Essay Topics
1. What is the overall effect of the play’s references to death? How is death, as a theme, dealt with in the play?
2. Is Cecily a more realistic character than Gwendolen? Why or why not?
3. Which union—Jack’s with Gwendolen or Algernon’s with Cecily—seems more likely to succeed?
4. Why or how is The Importance of Being Earnest funny? Analyze some aspects of Wildean wit. Is there a difference between being “witty” and being “funny”?
5. Discuss the character of Miss Prism. What kind of person is she and what seems to be her function in the play?
6. Wilde originally subtitled The Importance of Being Earnest “A Serious Comedy for Trivial People” but changed that to “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People.” What is the difference between the two subtitles?
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