A comedy of manners is a term used to describe a play whose humour derives from the social customs of a particular society. Typically, the drama focuses on the most powerful people in society. The manners and morality of a given culture are referred to as social habits. Upper-class conduct and social standing in a given society are frequently depicted through the play's plot. Most of the time, persons from the lower social strata contact those from the upper strata by serving as servants, traders, and others in similar capacities. Because of this, the play is most suited for a society with a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds.
The way in which the Victorian upper class conducted themselves, the idea of being sincere is often referred to as a "comedy of manners." The drama portrays them as hypocrites because of their actions. It's as if the play is poking fun at these people. People in the upper class are often characterised as being materialistic, shallow, and manufactured. The play employs satirical language in order to make us laugh at the absurdity of their judgments based just on sight.
Also, the top class of Victorian society has been described in a light-hearted manner. Love, identity, marriage, and money are some of the key topics of the drama. The play's author, Oscar Wilde, aimed to expose Victorian society's societal standards and beliefs and prove them to be shameful. As a matter of fact, while society places high importance on principles like respect, decency, and seriousness, its actual practices are quite different. A couple's financial and kinship standing must be established prior to the ceremony of marriage.
Lady Bracknell opposed Gewendolin and Jack's marriage because he was a foundling, according to the play. The lady attached more importance to Jack's family background than to his education and other qualities throughout her talk with him. Even the love between Jack and Gewendolin went unnoticed by her. When she discovers that Cecily's bank account is flush with cash, she assumes that it was contributed by her lover Algernon, and she is ready to lend a hand in their nuptials. As a result, rather than his character or accomplishments, the boyfriend's suitability for marriage is determined only by the beauty of his name.
Only because of the term "earnest" do both Cecily and Gewendolin feel compelled to marry their beaus. In their culture, they appear to be led by the idea that they must be married to men who are financially secure and capable of providing for their families. As far as they are concerned, wealth is an essential part of every relationship. As depicted in the play, "they are described as people who find everything in the name and love for the name" (Wilde 84).
As for men, they wish to be known as earnest, but they appear to be lacking in seriousness. In the play, the upper class society is mocked for valuing surface and appearances above substance. Everything that glitters is gold to them. This is the height of hypocrisy. We think the play is hilarious because of the smart and sarcastic banter. On the surface, the dialogue between the characters appears to be lovely and endearing, but the truth is that it is devoid of any depth. We may learn a lot about the pretensions and artificiality of the upper class of the Victorian era from the author's use of paradox and irony in his account of their conduct and behaviour. Since it employs light-hearted language to elicit laughing at the Victorian upper class's false standards, "The Importance of Being Earnest" is a comedic novel. " (Wilde 97). Among the reasons why the play can only be performed in a society with a hierarchical class structure and a diverse population is because this shows how harshly the play treats people based on their social rank.
The value of earnest is a comedy of manners that is derived less from a specific history when seen in the light of this play's world-historical circumstances. The play's thesis, as stated above and emphasised, can be supported by a number of historical situations. Historical and present events are examined in the play, which shows a dysfunctional hierarchical society with characters resembling those depicted in the play.
Some of the play's themes can be compared to current global political challenges, such as slavery and the Cold War, which have been woven into history. This includes Ireland's right to self-governance. A major issue erupted in 1986 when William Gladstone led the British Liberal Party to embrace self-rule as a form of government while operating inside the framework of the British Empire. It was later suppressed by the House of Lords, who refused to approve and enact the controversial home rule law. Only a few years prior to the play's publication, this historical event occurred.
The bill's failure to pass the House of Lords was mostly due to its intended impact on society's less fortunate individuals. The House of Lords, as representatives of society's higher elite, had little choice but to repress the bill in order to keep the lower classes as their serfs. This was done in order to break any potential linkages between people, both in terms of interaction and in terms of freedom. Lady Bracknell, for example, is a character in the play who engages in this type of behaviour. She thinks that women from the upper echelons of Victorian society should only be married to men who are sincere, and not any other guy. It's like the House of Lords in Ireland did when it came to enacting home rule: she does everything she can to ensure that the elite and bottom classes of Victorian society don't interact.
Taking the US civil rights movement as an example, you'll see that the policies put in place discriminated against African-Americans. They regarded themselves as the upper echelons of American society in this context. Blacks were viewed as second-class citizens in their society by the whites. Racial segregation laws were strengthened by whites, who could now openly discriminate against blacks. On public transportation, people of colour were relegated to the back rows while whites rode upfront. Some of the black community's rights, such as leadership positions and the opportunity to vote, were withheld. As a result, no association with the lower class was permitted by the higher class. They envisioned the blacks as their personal butlers.
What's happening now is exactly what happened in the play. Getting married to someone from a different social class was frowned upon in upper-class society. Any connections they had with the lower class were severed. Furthermore, this historical setting demonstrates that this drama can only be performed in a hierarchical society where the elite and lower classes are clearly separated. Because parody is the only way to fight a losing battle, the play will poke fun at their behaviour.
Politics is a major source of angst for the characters in the play since it erodes their sense of security and authority in society. Unlike the French Revolution, which hung over British society, they saw politics as a menace that can bring revolution and change. That Bunbury died in the explosion was a complete surprise to Lady Bracknell. She claims that she was unaware of his role in the revolt. His involvement in social legislation warranted a reasonable punishment, according to her. For upper-class Victorians, fear of revolutionary upheaval and social legislation ensuring the poor's rights was an existential threat.
When Queen Victoria's reign ended, England was one of the countries where the cultural and creative revolution took place because of the principles in place during her reign. During the 1860s and 1870s boom years, principles like self-help and respectability were widely promoted. The entire community was impacted by a shift in farming methods, and very few people were able to fight back. After the wheat fields were turned to cattle pastures, the farmers suffered greatly.
The industrialists of the higher classes profited handsomely from their factories, while the workers of the lower classes were forced to work for substandard salaries. A group of middle-class industrial owners and merchants developed a network. With this, they elevated their social position by settling in the country and mimicking the nobility, which helped them rise in stature. So that their social standing could be recognised and a hierarchy established among society, much like in the play's Victorian setting ("Historical Context"), they accomplished this. Indeed, this play can only be performed in a society where there is a wide range of social and economic levels and statuses.
“Historical Background.” The Importance of Being Earnest. 15th Sep. 2007. 9th Feb 2010.
“Historical Context.” The importance of being earnest. 28th Mar 2008. 15th Apr 2010.
Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. Thomson: Filiquarian publishers, 2007.
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