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by Peter Colley

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THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST by Oscar Wilde

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST is generally considered to be the finest comedy of its kind in the English language. Of all of Oscar Wilde's plays, it is the most timeless and universal. There is certainly very little in the play one could call dated. With the substitution or elimination of just a handful of references, the play could be produced in almost any period. Perhaps this is because it is almost pure comedy. And unlike Wilde's earlier society dramas, EARNEST has no melodramatic speeches full of 19th century morality which would tend to tie the play to its time. The plot is as improbable today as it was in 1895, and only very few people, then or now, have ever really talked in that consistently brilliant manner. The play is, as Wilde himself said, a “fanciful absurd comedy”. That is not to say that the play is not filled with comment on important matters, such as love and marriage, education, class relationships, etc. But the author never permits us to take these themes very seriously. In fact, one is left wondering how “earnest” the playwright really was about the things he said so brilliantly. Perhaps we should let Wilde clarify the matter in his own words:  “We should treat all the trivial things of life seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality.”