Very few of us read plays for pleasure in the same way that we might take a novel with us to the beach. This
isn’t surprising; most playwrights, in fact, never intend for their plays to be read in this way. Drama is a living
art, and if you read the play text on the page, you are getting only one part of what has made drama so
important to all cultures across many time periods. Plays are written for the stage and are meant to be
experienced primarily in live performance. This means that as a reader you must be especially attentive to
nuances of language in a play, which often means imagining what might be happening onstage during a
particular passage of speech. Using your imagination in this way–in effect, staging the play in your mind–will
help you with some of the difficulties inherent in reading plays. Also, as an aside, there has been at least two
films made based on the play; you may consider checking one of these out to help you really understand some
of the nuances of the play.
For things to keep in mind when writing about drama, please see page 14 of your text: Questions for Active
For this essay, on The Importance of Being Earnest, choose from either of the following two writing prompts.
1. The scene in which Jack proposes to Gwendolen portrays a reversal of Victorian assumptions about gender
roles. This is just one example of how Wilde subverts, or satirizes Victorian manners, Victorian societal
expectations, and Victorian gender roles. In your paper discuss, to what extent, Oscar Wilde blurs the line
between the way society of this time had established a set of precise characteristics and norms to divide the
sexes. If you pick this option, you will have to discuss the norms of Victorian gender roles at the time, and the
ways in which Oscar Wilde subverts (or blurs or satirizes) those Victorian expectations.
2. According to Karl Beckson, “Central to Wilde’s life and art was the idea of the dandy as the embodiment of
the heroic ideal as well as of the aesthetic temperament hostile to bourgeois sentiment and morality” (205).
Which character, or characters in the play embody this aesthetic principle, and how? Make sure if you pick this
option you carefully outline Beckson’s ideas. You will need to carefully define the term and then look carefully
at Algernon and/or Jack.
Make sure that your introduction introduces both the author and the work. Your introduction should also clearly
layout the focus and structure of your paper, and should probably include your thesis, or the argument you plan
to make All essay submissions must be in MLA Format. If you are not sure what MLA format looks like, please
see the Help section in the English 1B Resources Module