Submitted By claudiakilsby
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How are Victorian attitudes to marriage explored through the comedy of “The Importance of Being Earnest”?

Comedy has always been seen as a low status genre with the key roles of: mocking those in authority, subverting the status quo, invert accepted hierarchies, challenge social and political system, and transgress what is usually accepted which is presented in “The Importance of Being Earnest” as Wilde uses a “trivial comedy for serious people” to raise questions of the attitudes towards marriage and whether it is seen as more of an alliance/business rather than pleasure. Comedy such as satire is created to demonstrate the lack of seriousness behind marriage and mock the Victorian society views without offending the audience. The older and younger generation presents the different views of society and demonstrates the position marriage has in people’s lives. Exploring how comedy is used to present the values of marriage in the Victorian Society, we can argue that there are different opinions to the commitment between two people. In her role as a blocking character, the catalyst of the play’s complications, which must be overcome for Jack and Gwendolen to become engaged, Lady Bracknell’s sentiments towards marriage are made clear from Act 1. From when Algy engineers the time for Jack to propose to Gwendolen, the audience are eagerly awaiting the moment that Lady Bracknell learns of this attachment and Wilde exploits the comedy of this moment by having her enter the stage to find Jack in a “semi-recumbent” and “indecorous” position. The dramatic irony in that Lady Bracknell’s presence is realized first by the audience means that they enjoy Jack’s discomfort at being discovered. The fact the first views about this intended marriage the audience hear from Lady Bracknell are highly pessimistic is telling. She declares to her daughter that “when (she) do(es) become engaged to someone, I, or your father… will inform (her) on the fact,” exhibiting the fact of who Gwendelon actually loves is not her superlative interest, rather, Gwendolen has no choice in the matter and that it will be her parents’ decision.

Furthermore, when Jack is questioned as to whether or not he is suitable for Lady Bracknell’s daughter by being interrogated on his money and occupation, it suggests that Lady Bracknell is more concerned about the convenience of the association. Lady Bracknell begins questioning him on whether or not he “smokes,” and how he has earned is “eight thousand a year,” “in land, or investments,” before examining his family. This lucidly proposes the priorities within a future son in-law she requires as she sees marriage more as a business that could engender positivity to her social status. Indeed, towards the end of her challenging Jack, Lady Bracknell announces “now on to minor matters,” when bringing up Jacks parents as a topic of question. The fact she leaves this till last represents what she finds most important within the marriage making it clear that money is her first concern. She makes a comment about not wanting her daughter to form an “alliance with a parcel” displaying comedy of wit and satire as Jacks discovery in a handbag had triggered this joke, which would amuse the Victorian audience. “Alliance” further documents her thoughts of marriage, as it is more to convenience.

Lady Bracknell demands Jack to “produce at any rate one parent” demonstrating some significance to family rather than money. However, the lack of sympathy shown to the fact Jack has lost both his parents and the carelessness as well as naivety that “requiring some relations as soon as possible,” is as easy as she suggests, emphasizes the disrespectfulness towards Jack’s relatives and how they are at less importance to her than the income he acquires. Essentially, Wilde makes the audience feel morally superior to Lady Bracknell as she states, “to lose both (parents) looks like carelessness”. The ridiculous nature of her assertions, spoken