Sample Questions

1) In The Importance of Being Earnest Wilde creates characters in pairs and splits them into two contrasting groups. Explain how he does this, and why.

Consider how best Wilde could present his view of an innocent world. Did he need many different characters, or many different types? Are Algy and Jack ‘brothers’ from the beginning – how does this relate to Wilde’s ideas on predestination?

How are the other characters paired? At what point do Gwnendolen and Cecily become allies rather than enemies, and to what extent are they ever actually ‘sisters’? Consider the power structures in the two romantic relationships. In what ways to each gender of lover have the upper hand? Do they complement each other or combine to make a model of perfection?

Discuss the pairing of Dr Chasuble and Miss Prism. How do their moral codes and the Rector’s profession contrast with their feelings and actions? How do these two contrast with the rest of the characters, and what does this strong division do for the play?

Why does Lady Bracknell have no obvious counterpart? Is the spirit of the play her adversary? If the play relies on pairing for its inherent simplicity, in what ways is Lady Bracknell’s singularity a stylistic counterweight?

2) What effect does leading a double life have on the characters in The Importance of Being Earnest?

Consider the difference in moral tone and responsibilities Jack need to exercise when he is in the town and in the country. What makes him invent a different persona, and is he morally justified in doing so? In what ways does he relate to Dorian Gray in his need to indulge his urges for pleasure? Can he and Algy actually be two people, or do they need to choose?

What effect does the exposure of their double lives have on their social standing? Discuss in what ways this effect is realistic and in what ways it is inevitable. What harm are they doing, and to whom?

How are they tried, both morally, and by others in their wrongdoings, and how far would they push it in order to keep their lifestyle? Consider whether Jack is lying when he explains to his friend about his double life and says: "That is the whole truth pure and simple".

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