AP Literature & Composition
March 4, 2018
The Importance of Being Earnest
In the play The Importance of Being Earnest Oscar Wilde uses three main types of irony. Verbal, dramatic, and situational. Irony is the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning. He uses irony in his play to create humor and show how it is satirical. Oscar Wilde uses many examples of verbal irony in act 1
When Jack and Algernon are talking they use verbal irony. “Algernon: How are you, my dear Ernest? What brings you up to town? Jack: Oh, pleasure, pleasure! I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to town expressly to propose to her. Algernon: I thought you had come up for pleasure? . . . I call that business” (Wilde, 3-4). This is a prime example of verbal irony because love is supposed to be positive and happy but Algernon uses business to describe the complete opposite. This also shows how Algernon feels about love. Another example of verbal irony is when John is talking to Gwendolen. He tells her that his name is Ernest and then he starts acting like he’s sincere and brave so Gwendolen will fall in love with him. After they have been talking for a while Gwendolen says “And I pity any women who is married to a man called John” (Wilde, 18) and she also says “The only really safe name is Ernest” (Wilde, 18).These are both verbal irony because John doesn’t correct her on the lie, and in doing so he is
really being earnest. Another type of irony used is situational irony.
Situational irony is when actions have an effect that is opposite from what was intended. This is seen when the truth about Jack comes out in act 2 of the play. In the end all the evidence points to Ms. Prism being Jacks mom, even the bag being misplaced, so the reader thinks its Ms. Prism, but it turns out that Jacks real mom is lady Bracknells poor sister. This is much unexpected so it’s situational irony. Another example of situational irony is when Jack finds out his name is really Ernest, meaning he had been telling the truth this whole time about him being Ernest. The double life he had been living as earnest turned out to be the truth and not a lie is a prime example of this type of irony. Jack and Algernon being brothers in the end was also an example of situational irony. Dramatic irony is very different from situational irony.
Dramatic irony is inherent in a situation of drama that is understood by the audience but not grasped by the characters in a play.