Instructions: Employ one of the critical quotations as the basis for your term paper of 1,500 to 3,000 words.
1. Robert Boyle describes Wilde's last play as a humorous "treatment of decay and death," and of "human suffering," in which Wilde finally abandons the effort to balance "conventional moral norms with the realities of human behavior" (325). Responding to these remarks, develop an essay topic about an underlying, serious theme in The Importance Of Being Earnest. Please confirm by e-mail the precise wording of your topic.
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 of the characters in the play embodies this aesthetic principle, and how? From your consideration of these characters' utterances and actions develop an appropriate essay topic. Please confirm by e-mail the precise wording of your topic.
3. William Keach contends that Lady Bracknell's "cross-examination of Jack lays the groundwork for much of the rest of the plot" (184), and that the underlying tension of the play depends upon "the contrast of city and country so important to the double lives being led" (183). Explain these two points, then develop one of them into a suitable essay topic. Please confirm by e-mail the precise wording of your topic.
4. Otto Reinert claims that "Wilde's basic formula for satire is [his characters'] assumption of a code of behavior that represents the reality that Victorian convention pretends to ignore" (15). Reinert argues that in this play Wilde is principally concerned with the difference between conventional and actual manners and morality. Discuss these points, then refine this "formula for satire" into an essay topic. Please confirm by e-mail the precise wording of your topic.
5. Richard Foster believes that the terms "farce" and "comedy of manners" are unsuitable for this Wilde play because it is far more subtle, complicated, and artistic than such labels imply.
Farce . . .depends for its effects upon extremely simplified characters tangling themselves up in incongruous situations, and upon a knowing audience gleefully anticipating their falling victim, in their ignorance, to some enormous but harmless confusion of fact or identity." Furthermore, "A comedy of manners is fundamentally realistic: it requires the audience to accept the world presented on the stage as a real world, a possible world." 
Foster contends that the play is in fact an elaborate lampoon.
Apply the terms "farce," "comedy of manners," and "lampoon" to The Importance of Being Earnest, then develop an essay topic that utilizes these terms. Please confirm by e-mail the precise wording of your topic.
6. Pointing out that inverted relationships are the norm in this play, Robert J. Jordan, rejects the proposition that The Importance of Being Earnest is a satire or a social criticism; rather, "at the most important level it seems to be a fantasy in which unattainable human ideals are allowed to realize themselves." Elegance, symmetry, taste, indifference to conventional morality, and a total lack of sexual corruption (for which Wilde substitutes "food-lust") are achieved in this make-believe world.
Apply the term "fantasy" to Wilde's play, demonstrating how it achieves some of Foster's ideal elements listed above, then develop a suitable essay topic. Please confirm by e-mail the precise wording of your topic.
7. Wilde suggests that his Victorian contemporaries should treat trivial matters with greater respect and pay less attention to what society then regarded as serious. Discuss how Wilde expresses this philosophy and comment on the effectiveness with which he has communicated his 'message' with reference to ONE of the following in the play: death, politics, money, property, food, or marriage. Please confirm by e-mail the precise wording of your topic.
8. Using three examples drawn from the play, show how Algernon uses Wilde's aesthetic principles to transform his life into a work of art. Please confirm by e-mail the precise wording of your topic.
9. How does Wilde portray food as both a weapon and a means of demonstrating one's power? Discuss three examples from the play to demonstrate how Wilde uses food. Please confirm by e-mail the precise wording of your topic.
10. Describe how this play mayor may not fit the criteria associated with the genre of the lampoon. Define the term "lampoon" and apply this definition to the play: what is Wilde lampooning? What is his intention in lampooning it? What are his techniques, and do these produce appropriate attitudes in the audience? Please confirm by e-mail the precise wording of your topic.
11. Define the term "fantasy," then demonstrate how Wilde treats ONE of the following fantastically (as opposed to realistically): Victorian society's class structure, food and the Victorian conventions surrounding it, the resolution of the plot. Please confirm by e-mail the precise wording of your topic.
12. Using appropriate quotations and paraphrases from at least one major scene in the play, show how Wilde treats humorously serious issues and conflicts that existed within Victorian society. You might wish to demonstrate how the play deals with one of the following matters: marriage and courtship, sexual double standards, the class structure, money and property, and attitudes towards illness and death. Please confirm by e-mail the precise wording of your topic.
13. In French, the title of the play is Ernest ou l'Importance d'être Constant. Explain how this title sheds additional light on the key issues of self-awareness, self-knowledge, and being "earnest" versus being "constant." Consider the implications of the French title for all the major characters. Please confirm by e-mail the precise wording of your topic.
Beckson, Karl. "Oscar Wilde." Modern British Dramatists, 1900-1945. Part 2: M-Z. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 10. Pp. 204-218.
Boyle, Robert. "Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)." British Novelists, 1890-1929: Traditionalists. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 34. Detroit: Gale Research, 1985. Pp. 315-331.
Foster, Richard. "Wilde as Parodist: A Second Look at The Importance Of Being Earnest." College English 18, 1 (Oct., 1956): 18-23.
Jordan, Robert J. "Satire and Fantasy in Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest." Ariel 1, 3 (July 1970).
Keach, William. Teacher's Manual: Adventures in English Literature. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1980. Pp. 183-7.
Reinert, Otto. "Satiric Strategy in The Importance Of Being Earnest." College English 18, 1 (Oct., 1956): 14- 18.
a. Parenthetical citation rather than foot- or end-notes will be considered acceptable; for a play longer than a single act, please provide act number in roman numerals followed by page number in arabic numerals.
b. Double space all text; if you are doing your essay by hand, you may single space quotations of forty words or longer, but integrate shorter quotations; for example:
Lady Bracknell is unrealistically, almost contemptuously honest when she reveals her ignorance of the German language. Objecting to French songs on the grounds of possible impropriety of subject-matter, she remarks, "But German sounds a thoroughly respectable language, and indeed, I believe is so" (I: 128, emphasis added).
A Note on Essay Topics
Topics may call for comparison between two like things, such as the humour in a modern television sit-com (situational comedy) and The Importance Of Being Earnest.
Contrast, on the other hand, implies that the writer is out to demonstrate differences between things usually thought to be similar. For example, one might contrast the duplicity of Jack and Algernon here with that of Dr. Jekyll in Stevenson's novella.
Other possibilities are explanation and analysis, for example: "Why We Laugh WITH and Not AT Lady Bracknell."
Last modified 13 March 2006