The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
AP Guiding Questions
- Explain the pun of the title. Who is being Earnest in this play? Do Gwendolyn and Cecily prefer having husbands named Ernest to having earnest husbands?
- Choose a character, whose origins are unusual or mysterious. Then analyze how these origins shape the character and that character's relationships, and how the origins contribute to the meaning of the work as a whole.
- Briefly explain the necessity for secrecy and how the character's choice to reveal or keep the secret affects the plot and contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole.
- Analyze how a physical journey is an important element and discuss how the journey adds to the meaning of the work as a whole.
- Analyze the gender reversals in this text. Does the feminized Lord Bracknell foreshadow what Jack and Algernon may become? Are males or females more passive/dominated in this play?
- How does dramatic irony create humor in The Importance of Being Earnest? Identify a handful of instances in which the audience members know more about what is going on than the characters on stage. Why does this create humor?
- What is the role of textuality in this play-do letters and diaries have a stronger reliability or ring of truth than conversation?
- Analyze the various times that the characters eat in this play, primarily the cucumber sandwiches and the muffins. Does eating serve a primarily social or anti-social function?
- Does Wilde prevent any version of true love? Does the extent to which Gwendolen and Cecily are self-centered affect your analysis?
- Algernon observes that: "Women only call each other sister when they have called each other a lot of other things first." How does the development of the relationship between Cecily and Gwendolen bear out this remark? What causes them to bond together? What causes them to behave competitively?
- What does the common classification of The Importance of being Earnest as a "comedy of manners" and or a "farce" refer to? Could this play operate in a classless, non-hierarchical society? '
- How do words take on a life of their own in this play? How does this relate to why it is it so easy for Prism to substitute her manuscript for a baby? Analyze diaries as a source of power and truth-making.
- Analyze the role of class in Lady Bracknell's worldview. Is she more impressed by land, by nobility, or by wealth?