Oscar Wilde’s famous play The Importance of Being Earnest focuses upon techniques such as satire, irony and hypocrisy. This creates the idea of the play being an utterly frivolous and superficial comedy meaning that the play is appearing to be true or real only until examined more closely and also does not have any serious purpose or value. The play is set in the Victorian era and it can be argued that Wilde goes out of his way to mock the upper class society of the time; he does this through his characters such as Algernon and Lady Bracknell with their trivial opinions which could suggest a reference to Wilde’s personal beliefs of his society. Wilde uses the technique of making the play a trivial comedy for serious people by also focusing on effects such as exploited situations and character development. This shows that the characters take trivial matters very seriously. In contrast to this, other arguments could suggest that the play involves more serious situations rather than focusing on the comedy features. The play could be seen as representative to real life situations as Wilde softly touches upon the subject of the agricultural depression whilst his characters are in the country.
Others can argue that The Importance of Being Earnest isn’t seen as a superficial comedy and it does in fact relate to real life situations such as the agricultural depression and the French revolution. James Topham would disagree with this statement as he states ‘this seemingly frivolous play has a much darker side.’ Meaning that besides all of the meaningless situations; the play is actually more serious than it appears to look. Wilde uses his characters from the city to provoke the characters from the country to mention serious matters such as the conversation between Cecily and Gwendolen. Gwendolen: ‘Personally I cannot understand how anybody manages to exist in the country, if anybody who is anybody does. The country always bores me to death.’ Cecily: ‘Ah! This is what the newspapers call agricultural depression, is it not? I believe the aristocracy are suffering very much from it just at present.’ (Act 2 Page289 Lines 674-679)
Despite the fact the play can be interpreted as a ‘serious comedy’, we also see aspects which contradict this by using black comedy. We see this several times throughout the play often by the characters of Algernon and Jack. Firstly, we see Jack arriving home to the county after visiting his brother ‘Ernest’ in the city; walking very slowly ‘He is dressed in the deepest mourning, with crape hatband and black gloves’ (stage directions. Act 2 Page 277) He explains to everyone present how Ernest has died of a ‘severe chill it seems’ (act 2 page 277 line 227) and wishes to be buried in Paris. The topic soon changes when Jack mentions to Dr Chasuble that he would like to be christened and it is never mentioned again. This demonstrates how serious matters are taken in a comedic way by the characters. Furthermore, Algernon also uses black comedy when he explains how Bunbury exploded and died as a result. ‘Bunbury? Oh, he quite exploded’ (act3 page 297 line100) ‘Bunbury died’ (act 3 page 297 lines 106) Lady Bracknell: ‘Exploded! Was he the victim of a revolutionary outrage?’ (Act 3 page 297 lines 101-2) This links to the French revolution which is hanging over British society.