Algernon In Shakespeare's The Importance Of Being Earnest

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The fin-de-siècle play, The Importance of Being Earnest, was written in 1895 during the Victorian era. This was a time of strict morality, however, this was beginning to change near the turn of the century. The presentation of Algernon as witty and subversive is conveyed through several mediums, for instance, his attitudes towards marriage and family.

Algernon is a stock character of a comedy of manners due to his characterisation as a young, witty aristocrat. His status as a member of the bourgeois is proved through his “luxuriously and artistically furnished” (pp.45) room as it establishes his wealth and presents him as self-indulgent. As does the privilege that has allowed him the opportunity to learn how to play the piano but has not afforded
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Algernon’s quick, witty responses in several verbal exchanges portray him as a comic character: “Algernon: My dear fellow, the way you flirt with Gwendolen is perfectly disgraceful. It is almost as bad as the way she flirts with you. Jack: I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come to town expressly to propose to her. Algernon: I thought you had come up for pleasure? I call that business.” (pp.48) A Victorian audience would not expect Gwendolen to be so forward in her romantic advances as this does not fit the conventional mould of a Victorian woman. Algernon is subversive through his encouragement of it as instead of being wary of her lack of passivity and rejection of this archetype, he is offended that Jack isn’t the one doing the majority of the flirting. The use of chiasmus makes Algernon seem more witty and comical. Equally, Algernon’s comments on proposing being business are unconventional as marriage is generally seen to be a romantic endeavour, however, he sees it as a cold and emotionless arrangement that is necessary but not desired. This relates to the connotations of marriage in this era being for superficial reasons, such as money and maintaining your privileged position in society .

A further way in which Wilde expresses Algernon’s wittiness is through his manipulation of language. For example, his use of puns: “You are the most earnest-looking person I ever saw in my life.” (pp.52) Jack
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Firstly, he does not believe that it is all too important, in several instances he explicitly says that he would continue using Bunbury to avoid his responsibilities: “A man who marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of it.” (pp.56) as well as, “Divorces are made in heaven.” (pp.49) This is an inversion of the colloquialism “a match made in heaven” and could be considered an epigram. Another unpopular opinion of his is that proposing is unromantic. He believes the uncertainty of love is what makes it romantic, in contrast, the expectation and common goal of many women was to get married and have children. Conversely, he ‘kills’ Bunbury off in order to marry Cecily,which carries the implication that he he genuinely loves her as opposed to taking advantage of her ingenuous

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