The Importance of Being Earnest Synopsis & Notes 

Jack Worthing, a carefree young gentleman, is the inventor of a fictitious brother, “Ernest,” whose wicked ways afford Jack an excuse to leave his country home from time to time and journey to London, where he stays with his close friend and confidant, Algernon Moncrieff. Algernon has a cousin, Gwendolyn Fairfax, with whom Jack is deeply in love. During his London sojourns, Jack, under the name Ernest, has won Gwendolyn’s love, for she strongly desires to marry someone with the confidence-inspiring name of Ernest. But when he asks for Gwendolyn’s hand from the formidable Lady Bracknell, Jack finds he must reveal he is a foundling who was left in a handbag at Victoria Station. This is very disturbing to Lady Bracknell, who insists that he produce at least one parent before she consents to the marriage.

Returning to the country home 
where he lives with his ward Cecily Cardew and her governess Miss Prism, Jack finds that Algernon has also arrived under the identity of the nonexistent brother Ernest. Algernon falls madly in love with the beautiful Cecily, who has long been enamored of the mysterious, fascinating brother Ernest. With the arrival of Lady Bracknell and Gwendolyn, chaos erupts. It is discovered that Miss Prism is the absent-minded nurse who 20 years ago misplaced the baby of Lady Bracknell’s brother in Victoria Station. Thus Jack, whose name is indeed Ernest, is Algernon’s elder brother, and the play ends with the two couples in a joyous embrace.

— Courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival

Director's Notes

by Sabin Epstein & Daniel Kelly, Assistant Director

“Nothing succeeds like excess.”

So said Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, who was born October 16, 1854. His father was an ear and eye surgeon, his mother a poet and intellectual. He was educated at home until the age of 9, studied Greek literature at Trinity College, Dublin, and later, literature at Oxford. Upon graduation he moved to London to pursue a career in writing; he moved easily in high society, married, fathered two sons, created a sensation when he contested a court case of abnormal sexuality brought against him by the Marquess of Queensberrry, spent two years of hard labor in Reading Gaol, and died in Paris in 1900.

“I like to do all the talking myself. It saves time and prevents arguments.”

After the success of his earlier plays, Lady Windermere’s Fan and A Woman of No Importance, Wilde’s producers encouraged him to continue writing. The Importance of Being Earnest was written in three weeks in September of 1894 as a four-act play. George Alexander, the actormanager at the St. James Theatre, insisted it be cut to three acts. Oscar’s reply: “Do you realize, Alec, what you are asking me to sacrifice? The act you are convinced is superfluous cost me terrible exhausting labour, not to mention heartrending, nerve-racking strain. You may not believe me, but I assure you on my honour that it must have taken me fully five minutes to write it!”

“One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.”

When Earnest went into rehearsals Wilde had a great deal to say to Alexander, who was agitated by Wilde’s stream of suggestions. He told Oscar, “If you don’t leave us alone, we’ll never be ready; so go away like a good fellow and come back again for the first performance.” Wilde did leave the company alone, only to return on February 12, 1895, two days before the opening, for the dress rehearsal. Afterwards, he came on stage and stunned the cast saying, “Well, Alec, I suppose we must start rehearsal for the play on Monday.”

Wilde described The Importance of Being Earnest as “exquisitely trivial, a delicate bubble of fancy and it has its philosophy: we should treat all the trivial things seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality.”

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”

Before the opening on February 14, a reporter asked Wilde whether he thought the play would be a success. Oscar’s response: “My dear fellow, you have got it wrong. The play is a success. The only question is whether the first night’s audience will be one.”

It was.

Pictured: Allen O'Reilly, Joe Knezevich and Chris Ensweiler in The Merchant of Venice. (Bill DeLoach Photography)

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