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on 4 July 2001
I am currently studying The Importance of Being Earnest for my English Literature A-level and I can honestly say it is the best piece of writing I have studied so far. Funny, ironic and completely truthful, this play is based on people's behaviour, especially the behaviour of the aristocracy, which is, at times, nothing short of stupid, but that's where the humour lies. The play is fairly short, (A-level students everywhere heave a sigh of relief) but this doesn't prevent it from being complicated- those who have trouble remembering names might like to steer clear (at one point, two people claim to be the same person, even though this person doesn't exist). However, this doesn't make the play particularly difficult; once you have established the plot, it falls into place. A word of warning: if you have no sense of humour you will find this play a bore. For the rest of us, though, it's a highly enjoyable read.
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"The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People" is one of the first plays written in English since the works of Shakespeare that celebrates the language itself. Oscar Wilde's comedy has one advantage over the classic comedies of the Bard in that "The Importance of Being Earnest" is as funny today as it was when it was first performed at the St. Jame's Theater in London on February 14, 1895. After all, enjoying Shakespeare requires checking the bottom for footnotes explaining the meaning of those dozens of words that Shakespeare makes up in any one of his plays. But Wilde's brilliant wit, his humor and social satire, remain intact even though he was a writer of the Victorian era.
Wilde believed in art for art's own sake, which explains why he emphasized beauty while his contemporaries were dealing with the problems of industrial England. "The Importance of Being Earnest" is set among the upper class, making fun of their excesses and absurdities while imbuing them with witty banter providing a constant stream of epigrams. The play's situation is simple in its unraveling complexity. Algernon Moncrieff is an upper-class English bachelor who is visited by his friend Jack Worthing, who is known as "Ernest." Jack has come to town to propose to Gwendolen Fairfax, the daugher of the imposing Lady Bracknell and Algy's first cousin. Jack has a ward named Cecily who lives in the country while Algernon has an imaginary friend named "Bunbury" whom he uses as an excuse to get out of social engagements.
Jack proposes to Gwendolen but has two problems. First, Gwendolen is wiling to agree because his name is Ernest, a name that "seems to inspire absolute confidence," but which, of course, is not his true Christian name. Second, Lady Bracknell objects to Jack as a suitor when she learns he was abandoned by his parents and found in a handbag in Victoria Station by Mr. Thomas Cardew. Meanwhile, Algernon heads off to the country to check out Cecily, to whom he introduces himself as being her guardian Jack's brother Ernest. This meets with Ceclily's approval because in her diary she has been writing about her engagement to a man named Ernest. Then things get really interesting.
Wilde proves once and for all time that the pun can indeed be elevated to a high art form. Throughout the entire play we have the double meaning of the word "earnest," almost to the level of a conceit, since many of the play's twists and turns deal with the efforts of Jack and Algernon to be "Ernest," by lying, only to discover that circumstances makes honest men of them in the end (and of the women for that matter as well). There is every reason to believe that Wilde was making a point about earnestness being a key ideal of Victorian culture and one worthy of being thoroughly and completely mocked. Granted, some of the puns are really bad, and the discussion of "Bunburying" is so bad it is stands alone in that regard, but there is a sense in which the bad ones only make the good ones so glorious and emphasize that Wilde is at his best while playing games with the English language.
But if Wilde's puns are the low road then his epigrams represent the heights of his genius, especially when they are used by the characters in an ironic vein (e.g., "It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal" and "I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance"). Jack is the male lead, but it is Algernon who represents the ideal Wilde character, who insists he is a rebel speaking out against the institutions of society, such as marriage, but with attacks that are so flamboyant and humorous that the cleverness of the humor ends up standing apart from the inherent point.
In the end, "The Importance of Being Earnest" is the wittiest play every written, in English or any other language, and I doubt that anything written in the future will come close. Wilde was essentially a stand-up comedian who managed to create a narrative in which he could get off dozens of classic one-liners given a high-class sheen by being labeled epigrams. Like a comedian he touches on several topics, from the aristocracy, marriage, and the literary world to English manners, women, love, religion, and anything else that came to his fertile mind. But because it is done with such a lighthearted tone that the barbs remain as timely today as they were at the end of the 19th-century and "The Importance of Being Earnest" will always be at the forefront of the plays of that time which will continue to be produced.
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on 13 December 2004
I personally think that this play is fantastic. Superficially it is a very trivial, lighthearted play with little plot but peppered with witty conceits. On a deeper level it provides an incredible, satirical view of Victorian moral society, from one of the the 'insiders'. The links between the play and the life of Wilde are rife, especially regarding Algernon. I would recommend it wholeheartedly.
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on 14 November 2005
When this recording came out, I immediately ordered it, expecting a CD version of the recording available for decades on audio tape (also with Gielgud/Evans). NAXOS, however (and much to my chagrin), "regale" us (??) with a 1952 radio recording which is the aural equivalent of looking at an old oil painting that has been sandblasted and then hosed down with acid. Somewhere in the murk are the actors (apart from Gielgud/Evans, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, Betty Hardy, Ronald Ward, Angela Baddeley,...) giving excellent performances, but I doubt whether this recording is really, as the liner notes by Richard Bebb state "vastly superior to a complete version Gielgud and Evans made for Columbia records" (presumably the version I mentioned above, with among others, Roland Culver, Pamely Brown, Celia Johnson, Jean Cadell). Basically it is like one of these old opera recordings which get dug up in some archives and are then issued - wonderful if one is in the mood for it, but basically a chore to listen to. My tip: wait for the 1953 Columbia/EMI recording - NAXOS, or whoever has the rights to the tapes, REISSUE IT AT ONCE!!!! This 1952 recording is nice as a back up, but the later recording wins hands down in the sound department.
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on 16 June 2005
Despite the fact that I usually like to watch plays, not so much to read them on paper, I found "The Importance of Being Earnest" a very enjoyable reading. The plot is greatly witty and I had a real fun reading several scenes described in this book. Given the theatrical style, the overall plot is not quite realistic, yet it is highly brilliant and full of "English" humor. After having read the book, I also bought the Audio-CD version of it, which I also enjoyed sincerely.
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Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
First broadcast as a four-act play by BBC Radio 4 on Christmas Day 1977, this purely audio adaptation of Oscar Wilde's classic 1895 comedy 'The Importance of Being Earnest' featured the likes of Jeremy Clyde as Algernon Moncrieff, Richard Pasco as John Worthing, Prunella Scales as Cecily Cardew and Maurice Denham as The Rev. Canon Chasuable.

