Saturday, July 18, 2009
The Importance Of Being Earnest - Oscar Wilde
I watched the play first and then read the book.
The play was staged at Rangashankara. It was by the troupe Evam (from Chennai) and it was hilarious. I had to read the book.
This happens to be Oscar Wilde’s most famous play, about which he wrote, “it is exquisitely trivial, a delicate bubble of fancy and it has its philosophy… that we should treat all the trivial things of life seriously and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality” :-)
A very thin book it is. Only 67 pages. And every page of the book is filled with humour and sarcasm.
Persons of the play: John Worthing (Jack), Algernon Moncrieff, Rev. Canon Chasuble, Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen Fairfax, Cecily Cardew and Miss Prism
Earnest, as you might all assume to be an adjective is in fact, a noun in this play. And that too, a proper noun.
John or Jack has invented, as an excuse for his escapades, a wicked brother called Earnest who lives in the city. Incidentally, he falls in love with an aristocratic Gwendolen who also falls in love with him because his name is Earnest and says she is determined to marry a man with the name Earnest. Therefore Jack keeps from her, the truth of his true identity.
Algernon is a friend of Jack. Just like Jack, he has invented a sick friend called Bunbury as an excuse for his escapades. During a conversation with Jack, he finds out two things; one, the secret about Jack’s false name and the false brother; second, that Jack is the guardian of an eighteen year old girl called Cecily.
One day, Algernon arrives at Cecily’s place claiming to be Earnest, Jack’s younger brother. He falls in love with her instantly. Incidentally Cecily too confesses to Algernon that she fancies the name Earnest and will only marry a man with that name.
The result is that both men want to give up their true identity and be christened Earnest.
Lady Bracknell, the mother of Gwendolen, a proud aristocratic woman, is the cause of much humour in the play, what with her grave disposition and hilarious dialogues delivered in all seriousness.
In the last act, Ms Prism, the tutor of Cecily, reveals the story of a lost and found handbag, much to the delight of everyone, particularly Algernon and Jack who discover that there is no need for them to be re-christened after all, for their true name is indeed Earnest!
Below are some of the really humourous dialogues… Typical Oscar Wilde… Enjoy! They will also help to sketch the various characters for you.
Jack: I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to town expressly to propose to her.
Algernon – I thought you had come up for pleasure… I call that business.
Lady Bracknell: I hadn’t been there since her poor husband’s death. I never saw a woman so altered; she looks quite twenty years younger.
Algernon: I love hearing my relations abused. Relations are simply a tedious pack of people who haven’t got the remotest knowledge of how to live nor the smallest instinct about when to die.
Jack: You always want to argue about things.
Algernon: That’s exactly what things were originally made for.
Algernon: All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.
Algernon: The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her if she is pretty, and to someone else if she is plain
Jack: Half an hour after they have met, they will be calling each other sister.
Algernon: Women only do that when they have called each other a lot of other things first.
Cecily: I don’t like novels that end happily; they depress me so much
Miss Prism: The good end happily; the bad end unhappily. That’s what fiction means.
Cecily to Algernon: I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.
Miss Prism to Dr. Chasuble: A misanthrope, I can understand. A womanthrope – never.
Algernon to Jack: I never saw anybody take so long to dress, and with such little result.
Algernon to Jack: If I am occasionally a little over dressed, I make up for it by being always immensely over-educated.
Cecily to Algernon: It would hardly have been a really serious engagement if it hadn’t been broken off at least once.
Gwendolen to Cecily: I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.
Cecily: When I see a spade I call it a spade.
Gwendolen: I am glad to say that I have never seen a spade. It is obvious that our social spheres have been widely different.
Jack: Well, that is no business of yours
Algernon: If it was my business, I wouldn’t talk about it. It’s very vulgar to talk about one’s business. Only people like stockbrokers do that.
Jack: You have been christened already
Algernon: Yes but I haven’t been christened for years
Lady Bracknell: Algernon is an extremely ostentatiously eligible young man. He has nothing, but he looks everything. What more can one desire.
Lady Bracknell: Never speak disrespectfully of society, Algernon . Only people who cant get into it do that.
Jack: Wait here for me a moment
Gwendolen: If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life.
Lady Bracknell: I dislike arguments; they are always vulgar and often convincing.
Gwendolen: I never change, except in my affections
Cecily: What a noble nature you have!
Lady Bracknell: The army general was essentially a man of peace except in his domestic life
Miss prism to Dr. Chasuble: By persistently remaining single, a man converts himself into a permanent public temptation.
Prism: No married man is ever attractive except to his wife
Chasuble: And often I have been told, not even her.
Prism: That depends on the intellectual sympathies of the woman. Maturity can always be depended on. Ripeness can be trusted. Young women are green. I spoke horticulturally. My metaphor was drawn from fruits.
Lady Bracknell to Algernon (referring to Algernon’s sick friend): It is high time that your friend made up his mind whether he was going to live or to die. This shilly-shallying with the question is absurd. Nor do I in anyway approve of the modern sympathy with invalids. I consider it morbid. Health is the primary duty of life. Illness of any kind is hardly a thing to be encouraged in others.