Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is subtitled “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People,” and has proved immensely popular since its first performance in 1895. The play certainly has its farcical and comic elements, such as the witty banter exchanged by the characters and the flippant attitude towards love and marriage that characterizes the action. However, the play also explores more serious themes through the central story of Jack Worthing’s search for his identity.
Jack is in love with Gwendolen Fairfax, the cousin of his best friend, Algernon Moncrieff. When the play opens, Algernon, who knows Jack as Ernest, has begun to suspect something, having found an inscription inside Jack’s cigarette case addressed to “Uncle Jack” from someone who refers to herself as “little Cecily.” Algernon suspects that Jack may be leading a double life, a practice he seems to regard as commonplace and indispensable to modern life. He calls a person who leads a double life a “Bunburyist,” after a nonexistent friend he pretends to have, a chronic invalid named Bunbury, to whose deathbed he is forever being summoned whenever he wants to get out of some tiresome social obligation.
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