THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
SUBJECTS — World/England; Drama/England;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Romantic Relationships;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness.
AGE: 12+; No MPAA Rating;
Comedy; 1952; 95 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Movies as Literature Homework Project.
This is the classic screen adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s delightful drawing room comedy about the English upper class in the late nineteenth century.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Selected Awards: None.
Featured Actors: Michael Redgrave, Michael Denison, Edith Evans, Joan Greenwood, Dorothy Tutin.
Director: Anthony Asquith.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
This film is lots of fun and will acquaint children with the best-known play written by Oscar Wilde. The play ridicules the foibles of upper-class English society of the late 19th century. The salutary effect of this is to demonstrate that fashion and fashionable ways of behaving that are often thought by young people to be very important are, in reality, fads which will have their day and then fade away.
Ask and help your child to answer Quick Discussion Question #1. If your child is very interested in the film, go through some of the other discussion questions.
Oscar Wilde (1854 to 1900) was born in Dublin. He was a poet, novelist, essayist and playwright. His plays are renowned for their witty exchanges and adroitly contrived plots. Wilde’s ability with language extended to the spoken word. George Bernard Shaw called him “[T]he finest talker of his time–perhaps all time.” The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) is his most frequently performed work.
Oscar Wilde was an early homosexual martyr. In 1895, at the height of his career, he was sentenced to two years hard labor for a homosexual love affair which violated Victorian anti-sodomy laws. The conviction ruined his career. The imprisonment took a heavy toll on him both physically and emotionally. However, in jail he was able to write The Ballad of Reading Goal. After eighteen months he was released and left England. He lived in Paris under an assumed name and died within three years of his release at the age of 46. His only work after he left prison was De Profundis (“From The Depths”).
Some of Wilde’s best epigrams are set out below.
An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all. The Critic as Artist
Only the shallow know themselves. Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young
The clever people never listen, and the stupid people never talk. A Woman of No Importance
Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.
What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing. The Critic as Artist
To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up. An Ideal Husband
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Lady Windermere’s Fan, Act III
Industry is the root of all ugliness. Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young
In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. Lady Windermere’s Fan
Whenever people agree with me, I always feel I must be wrong. The Critic as Artist
Never speak disrespectfully of society. Only people who can’t get into it do that. In Conversation
Society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer. The Critic as Artist
What people call insincerity is simply a method by which we can multiply our own personalities. The Critic as Artist
It is a much cleverer thing to talk nonsense than to listen to it.
What a pity that in life we only get our lessons when they are of no use to us.
Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art. Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art. From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor’s craft is the type. All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. / Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors. Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim. Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all. Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray
“The Importance of Being Ernest” is a classic comedy of manners. The comedy of manners is a literary genre which humorously examines the customs and foibles of the privileged classes. The stories often concern the romantic entanglements and courtships of fashionable young adults and frequently conclude with an engagement. The characters are often types rather than individualized personalities. Plots are artificially elaborate and very clever but the predominating elements of the genre are satire, dialog and atmosphere. The language is witty, polished and, in plays by Oscar Wilde, brilliant. Comedies of manners are concerned with the gap between reality and the outward conventional appearance of good order which people strive to maintain. This discrepancy can be used to compare society’s code of conduct with how people actually behave. Comedies of manners are usually popular during periods of prosperity and moral latitude.
2. There were several ways of behaving and many fashions that the characters of this play thought were important that we recognize now as unimportant. Examples are the importance of pedigree, or of living at a good address, or of having two houses, one in the city and another in the country. What are some of the customs or fashions that you feel to be important? Do you think they’ll be important to people in 50 years?
The answer is that fashions and customs change over time.
1. Was there anything realistic about the romantic relationships shown in this play? What was it?
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country)
1. Does one always tell the truth in a romantic relationship?
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
BRIDGES TO READING
Books recommended for middle school and junior high readers include The Picture of Dorian Gray (by Oscar Wilde, available on the Internet at Bibliomania).
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
- See Learning Guide to “An Ideal Husband“.
This Learning Guide was last updated on December 10, 2009.