learnt the rules of the game well, and refuses to make a mistake. She apologises for the lateness in a typically pompous manner and then continues the vein of inverted logic and nonsensibility:

"LADY BRACKNELL: I was obliged to call on dear Lady Harbury. I hadn’t been there since her poor husband’s death. I never saw a woman so altered: she looks quite twenty years younger."

Algy had been expecting them, but has eaten all the cucumber sandwiches he prepared for Lady Bracknell. This emphasises Algy’s attitude to the world, treating it as if it were a giant playpen, unable to control his urges. At one point he says, "I hate people who are not serious about meals. It is so shallow of them".

While Algy and his aunt briefly leave the room, Jack seizes his chance to confess his passionate love for Gwendolen. His amazement to learn that the feeling is mutual is nothing to that which he feels when Gwendolen reveals that the main reason for her love is that his name is Earnest. Jack privately decides to christen himself Earnest and then proposes to Gwendolen, who accepts.

Still on his knees, Lady Bracknell re-enters and interrogates him thoroughly about his wealth and social position. His answers are at first satisfactory, but when asked about his parents, Jack admits that he does not know who they are. He explains that he was found in a handbag by Mr Thomas Cardew in a cloakroom at Victoria station, and was given the name Worthing as Mr Cardew happened to have a first class ticket for Worthing at the time. Lady Bracknell is shocked by this and absolutely forbids any engagement between Jack and Gwendolen until he has produced at least one satisfactory parent.

The exchange between Jack and Lady Bracknell is justly famous, largely through its witty, subtle nonsensibility. Jack focuses on unimportant details in his tale: the explanation of the ticket to Worthing may be relevant because of his name, but the geographical placing of Worthing as a seaside resort in Sussex, is not. This mixing of important fact and irrelevant detail confuses and renders the whole statement hilarious and nonsensical. Similarly, the physical appearance of the handbag – "a somewhat large, black, leather handbag, with handles to it – an ordinary handbag in fact" – is obtuse, though rather nicely captures a human tendency to waffle when nervous. He mentions that he was found at Victoria station, which is important, but adds that it was the Brighton line, which merits Lady Bracknell’s gently cutting response: "The line is immaterial, Mr Worthing". This could be seen to refer to the story, the train lien itself and the line in the play.

Gwendolen, however, is undeterred by the story, so irresistible does she find the name Earnest. She asks for and notes down Jack’s country address. Algy, listening in the background, jots this down on his shirt cuff. The act end with Algy preparing to go on a ‘Bunbury’ to Jack’s country home in order to meet Cecily Cardew, of whose existence he has learnt.

Act II

The act opens in the garden of Jack’s country home, where Cecily, his ward, and Miss Prism, her tutor are unsuccessfully conducting their studies. Cecily’s inattention immediately demonstrates that she, too, is a child. However, she is the wittiest person in the play, and the only one able to defeat Algy at his game of uttering nonsensical statements. Cecily complains, when asked to return to her German lesson, that German "isn’t at all a becoming language. I know perfectly well that I look quite plain after my German lesson". Though her self-awareness is somewhat lacking, she can effectively identify and mock the traits of others. Later in the act, Algy, masquerading as Earnest, says that he is hungry and then declares that he is hungry. Cecily replies: "How thoughtless of me. I should have remembered that when one is going to lead an entirely new life, one requires regular and wholesome meals".

Dr Chasuble appears and Miss Prism goes for a walk with him. He is a reduction to absurdity of John the Baptist as Wilde presented him in Salome, constantly christening people and with a hidden lust, not for Salome, but for Miss Prism. Throughout Salome, the prophet makes statements that have a hidden meaning, and this is paralleled by Dr Chasuble’s slips of his tongue in order to hide his lust.

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