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The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

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The Importance of being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People is Oscar Wilde's most popular and successful play. First performed in London in 1895, it ran for eighty-six performances. Wilde's play is a farcical romp in which the protagonists don fake personas to shirk the burdens of their social obligations. They are Algernon Moncrieff and Ernest Worthing, young gentlemen leading double lives. Algernon inquires why the cigarette case belonging to "Ernest" bears the name "Jack." Earnest confesses that while in the country taking care of his young ward Cecily, he's Jack; here he claims to be taking care of his profligate brother Earnest in London. When he's in London, however, he becomes the rakish Earnest. Algernon admits to the same ruse: while in country, he tells his London friends he's visiting an invalid friend named "Bunbury."

Wilde's hilarious and biting play pokes fun at the social order of Victorian England, while showcasing the author's classic witty epigrams (short, often paradoxical sayings) for which he is famous. Tragically the success of the opening night also brought about Wilde's end: the father Lord Alfred Douglas (Wilde's lover) had planned to present a bouquet of rotting vegetables to Wilde to interrupt the play, but Wilde was warned in advance, and the Marquess of Queensberry was barred entry. This began the famous trial that would lead to Wilde's persecution for homosexuality, and his eventual imprisonment and untimely death. But all of this might have been worth it to witness the hordes of Victorian socialites laughing uproariously… about themselves.


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