The Importance of Being Earnest

play written by Oscar Wilde

The Importance of being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People is a play by Oscar Wilde. It was first performed on 14 February 1895 at St. James's Theatre in London. In the play, the protagonists make up people who are not real to try to make their lives easier. The play's most important themes are the light humourous way it treats serious things like marriages and the satire of Victorian ways. At the time the play came out, reviews all praised the play's humour. However, some people wanted better social messages, while others thought that it was the best play Wilde had ever written. It is Wilde's most popular play.

The Importance of Being Earnest
The original production of The Importance of Being Earnest in 1895 with Allan Aynesworth as Algernon (left) and George Alexander as Jack (right)
Written byOscar Wilde
Date of premiere1895
Place of premiereSt James's Theatre,
London, England, UK
Original languageEnglish
GenreComedy, farce
SettingLondon and an estate in Hertfordshire

The plot is about two men who try to woo their respective lovers by convincing each that their name is Ernest. The play includes many puns and plays on words. Even the title is a pun, because "Ernest" is a man's name and "earnest" is a word that means "serious, honest, and sincere." The play is about morality, style, and hypocrisy, among others, but it is noted for being humorous and lighthearted.

The successful opening night marked the climax of Wilde's career but also heralded his downfall. The Marquess of Queensberry, father of Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde's lover, planned to present Wilde a bouquet of spoiling vegetables and disrupt the show. Wilde was tipped off, and Queensberry was refused admission. Soon afterwards the feud came to a climax in court, and Wilde's new notoriety caused the play, despite its success, to be closed after just 86 performances. After imprisonment, he wrote no further comic or dramatic work. The Importance of Being Earnest has been revived many times since its premiere and adapted for the cinema on three occasions, in 1952, 1992 and 2002.

Critical reception


Unlike many other plays at this time, The Importance of Being Earnest's light story was not about serious social or political issues. This was something that reviewers at that time were not sure what to think about. Though they were not sure of how serious Wilde was, they agreed that the play was clever, funny, and popular.[1] George Bernard Shaw, for example, reviewed the play in the Saturday Review. He said that comedy plays should not only be funny but touching, saying, "I go to the theatre to be moved to laughter".[2] Later in a letter he said that the play was "extremely funny" but "really heartless".[3]

Opera and radio


In 1963, Erik Chisholm made an opera from the play.[4]

BBC Radio 4 made a radio adaptation on 13 February 1995. It was directed by Glyn Dearman. Dame Judi Dench was "Lady Bracknell", Sir Michael Hordern was "Lane", Michael Sheen was "Jack Worthing", Martin Clunes was "Algernon Moncrieff", John Moffatt was "Rev. Canon Chasuble", Miriam Margolyes was "Miss Prism", Samantha Bond was "Gwendolen" and Amanda Root was "Cecily". The production came out on audio cassette by Hodder Headline Audiobooks with BBC Enterprises (ISBN 1-85998-218-2).

On 13 December 2000, BBC Radio 3 broadcast a new radio adaptation directed by Howard Davies. In this radio adaption, Geraldine McEwan was "Lady Bracknell", Simon Russell Beale was "Jack Worthing", Julian Wadham was "Algernon Moncrieff", Geoffrey Palmer was "Rev. Canon Chasuble", Celia Imrie was "Miss Prism", Victoria Hamilton was "Gwendolen" and Emma Fielding was "Cecily". The music was written by Dominic Muldowney. The production was released on audio cassette by the BBC Radio Collection (ISBN 0-563-47803-9).


  1. Jackson (1997:172)
  2. Beckson (1970:195)
  3. Beckson (1970:194)
  4. "Theatrical Works – Opera". The Erik Chisholm Trust. Archived from the original on 16 May 2013. Retrieved 12 September 2010.



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