Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Importance of Being Earnest: The Dandy

The Importance of Being Earnest was produced in 1895 by Oscar Wilde, a famous Irish writer, poet and one of London's most popular playwrights in the 1890's. Wilde's plays are quite similar in format and type of characters. The most popular and consistent character in Wilde's plays is the dandy. This is a stand in for Wilde himself. The witty, overdressed, self styled philosopher appears trivial and shallow at first, but as the play progresses, he turns out to be a deeply moral character that is crucial to the play's resolution.

In The Importance of Being Earnest, the dandy is Mr. Algernon Moncrieff. Algernon is a young bachelor brought up to be rich though he is always lacking money. He is the only deceptive character in The Importance of Being Earnest that has a honest relationship with their fiancee when the play concludes. The is the perfect dandy in the play making seemingly useless comments that are actually quite intelligent and worthy of reflection. For example, Jack, the protagonist states that "I'll bet you anything you like that half an hour after they have met, they will be calling each other sister" (pg. 30) when referring to his ward, Cecily and his fiancee, Gwendolen, neither of which know of his alternative identity. In response, Algernon says, "Women only do that when they have called each other a lot of other things first." (pg. 30)When reading this, it appears to have no relevance to the plot however in typical dandy fashion, the comment has significance towards the end of the play. When Cecily and Gwendolen become aware that they supposedly engaged to be married to the same man. Both women call each other liars because it is the other one to be married. When the truth is finally revealed, Gwendolen turns to Cecily and says, "You will call me sister, will you not?" (pg. 77) The play reeks with this irony and deception which makes the Victorian melodrama or "sentimental" comedy a great read.

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