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Wilde: The Importance of Being Earnest

3. Introduction – Part III

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About this Lecture


In this module, we continue thinking about the literary, cultural and historical context of The Importance of Being Earnest, focusing in particular on: (i) the history of social comedy in England, including the works of Molière (1622-73), George Farquhar (1677-1707), John Vanbrugh (1664-1726) and William Wycherley (1641-1716); (ii) the sexual licentiousness of these plays, and the conservative reaction of writers such as Jeremy Collier; (iii) the use of 'speaking' names, e.g. Lady Wishfort ('Wish-for-it') and Millament ('Thousand lovers') in William Congreve's The Way of the World (1700); (iv) the importance of wealth and capitalism in the late 17th century, which becomes a key motivating factor in literature throughout the 18th-19th centuries and beyond, e.g. Robinson Crusoe, Pride and Prejudice; (v) the dramatic genre known as the comedy of manners, and the overlap between comedy and tragedy.


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 III [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

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