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The importance of being earnest


Penelope Keith is Lady Bracknell
at the Vaudeville Theatre
from 22 January to 26 April

An interesting piece on The Importance of Being Earnest reminded me why I used to greet the arrival of the Spectator with enthusiasm. Who would have guessed that Wilde’s best play (and my favorite, too) was written the way that Lloyd Evans says it was -

". . .Wilde wrote the play in just three weeks while holidaying in Worthing with his wife and children in 1894. He gave it the subtitle ‘A Trivial Comedy for Serious People’, which neatly signals the play’s governing motif — paradox.

Everything operates on two levels. The storyline is both perfectly ridiculous and completely sincere. It uses the artifices of sentimental melodrama — a lost heir, mistaken identities, predatory lovers, a faked death, a final reconciliation and three marriages — and deploys them with a degree of panache that is without parallel in the theatrical repertoire.

The play’s satirical ethos is itself a brilliant intellectual contradiction. Set amid the Victorian upper classes it mocks all their most cherished values. Its ruthlessness is light-hearted, its cruelty innocent. Jack and Algy are frivolous gadabouts and yet there’s genuine depth and sincerity about their approach to life. Their reflections on romance, marriage, education and idleness aren’t just superficially amusing, they are also touched with profundity and truth."

We wrote about Wilde in Comedy, The Spirit of Love. Shimmering depths.