To say that I love Oscar Wilde‘s writing would be an understatement. He is the king of wit and I adore that is a writer. So I was more than excited to get my hands on this play. Now, I understand that plays aren’t for everyone, and really, you should watch them instead of read them but this one is the peak of absurdity, making it a lot of fun to read nonetheless. I mean, it’s worth reading for Lady Bracknell alone. However, the interchangeability of Ernest the character and earnest the adjective can get a bit confusing so lets dig into that a bit.
[…] in order to get up to town I have always pretended to have a younger brother of the name of ErnestJack, Lines 238-240
There is a question as to which identity is the “real” one–Jack might be his actual name but Ernest is closer to who he really is. Also, can we just take a moment to chuckle at the fact that Ernest (capital E) isn’t actually earnest? I just like how Wilde is blatantly mocking the idea that words have meaning–as a linguist is appreciate people pointing out how weird language is and yet no one seems to notice.
No, there is very little music in the name Jack, if any at all. It does not thrill. It produces absolutely no vibrations […] Besides, Jack is a notorious domesticity for John! And I pity any woman who is married to a man called John.Gwendolen, Lines 476-482
“John” is a very common name, especially in Britain, so Wilde might be inferring that anyone of this name is common as well. Oddly, this “ordinary man” would probably BE earnest. But Gwendolen doesn’t actually want an earnest husband–she wants to fit in with what is fashionable with not regard for who the man really is; the label is more important than the substance.
Ultimately, this play is about making fun of how important labels are, because words actually don’t have any meaning except what we give to them–they’re just strings of sounds. This play makes plenty of jokes and there are more than a few references to Wilde’s connection to the queer community. I loved every minute of this play so I definitely recommend giving it a read.