Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest: A Close Reading

Lesson rationale

Students will consider several aspects of Oscar Wilde’s most popular of comedies, The Importance of Being Earnest. The play itself inverts the Victorian melodrama that had dominated the London stage of the late 19th century, becoming instead a brilliant comedy of manners and an ingenious farce. Its lasting success rests partly on Wilde’s genius as a wit; but its other enduring quality is its examination of moral principles – in this case, the Victorian notion that sincerity, or earnestness, is its own reward.

Key questions in this lesson:

  • What aspects of late Victorian society is Wilde satirizing?
  • What are the virtues Wilde considers to be important?
  • What are the ironies of the play in terms of Wilde’s own life?