Mar 8, 2013
Oscar Wilde’s most successful play, The Importance of Being Earnest, became an instant hit when it opened in London, England, in February, 1895, running for eighty-six performances.
The play has remained popular with audiences ever since, vying with Wilde’s 1890 novel The Portrait of Dorian Gray as his most recognized work. The play proves vexing to critics, though, for it resists categorization, seeming to some merely a flimsy plot which serves as an excuse for Wilde’s witty epigrams (terse, often paradoxical, sayings or catch-phrases). To others it is a penetratingly humorous and insightful social comedy.
The Importance of Being Earnest has been favorably compared with William Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night and Restoration plays like Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s School for Scandal and Oliver Goldsmith’sShe Stoops to Conquer. While it is generally acknowledged that Wilde’s play owes a debt to these works, critics have contended that the playwright captures something unique about his era, reworking the late Victorian melodramas and stage romances to present a farcical, highly satiric work—though audiences generally appraise the play as simply great fun.