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‘The Tone Says Life Is Fun. The Undertone Suggests Life Is A Catastrophe’. To What Extent Do You Think Eric Bentley’s Comment About The Dramatic Genre Of Comedy Is Relevant To Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest?

1582 words - 7 pages

‘The tone says life is fun. The undertone suggests life is a catastrophe’. To what extent do you think Eric Bentley’s comment about the dramatic genre of comedy is relevant to Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest?

The philosopher and literary critic Sigmund Freud agreed with Bentley’s statement on the dramatic genre of comedy, agreeing that ‘every joke contains an element of seriousness; a joke is never just a joke’. Wilde uses many aspects of comedy to back this opinion.

The character of Lady Bracknell was created as a comic tool by Wilde to generate fun for the audience; her dialogue is essentially a way of creating humour, despite her domineering nature which is made ...view middle of the document...

’ This mocks how the lower orders were often unemployed; a serious issue as much of the population was in poverty, but Wilde made it comic by having Bracknell believe smoking is a worthwhile occupation for the aristocracy. On the other hand Wilde deliberately chose a habit prevalent in society to create farce since smoking could hardly be deemed a worthy profession. Another example is when Wilde uses Lady Bracknell’s interrogation of Jack to voice education's ability to divide the classes in the pun, ‘at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever.’ This line negates the purpose of education as it is supposed to teach man everything, however Bracknell declares a man ‘should know… nothing’ and even if he had been educated it would have produced ‘no effect whatsoever’ anyway. That education produces no `effect’ implies that the voices of education in Wilde's society neither ‘produced’ nor allowed the sentiment he labels as his talent in the third line of the play, which is the freedom of expression over academic accuracy. However, this sentiment could be interpreted as frivolity.

To further display the split in society between the frivolous and the serious Wilde chooses the play’s subtitle as ‘a trivial comedy for serious people’ which refers to the inversion of crucial parts of society into something negligible. Wilde displays this frivolity by belittling the class system when Algernon says at the beginning of Act 1 after hearing Lanes ‘Somewhat lax’ views on marriage ‘Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have no sense of moral responsibility.’ Wilde has subverted the roles of the upper and lower classes-the upper class should be the ones setting a good example to the lower classes not the other way round. Also, we know because of Algernon’s ‘Bunburying’ to escape appointments which he is ‘eager to miss’, it is in fact him and other members of the upper class who have ‘no sense of moral responsibility’ because they avoid it by creating an imaginary character. This is enforced by the irony of Algernon’s words when he learns Jack’s true identity ‘you are the most earnest-looking person I ever saw in my life’ which we know he definitely is not; he is pretending to be Ernest and using it as an excuse to avoid responsibility.
Wilde also belittles marriage in the 19th century through Lane’s and Algernon’s satirical conversation at the beginning of the play. Wilde uses Lane’s supercilious attitude to mock marriage, Algernon asks Lane ‘is marriage so demoralising’ to which Lane replies ‘it is a very pleasant state’ but he goes on to contradict himself implying that to be married many times is the decadent social norm and admitting that he married not for love, but as ‘a consequence of a misunderstanding’. Wilde is making marriage and divorce sound like a frivolous act by having Algernon claim people propose ‘for practice’ and ‘divorces are made in heaven’ inverting...

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