In 2010, the BBC released the recording in a 2 CD audio book format, as part of their Classic Radio Theatre series. The recording is crisp and clear, delivering a perfect representation of the original broadcast.

The performance was directed by Ian Cotterell, who went on to do similar adaptations of popular classics, notably Alice in Wonderland (also in 1977) and Alice Through the Looking Glass (1985). With 'The Importance of Being Earnest', Cotterell sets down a constantly flowing rhythm to the storyline's pace, allowing for an entertaining and engaging adaptation of this humorous classic.

Jeremy Clyde's exceptional performance as Algernon Moncrieff is one of the strongest elements to the production. His comically playful voice adds a joyful quality to each line. Indeed, every time Clyde speaks of Moncrieff's fictional friend 'Bunbury' or the art of 'Bunburying', the listener can't help but snigger at the whole elaborate affair.

All in all this is a triumphant adaptation of a much loved and enjoyed comedy classic by such a literary great. The pace and flow of the storyline is spot on, and the delivery from each member of the cast is simply superb. The recording itself is flawless, making an altogether excellent presentation. This is an item that is well worth purchasing.

The audio book runs for a total of 2 hours and 20 minutes.
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Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
We should be grateful to Auntie Beeb that this 1977
radio broadcast of 'The Importance Of Being Ernest'
has been give a new lease of life in this fine audiobook.

Oscar Wilde's 1895 play, despite its highly formulaic ground
plan, remains deservedly popular more than a century later not
least for the pithy but restrained fireworks of its dialogue.
That he lived both inside and outside the class and culture
that he so venemously lampoons in this narrative is a credit
to his wit, shameless audacity and monolithic ego.

The cast under Ian Cotterell's knowing direction is uniformly
excellent. The story unfolds at a cracking pace and everyone
really does seem to be enjoying the experience of spinning
out those mercurial lines into the listening world.

Richard Pasco, as John Worthing and Jeremy Clyde as Algernon
Moncrieff deliver solid performances, making the most of the
confusion as the plot unfolds.

Prunella Scales is a delightful Cecily Cardew. Her fruity tone
and limber touch gives the words an almost musical quality.

Fabia Drake is a top notch Lady Bracknell. With her jaw set
permanently on stun, she chews each word as if it were a wasp
in her mouth, (doubtless her chin, too, is perfectly poised at
the correct socially required angle!) and spits them out with
scant regard for her victims' feelings. She is magnificent!
I was listening on a train when I got to her iconic reflection :
"Thirty five is a very attractive age. London society is full
of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free
choice, remained thirty five for years" and laughed out loud!!

The sound quality of the recording is fresh and vivid througout.
Terence Allbright's whimsical piano interludes are a jolly addition.

Highly Recommended.
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on 23 August 2012
This Play never palls. Oscar Wilde's witty and amusing dialogue remains a perennial delight and it is a play which can be listened to over and over again with enjoyment.

This particular recording features a strong cast, with Jeremy Clyde, Richard Pasco and Prunella Scales taking the main parts.

It is also the first broadcast of the original four-act version of the play. The extra dialogue is not often met with in most modern productions.

It is ideal for listening to while doing a long, boring job, (such as the ironing!). And I am sure it will give equal pleasure, whether the listener is already familiar with the play, or whether it comes as an entirely new experience.

It remains a tragedy that the author of such a delicious light comedy should have met with such a disastrous fall from grace.
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on 7 May 2016
I remember reading this play when I was in year 8 in secondary school. A great play, amusing and pathetic in places, but yet another timeless classic.

My father is in hospital and I go everyday by car to visit him in London. This made a great change from listening to music. Would highly recommend it.
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on 5 March 2016
Had to read this for one of my uni modules and I was really surprised! I thought that it would be hard to grasp but it's really easy to understand. It's also hilarious - quite a few puns - and a great narrative
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