Gender in the importance of being earnestGet Your
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?To what extent is gender the main comic creator in the play of ‘The Importance of being Earnest’? Comedy originated in the 6th century BC in ancient Greece at the Dionysian festival. Comedy was first designed to provoke laughter and to entertain the audience. The ancient Greeks used the word comedy to describe a play with a happy ending much the same as the play the ‘Importance of being Earnest’.
The play uses elements of old comedy for example; it is a satire of the Victorian era that is most importantly applied through the use of gender and role reversal (ridicule to expose traditional gender value) it also weaves in strands of new comedy, where young lovers typically undergo endless vicissitudes. ‘The importance of being Earnest’ is a well-made play produced in the late Victorian era that uses traditional gender roles and turns them on their head, role reversal, to create comedy.
It puts characters such as Lady Bracknell in positions of power by showing that the males in the play; Jack and Algernon, can be irresponsible and are inferior when it comes to decision making, it shows that this is a creator of comedy because at the time of production it was very much a man’s world and women were subordinate and uncontrolling.
The act of role reversal and the use of gender makes “a mockery of what is unnatural” once said CL Barber: festive comedy, who summed up what comedy is very well, especially relatable to ‘The Importance of being Earnest’ and from the opening act we can see this very clearly through the character of lady Bracknell who embodies a very paternal and dominant role “when you do become engaged to someone, I for your farther, should his health permit… ” immediately Lady Bracknell speaks of herself before acknowledging her husband which in turn leads us to believe she would make the decision without consulting her husband.
We also get the impression that due to bad health Lord Bracknell does not make himself public, therefore Lady Bracknell takes on his role. We see this role swap almost instantaneously, this creates comedy by taking traditional gender values and turns them on their head to create exaggeration and confusion as it is not what you would expect. Lady Bracknell also comments on education “education produces no effect” this shows that she is still a woman of Victorian society as women at the time wouldn’t of had as many right to education as men would have done, this is rather ironic as she is playing out a male role.
Moreover Lady Bracknell makes a remark on voting an politics “oh they count as Tories they dine with us or come in the evening” this shows off her masculinity as women at the time did not have the right to vote, this makes her seem as though she is putting on a facade; pretending to know of politics, and to exercise her power, again this creates comedy as women had very little power, so it is completely absurd. Gender and role reversal also creates comedy through more characters that just Lady Bracknell.
When Algernon proposes to Cecily and she replies with “we have been engaged for the past three months” Cecily then proceeds to tell him; Algernon completely complaisant in this part of the act, about their fantasy love affair, whilst he was in London entirely unaware of the situation. This creates comedy because again it is a female dominating a male character and announcing their engagement, when it is traditionally a man’s role to propose, and the absurdity and unlikelihood of the situation.
Gwendolen illustrates that men posses many female traits “and certainly once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties he becomes painfully effeminate” if a man begins to forget about his domestic duties, he begins to show signs of having characteristics typically regarded as a females. This is ironic because domestic duties are typically within a womans sphere to begin with. This creates comedy because it portrays that men take on female roles which is ludicrous, and again strongly shows a switch typical in gender roles.
We also see that when the female roles take one male personas they quintessentially dominate the speech, thus making the men in the play very submissive “ I know nothing lady Bracknell” Jacks speech is not unnaturally eloquent but quick and to the point and we get the impression jack is somewhat scared, and fears Lady Bracknell this is reflected in her very paternal role and dominating speech. This creates comedy because we would usually expect the male to be the dominant role player.
On the other hand, we can say there are other factors in the play that create comedy equally as well as what Gender and role reversal does. “we might say that comedy traces the movement from distress to happiness from ‘bad ‘ to ‘good’” some critical views of comedy, The story- the first act sets the scene and the beginning of the troubles, act two brings the climax to the confusion, then in the third act it is resolved and becomes harmonious.
There is ignorance and confusion created amongst the characters but the dramatic irony that is created for the audience, this is particularly predominant for example when Cecily and Gwendolen think they are to marry the same man ‘Ernest’ it is ironic because we know that Ernest is Jack’s ‘pretend’ older brother “Mr Earnest Worthing and i are engaged to be married”, “Mr Ernest Worthing is engaged to me” this is a prime example of confusion created amongst the characters which is comic and even more so as the audience know what is going on.
Also the irony that is created around the correlation between the title name Earnest and Jacks name Earnest, as it means honest and serious, this creates comedy as we know that jack is leading a double life and all but Algernon are also oblivious as to what Jack is doing “you have invented a very useful younger brother called Ernest” this creates comedy because it is not serious and again is very absurd from the commodities of everyday life. A lot of the play is centred around how absurd things are and out of place in context of when the play was produced and written, particularly creating comedy for the audience at the time.
Taking everything into account Gender and the act of role reversal is very significant to the play as it is a continual and running theme that a lot of the other comedy is focused around. If there were no Gender issue there would be storyline to play the comedy off, Lady Bracknell is the main and most dominant character in the play and a lot of the role reversal and male roles are centred around her, She also makes up for the absence of characters; Lord Bracknell.
It would have created a lot more comedy at the time of production as it is focused around traditional Victorian gender values and topics which at the time would have been subject to taboo and controversy, it was also nearing turn of the century and the play taps into the ‘women question’, a time when women’s right were subject to change. In conclusion Gender is one of the main themes of the play and is constantly running through the play and is important to a lot of the comedy to play off for example irony.
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Also how absurd some of the things would have been at the time, and the fact that it turns quotidian events on their head so that they become unnatural and unexpected. 1,308 words Bibliography The importance of being earnest – Oscar Wilde (new mermaids) Some critical views of comedy (pink/purple sheet) Quotations on comedy; comedy for AQA B unit 2 English and media centre 2012
Gender in the importance of being earnest
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In The Importance of Being Earnest, the question of each gender’s role in society often centers on power. In the Victorian world of this play, men have greater influence than women. Men make the political decisions for their families, while women work around the house, quietly taking care of the children.
Men are valued for their intellect and judgment, while women are attractive to men for their beauty and chastity. However, Wilde raises interesting questions about gender roles in The Importance of Being Earnest by putting women (like Lady Bracknell) in positions of power and by showing that men (i.e., Jack and Algernon) can be irresponsible and bad at decision-making.
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
In Earnest, figures like Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen, and Cecily reverse gender role stereotypes by exercising power and control over the opposite sex.
Although the female characters in Earnest exercise power briefly, they also conform to many female stereotypes—ultimately ensuring that the play upholds traditional gender roles instead of challenging or changing them.