The Importance of Being Earnest

I love stories. While a student at Hillsdale College, I was a theater minor. Between the long hours I logged as Stage Manager and then House Manager, and my appreciation for the art of great storytelling, theater seemed to be a sensible minor to attach to my Philosophy/Religion major. Interestingly, part of why I became a philosophy major was because my favorite professor was a regular actor in our vibrant theater department. Over my years at Hillsdale we did some truly excellent classic plays, and because of my philosophy professor we had incredible conversations about the many aspects of human nature on display in the greats like Taming of the Shrew and The Importance of Being Earnest. I will always be grateful for those incredible conversations.


Oscar Wilde is a challenging writer. I think that he is most famous for three things: being openly and defiantly bi-sexual, The Picture of Dorian Grey, and this happy and delightfully funny little play, The Importance of Being Earnest. Because of his controversial and raucous personal life and his dark and disturbing Dorian Grey, I was genuinely uneasy about reading The Importance of Being Earnest. I was fearful that it would have themes that I found distasteful. It does not. Not really. In fact, it is English comedy at its best.

Wilde was absolutely a master of witticism. Earnest is a very fast moving and side-splitting comedy. His jabs and jibes are smart and delightful. No one is immune from being both the fool and the hero when it is all said and done. If adults could recapture the wonder and joy of childish play, I think it would look something like this comedy.


The play itself demands to be heard and/or seen. Reading it on the page is excellent, but hearing it is far better. To that end, I laughed my way through this multi-actor theatrical production via Audible. Performed by stage actors, it really delights the ear and comes alive in the imagination.

The play itself is pretty wholesome. While there is some innuendo, it is generally clean and Victorian. The famously funny movie starring Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O’Connor, Reese Witherspoon, and Tom Wilkinson is a feast for the eyes and is brilliantly acted. That said, it is interpreted artistically (with some modern prejudice) and few opportunities to make it racy were lost. Delightful as the movie is, I caution parents before showing it to their teens. As an example, two of the characters get the name of their lover tattooed in a place usually covered by undergarments. Not only are the tattoos off script, the scenes are designed to be provocative. Another example stages some of the scenes in a raunchy dance parlor. The movie puts more Wilde into Earnest than Wilde did.


The play itself is absurd and over the top, but somehow, that makes it all the more funny. It seems obvious to me that PG Wodehouse was nodding to Earnest when he created Jeeves and Wooster.

The play is short and can be read or listened to in one afternoon. I think this is an audiobook that I will reach for whenever I am between books and needing a good laugh, world weary, or just in low spirits.


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