Comic Elements in The Importance of Being Earnest

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  • 0:04 Comic Elements in the Play
  • 0:38 Irony
  • 1:53 Farce
  • 2:22 Satire
  • 2:57 Wit
  • 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Millie van der Westhuizen

Millie is currently working in tertiary education, whilst completing her master's degree in English Studies.

In this lesson, you will learn about the different comedic elements that Oscar Wilde uses in his play, 'The Importance of Being Earnest', and how these work together to make the play a classic example of a comedy of manners.

Comic Elements in the Play

Did you find yourself laughing while reading or viewing Oscar Wilde's play, The Important of Being Earnest? Although the play is set around the turn of the 20th century, it is nonetheless still funny. This is because The Importance of Being Earnest can be seen as a comedy of manners. This form of comedy satirizes the manners and behaviors of a social class. In this case, it's satirizing the upper class. In fact, the play is considered a classic example of the genre. But let's consider what individual aspects of comedy can be seen in the play.


The concept of irony has more than one meaning. One the one hand it can refer to a mocking or cynical approach to matters in general, which is known as sardonic irony. This form of irony is most commonly associated with the character Algernon, who makes statements like: ''The truth isn't quite the sort of thing one tells a nice, sweet, refined girl.'' Lady Bracknell also demonstrates this form of irony when she states she disapproves of long engagements since they give the couple time to get to know one another.

Irony can also mean using words in a way where they mean the opposite of their usual meaning, usually in a funny way. We find an example of this in the play would be Gwendolen's statement that, as long as Jack doesn't take too long, she would wait for him all her life. Similarly, the title of the play is ironic since it suggests that it's important to be earnest, yet everything works out despite the men's dishonesty.

Lastly, irony can refer to a situation in which something turns out to have the opposite result from what was expected. For example, Jack's attempt at misleading people about his identity is ironic as it turns out that his name was Ernest all along!


Oscar Wilde's play can also be seen as a farce, which is defined as a humorous play or film involving unlikely situations. The situation in which the characters find themselves through the men's lies and the girls' unyielding desire to marry someone named Ernest is hardly realistic. Also as unlikely is the fact that the woman responsible for separating Jack from his family had been working for him all along, and his real name is revealed to be Ernest.

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