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Wilde: The Importance of Being Earnest

1. Introduction – Part I

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About this Lecture


In this module, we provide a broad introduction to Oscar Wilde and The Importance of Being Earnest, focusing in particular on: (i) what people think about when they hear the name 'Oscar Wilde' today – both the positives and the negatives; (ii) the development of psychology and psychoanalysis in the late 19th century, and Wilde's interest in the contrast between what you see on the surface and what lies beneath, etc.; (iii) the immense critical and commercial success of The Importance of Being Earnest; (iv) the contrast between 'serious' and 'trivial', and the idea of the Importance of Being Earnest as 'A Trivial Comedy for Serious People'; (v) the philosophy of aestheticism, and the idea of 'campness'; (vi) the importance of Wilde's sexuality and nationality, and the unique perspective afford to 'outsiders' looking in – a gay man observing straight society, an Irishman observing English society, etc.; (vii) the extent to which satirists want to be part of the society that they satirise ("Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that"), and the success with which Wilde was able to enter 'proper' English society; and (viii) the idea of 'Oscar Wilde' as a character played by Wilde, and the relationship between truth and artifice.


In this course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. In the first three lectures, we provide a broad introduction to the play, thinking about the life and career of Oscar Wilde, as well as the social, cultural and literary context of the play itself. After that, in the following twelve modules, we read through the entire play from start to finish, thinking about the character, setting, stagecraft, key themes and motifs, and critical opinion.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

McRae, J. (2021, April 23). Wilde: The Importance of Being Earnest - Introduction – Part I [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Wilde: The Importance of Being Earnest – Introduction – Part I." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 23 Apr 2021,