Puns in the Importance of Being Ernest

Wilde uses puns throughout this play, but the major pun is found within the title. In The Importance of Being Earnest, the pun, widely considered to be the lowest form of verbal wit, is rarely just a play on words. The title, -The Importance of Being Earnest,- insinuates the importance of being honest and truthful, while playing on the male name, Ernest. The pun in the title is a case in point. The earnest/Ernest joke strikes at the very heart of Victorian notions of respectability and duty. Gwendolen wants to marry a man called Ernest, and she doesn’t care whether the man actually possesses the qualities that comprise earnestness.
She is, after all, quick to forgive Jack’s deception. In embodying a man who is initially neither “earnest” nor “Ernest,” and who, through forces beyond his control, subsequently becomes both “earnest” and “Ernest,” Jack is a walking, breathing paradox and a complex symbol of Victorian hypocrisy. -Earnest – means serious or non-frivolous. Many of the characters in the play spend their time trying to convince each other, and themselves, that they are high-minded people with strong morals and are admired in society.
But Oscar Wilde presents them all in such a way that their interests and ethical ideas will seem ridiculous and trivial to most of the audience. -Ernest – is a man’s name. Much of the action of the play turns on whether Jack Worthington’s first name is Jack, or Ernest. Normally a man’s first name is of no great importance in his life, but in the extremely silly world of this play – it is the most serious element of the plot. (Many people who know the play well never realise that we don’t get a satisfactory answer to this crucial question).

