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Butterfly or Bumblebee?: The Sting of Satire in The Importance of Being Earnest

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  1. Introduction
  2. The word 'earnest'
  3. The main characters of the play belong
    1. The lives of the characters
    2. The actions of the characters in the play
    3. Lane's comment regarding the sacred Victorian institution of marriage
    4. Prism's confusion between a baby and a manuscript
    5. Jack and Algernon: Fitting the description of a gentleman
  4. The play's dialogue
  5. Conclusion
  6. Bibliography

Oscar Wilde said that his play, The Importance of Being Earnest, subtitled ?A Serious Comedy for Trivial People? was ?written by a butterfly for butterflies? (qtd. in Stokes 115). Although this statement may be true, the subject of the play itself, while treated in a similarly light-hearted and farcical manner, touches on deeper issues that were at stake in the Victorian era in which Wilde lived. As the critic John Stokes remarked, ?the Importance is trivial only in the sense that it laughs at irreducible problems, and absurd in the classic fashion, in that it turns the world upside-down? (87). This ?inversion,? typical of Wilde in his wit as well as in his life, served as humorous material for his comedies yet had a deeper effect in undermining social institutions that was no laughing matter. ?He rightly saw that in the salons and terraces where he set his seemingly frivolous plays, the power of England was concentrated,? (Worth 11) and he used his power as playwright to make his critique while making his audience laugh. The Importance of Being Earnest was Wilde's crowning achievement in this effort, for the play, while satirizing the Victorian ethic of earnestness, the idle rich, social class in general, education, marriage, and the masculine vs. feminine ?spheres,? enjoyed tremendous popular success.

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