The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People is a play written by Oscar Wilde. This play was first performed in the year 1895 in London. As the subtitle suggests, this play is a comedy specifically a satiric one. The Importance of Being Earnest deals with a lot of subjects main being double identities of characters. The topic of double lives is typical for the Victorian era. Many people who lived during this period, lead double lives or during their lives, they changed their mindsets. The play is full of double identities as well as dualistic themes like life in the city and life in the country and differences between them. There is also concern about double lives and questions about what is true and what is not.
In The Importance of Being Earnest, the main male characters are Jack and Algy who both are living double lives. John Worthing called Jack is a guardian to his adoptive’s father granddaughter Cecily and he lives in Hertfordshire. He stands for victorian values of morality such as duty, honor, and respectability which is shown in this quote from the play “When one is placed in the position of guardian, one has to adopt a very high moral tone on all subjects. It’s one’s duty to do so”. However, he lies about having an irresponsible brother Ernest who is troublesome and leads scandalous life so he has reasons to disappear and everyone will think that he is going to help his brother; “In order to get up to town, I have always pretended to have a younger brother of the name of Ernest, who lives in Albany, and gets into the most dreadful scrapes”. Therefore he can leave for London for days, do whatever he likes there, and live the life which he says he disapproves of. “My name is Ernest in town and Jack in the country” as Jack says in this quote he goes by the name Ernest when he is in London and when he is at home he goes by Jack. Jack uses his alter-ego, Ernest, as an excuse from his boring life and as a disguise to keep his honorable image intact.
Algy invents an imaginary friend to hide his double life as well as borrow Jack’s alter-ego Ernest to set up Cecily. He likes to escape his life from town, which has a lot of social obligations, to the country. His imaginary invalid friend, Bunbury who lives in the country and constantly calls Algy. This way Algy can always leave the city and indulge himself. What’s more, he also impersonates his friends‘ invented brother, Ernest, to approach Cecily. As Fridell writes, even though Algy has a high position in the aristocracy, he uses Bunbury and Ernest as an excuse to escape society.
Furthermore, not only male characters lead double lives, but female ones do as well. Gwendolen and Cecily in the play they represent the city and the country and both of them have a secret life. Gwendolen is confident, sophisticated and lives in the city. She leads a double life in the sense that she runs away from her lectures to go to see Ernest in the country. Cecily, on the other hand, is a country girl who like other characters also has a big imagination to invent a new life, in this case, a fantasy one. She writes about her invented fantasy world in her diary “I keep a diary in order to enter the wonderful secrets of my life”. She goes to such great lengths that she even buys a ring for herself and writes letters from him. Here she talks about the invented letters and the engagement: “The three you wrote me after I had broken off the engagement are so beautiful, and so badly spelled, that even now I can hardly read them without crying a little”.