So the pun is that the title of the play appears to mean: The Importance of being a Serious Person; but when we watch the play we realise that the real title is: The Importance of having Ernest for a First name. ex: Algernon- You have always told me it was Ernest. I have introduced you to every one as Ernest. You answer to the name of Ernest. You look as if your name was Ernest. You are the most earnest-looking person I ever saw in my life. We can find puns on the names of the other characters in the play like in: -‘Miss Prism’ – The name is a pun on ‘misprision’, which has two definitions.
The older is very dark, involving the concealment of official neglect, crime or possibly treason. The more modern meaning closely resembles the character’s multiple misunderstandings. – Chasuble – The word chasuble is a vestment worn during services. This is, of course, appropriate given the nature of Chasuble’s profession. Chasuble’s name is also a pun because when said aloud can sound like chaseable. Regarding Miss Prism, he is in fact chase-able, which he had previously claimed he was not. Act I, scene 1, Algernon “Anyone can play (piano) accurately but I play with wonderful expression” – This is a good thumbnail of Wilde’s philosophy of art. Wilde was heavily influenced by Walter Pater and the other aesthetes of the Victorian age.
They believed art should concern itself only with its aesthetic qualities that art should exist for art’s sake alone. Therefore, art should not be a straightforward representation of reality–it should not be “accurate,” as Algernon would say–but rather it should be an extension of its creator’s artistic styles. Hence, it should have “wonderful expression. Act I, scene 1, Algernon – “If the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? ” – We have a humorous depiction of class tensions here, where Lane, the butler, is given his fair share of droll sayings, and even Algernon seems to recognize that the lower clas has more power than they seem to. Act I, scene 1 (Algernon to Jack) Algernon: “You don’t seem to realize that in married life; three is company and two is none. ”
And also in Act II, scene 1 (Lady Bracknell when she finds out about the proposal of Jack) L. Bracknell: “…An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. ” Oscar is again poking fun here at the institution of marriage, a practice surrounded by hypocrisy and absurdity. Aristocracy does not see marriage as an organ of love but rather as a tool for achieving a sustaining social stature. Act I, scene 1, Puns are also used during the conversation between Algernon and Jack in town. To accuse Algernon a liar just like dentists who lies about cavities, Jack has said, -“My dear Algy, you talk exactly as if you were a dentist.
It is very vulgar to talk like a dentist when one isn’t a dentist. It produces a false impression”. This is very funny because we can see that Jack is also lying about his brother, but he is judging Algernon as if he is a very honest person. Later, when Jack reveals all his truth about the name Ernest, Algernon responds by saying: Algernon: “What you really are is a Bunburyist. You are one of the most advanced Bunburyist I know. … “Besides now that I know you to be a confirmed Bunburyist, I naturally want to talk to you about Bunburying.
I want to tell you the rules. This is very funny, because Algernon is trying to be honest to Jack about advising him of an action that in fact is itself dishonest and false. The pun is when Algernon thinks that Jack deserves to be advised and learn the rules, since he turned out to be a real Bunburyist, even the most advanced one. This is very ridiculous! As if Jack was discovered to be a man with high principles or qualities. Act I, scene 1 Algernon: “You must be serious about it. I hate people who are not serious about meals.
It is do shallow of them. ” This is also very ridiculous. What we expect is Algernon asking Jack to be serious with Gwendolen, about their first 10-minute meeting at Algernon’s. Actually, what surprises and makes us laugh is that Algernon immediately asks Jack to be serious about the food. They care about trivial things. But every instance food is mentioned – from the Algernon’ opening discussion of wine with his servant, Lane, to the girls’ insult over tea and the guys’ climatic fight over muffins-is fraught with conflict.
The fight over something as basic as food-something that every human being has a carnal need for (like Algernon’s wolfing down of the cucumber sandwiches to Lady Bracknell distress, Jack’s settling for bread and butter, Algernon’s consumption of Jack’s wine and muffins)- we suspect that the food fights are all puns for mocking their repressed sexual life expression and frustration in the face of unusually domineering women. Algernon. [Picking up empty plate in horror. ] Good heavens! Lane! Why are there no cucumber sandwiches? I ordered them specially. Lane. [Gravely. ] There were no cucumbers in the market this morning, sir.
I went down twice. Algernon. No cucumbers! …Algernon. I am greatly distressed, Aunt Augusta, about there being no cucumbers, not even for ready money. Act I, scene 1 (Lady Bracknell to Algernon) Lady Bracknell: “Well, I must say Algernon that I think it is high time that Mr. Bunbury made up his mind whether he was going to live or to die. This shilly-shallying with the questions is absurd. Nor do I in any way approve of the modern sympathy with invalids. I consider it morbid…I should be much obliged if you would ask Mr. Bunbury from me to be kind enough not to have a relapse on Saturday for I rely on you to arrange my music frame…”
It is difficult for Victorian people to understand an interest in something that is so far removed from their daily pleasure, nor to sympathy. Also at the end when they both kill off their imaginary alter egos or friends without much to-do, shows Victorian society’s real values. The Victorian era did not value honesty, responsibility, or compassion for the under-privileged (neither Lady Bracknell nor Algernon exhibit much pity for “Bunbury” when he “dies”), but only style, money and aristocracy. It is appropriate that the pun in the sentence when L.
B is talking about “Bunury” death as an appointment to be simply fixed or arranged, and the nonexistent character of “Bunbury” itself show how shallow are the Victorians’ real concerns. Act I, scene 2 Lady Bracknell starts her conversation by showing to be a very concerned and affectionate mother who wants his expectations meet her requires. The first question she asks is about smoking. Smoking is a harmful, money-consuming habit that needs to be killed, while we find a pun when L. Bracknell turns to be in favor of this habit of Jack. Besides, she considers it as an important occupation or a man. Lady Bracknell: …Do you smoke?
Jack: Well,yes,I must admit I smoke. Lady Bracknell: I am glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation of some kind. We face up with many ironic situations during L. Bracknell’s discuss with Jack in act 1, scene 2, making fun to the false, empty ideals of Victorian society, mocking the so-called virtue qualities of the upper class that pretends to be high-educated. The puns are when L. B gives an appreciation of Jack’s being ignorant. She is pleased with Jack’s ignorance, and the most absurd is that she pays high tributes to ignorance by comparing it to a delicate exotic fruit. … Lady Bracknell. A very good age to be married at.
I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing. Which do you know? Jack. [After some hesitation. ] I know nothing, Lady Bracknell. Lady Bracknell. I am pleased to hear it. I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.

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