How are Victorian characters’ identities represented in the opening of the play?

In the first act of The Importance of Being Earnest, several characters are established as almost satirical, or at least parodic, caricatures of the traditional values of the time. Chiefly among them is Algernon, who, in stark contrast to what one would assume to be puritanic values of the time, seems to revel in cynical debauchery, often espousing absurdly crude statements such as “The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her, if she is pretty, and to someone else, if she is plain.” and, upon hearing that Jack has come to town to propose to Gwendolen, “I thought you had come up for pleasure? I call that business.”. All these statements establish him as an outlier; a man living with few constraints who seems to draw pleasure from disregarding social norms and disrespecting the traditions of the time concerning marriage and sexual normalcy. Similarly cynical, Lady Bracknell is also established in the first act as a domineering, assertive woman, equally jaded with the idea of marriage, stating that “I hadn’t been there since her poor husband’s death. I never saw a woman look so altered; she looks quite twenty years younger.”. Equally so, she seems attached to societal norms, telling Jack that “[The cloak-room] could hardly be regarded as an assured basis for a recognised position in good society.”, referring to Jack’s unfortunate circumstances of birth.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *