Characters in The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

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  • 0:02 Jack & Ernest Worthing
  • 1:07 Cecily Cardew
  • 1:53 Algernon Moncrieff
  • 2:28 Gwendolen & Lady Bracknell
  • 3:45 Miss Prism & Dr. Chasuble
  • 4:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari
In this lesson, we'll take a look at the humorous play 'The Importance of Being Earnest' by Oscar Wilde and get to know the main characters. Through a twist of events, the real 'Ernest' appears at the end of the play, and the character of Jack Worthing learns how important it is to be honest and sincere.

Jack & Ernest Worthing

Let's get to know the cast of characters in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. First, there's Jack Worthing. Jack is an orphan who was adopted by a wealthy man named Thomas Cardew, who is now dead. Jack is the guardian for Cecily Cardew, Thomas Cardew's 18-year-old granddaughter. Jack is respected in his community, and is an upstanding citizen who not only owns land but serves as a justice of the peace. Jack resides in the town of Hertfordshire. However, Jack lives a double life.

Jack pretends to have a wild younger brother, Ernest Worthing, who lives in London; Jack visits him on a fairly regular basis to help keep him on the right path, so he says. (Notice that although the title spells 'Earnest' with and 'a,' this 'Ernest' has no 'a'.) At any rate, Ernest is a figment of Jack's imagination. When Jack tells everyone back home that he is going to visit his brother Ernest, he is really living a double, less reputable life that involves partying and generally living it up. Jack would never live like that back home.

Cecily Cardew

As we learned previously, Cecily Cardew is Jack's ward, and the granddaughter of Jack's now deceased benefactor, Thomas Cardew. Cecily is impressionable, and that is probably why Jack hides his wild side from her by impersonating Ernest. However, Cecily has built up an imaginary, romantic picture of Jack's 'brother' Ernest and has fallen in love with him. Cecily has given Jack a cigarette case that eventually gives away his identity as it is inscribed to 'Uncle Jack' from 'Little Cecily.' Cecily eventually meets and falls in love with Jack's friend from London, Algernon, who is posing as the imaginary Ernest. Cecily, like Gwendolen, feels that the name 'Ernest' 'inspires absolute confidence.' Confused? The plot gets even crazier!

Algernon Moncrieff

Algernon Moncrieff is Jack's friend in London. He is very wealthy, and is the cousin of the woman Jack loves, Gwendolen. Algernon finds Jack's cigarette case, and confronts Jack with living a double life. Jack admits his duplicity and tells Algernon that he thinks it might be best for the fictitious 'Algernon' to die because Cecily is overly interested in him. As Jack talks about Cecily, Algernon begins to be interested in her. In fact, he beats Jack home and begins courting Cecily, pretending to be Jack's brother, Ernest. Like Gwendolen, she reveals her fascination with the name 'Ernest.'

Gwendolen & Lady Bracknell

Gwendolen Fairfax is Algernon's cousin who has a huffy, self-important mother named Lady Bracknell. Gwendolen loves Jack, who she knows as 'Ernest.' When 'Ernest' proposes, she says yes, but her mother refuses to give her permission to marry Jack after she realizes that Jack has no family or connections. To complicate things, Gwendolen seems fixated on the name 'Ernest.' When Jack beats around the bush by saying that he doesn't feel the name 'Ernest' especially 'suits' him she replies,

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