The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People is a play by Oscar Wilde. First performed on 14 February 1895 at the St James's Theatre in London, it is a farcical comedy in which the protagonists maintain fictitious personæ to escape burdensome social obligations. Working within the social conventions of late Victorian London, the play's major themes are the triviality with which it treats institutions as serious as marriage, and the resulting satire of Victorian ways. Contemporary reviews all praised the play's humour, though some were cautious about its explicit lack of social messages, while others foresaw the modern consensus that it was the culmination of Wilde's artistic career so far. Its high farce and witty dialogue have helped make The Importance of Being Earnest Wilde's most enduringly popular play. The successful opening night marked the climax of Wilde's career but also heralded his downfall. The Marquess of Queensberry, whose son Lord Alfred Douglas was Wilde's lover, planned to present the writer with a bouquet of rotten vegetables and disrupt the show. Wilde was tipped off and Queensberry was refused admission. Soon afterwards their feud came to a climax in court, where Wilde's homosexual double life was revealed to the Victorian public and he was eventually sentenced to imprisonment. His notoriety caused the play, despite its early success, to be closed after 86 performances. After his release, he published the play from exile in Paris, but he wrote no further comic or dramatic work.
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About the Author
Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) was born in Dublin. He won scholarships to both Trinity College, Dublin, and Magdalen College, Oxford. In 1875, he began publishing poetry in literary magazines, and in 1878, he won the coveted Newdigate Prize for English poetry. He had a reputation as a flamboyant wit and man-about-town. After his marriage to Constance Lloyd in 1884, he tried to establish himself as a writer, but with little initial success. However, his three volumes of short fiction, The Happy Prince, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, and A House of Pomegranates, together with his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, gradually won him a reputation as a modern writer with an original talent. That reputation was confirmed and enhanced by the phenomenal success of his society comedies: Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband, and The Importance of Being Earnest, all performed on London’s West End stage between 1892 and 1895. In 1895, he was convicted of engaging in homosexual acts, which were then illegal, and sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labor. He soon declared bankruptcy, and his property was auctioned off. In 1896, he lost legal custody of his children. When his mother died that same year, his wife Constance visited him at the jail to bring him the news. It was the last time they saw each other. In the years after his release, his health deteriorated. In November 1900, he died in Paris at the age of forty-six.