“Importance of Being Earnest” as Comedy of Merriment
Comedy was a genre of drama, which was prominent at the time of presentation of “Importance of Being Earnest”. Oscar Wilde, with the mindset of comedy of merriment, has written this play. On one hand, the play is ironical and full of satire; but at the same time, on the other hand its comedy is enjoyable. Definitely, the comedy of this play is not wholly based on actions but mainly on its witty dialogues. Although the play is farcical comedy, yet it is pleasant for the people who have good sense of humor. In order to laugh on the remarks and dialogues of the characters, prior mindset is not necessary. Oscar Wild, very cleverly, has chosen such dialogues, which are ironical. The difference between the meaning of dialogues and reality makes the play more amusing.The dialogues simultaneously are amusing, witty, sarcastic, cynical and epigrammatic, which make the play a superfluous comedy. As chief interest of the play lies in its interchanging arguments, therefore, let us spread light on some of the paradoxical dialogues of the play.
Not all the dialogues of the play are required to be mentioned here but some of the important are necessary for the utmost purpose to prove that the play is comedy of merriment. The paradoxical dialogue between Algernon and Jack, in Act-I is much amusing when Algernon utters that “Divorces are made in heaven.”It is truly paradoxical but at the same time, it is ironical. Not divorces but marriages are made in heaven. Conversation between both these characters goes on and another paradoxical statement has been made by Algernon. He says; “Girls never marry the men they flirt with.”If, Oscar Wilde, for the purpose of satire has used this dialogue then well and good as the girls of Victorian society did not marry with the person, whom the flirt with but usually flirtation causes the marriage between two couples.
Act-II of the play is full of paradoxical statements. While discussing about the category of novels, Cecily says to Miss Prism; “I don’t like novels that end happily. They depress me so much.” Again, the statement is opposite to the reality because it is not the happy ending of any novel, which makes a person sad but unhappy ending, which frustrates the mood of a person. On another occasion, Gwendolen makes satirical remark. She says; “I am glad to say that I have never seen a spade. It is obvious that our social spheres have been widely different.” Moreover, every remark of Lady Bracknell is facetious. Her remarks about Algernon that he has nothing but his debts to depend upon is sardonic and cynical. She, while referring his own condition, on an occasion says that “When I married Lord Bracknell I had no fortune of any kind. But I never dreamed for a moment of allowing that to stand in my way.”
Apart from the dialogues, actions of the characters are also hilarious. For instance, Algernon’s visit to Jack’s house in the guise of Earnest is full of amusement. In the same act, when Jack announces the death of his imaginary friend, is also full of amusement. Miss Prism’s act of shuffling Jack and novel’s manuscript is also farcical and creates humor. The actions of both ladies, on their first meeting, are also laughable. Furthermore, the plot of play is extraordinarily comical. With development in plot, amusement of spectators increases. Apart from the major characters and their dialogues, the utterance of dialogues from the mouth of minor characters is amazingly crafted by the writer. For instance, when Lady Bracknell attends the tea party with Algernon and asks for the cucumber sandwiches, which has been promised by him, Algernon blamed his servant and asks that why there are no cucumber sandwiches. The servant, without hesitation covers the repute by saying that cucumbers were not available in the market despite knowing that his master has eaten all the sandwiches. Likewise, at the end of play, Jack, after knowing that Miss Prism, inadvertently, instead of him, put manuscript in the bag, tried to hug Miss Prism, while considering him as his mother is also enjoyable. This hilarious action of Jack does not end here but he goes father while giving speech of redemption and double standards of society as he considers that Miss Prism has committed adultery. In fact, every single line as well as action of the play is enjoyable. Thus, these elements are enough to describe this play as a comedy of merriment.
Keeping in view the above-mentioned discussion regarding the play, it is clear that the play belongs to the category of comedy plays and its comedy is merriment but this statement is not entirely true. The primary purpose of the writer was not only to laugh with the audience but also to satirize the Victorian society. Oscar Wilde in hidden meanings wanted to give awareness to the people regarding their follies and attitude, especially the attitude of upper middle class. If the play is a comedy and people laugh on every dialogue of the characters, then it is the secondary purpose as the chief aim of writing this play is to satirize the behavior of people of Victorian society. Thus, saying that the play is mere a comedy of merriment is not justified.
To conclude, unquestionably, the play is the funniest play of Oscar Wilde. He crafted this play very beautifully in order to amuse the audience.Ancient Romans and Greeks were fond of comedy plays and according to them, comedy plays are those, which have happy conclusion but this play is different from them as from start to climax, we severely find any serious moment in the play. Usually comedy plays are written for the purpose of enjoyment but Oscar Wilde, while using the ironical, sarcastic, epigrammatic and paradoxical remarks, also satirizes the society. No doubt, the play is definitely a comedy of merriment but it is harsh to say that the play is not merely a comedy of merriment. It can be the secondary purpose of the play but main purpose of the writer is to aware the society for their stupidities, foolishness as well as double standards.