The Importance of Being Earnest
by Oscar Wilde
The Importance of Being Earnest Foolishness and Folly Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Act.Line) Every time a character talks counts as one line, even if what they say turns into a long monologue.
Gwendolen: In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing. (III.19)
Our common sense tells us that Gwendolen has it backwards. In fact, this is one of the lines that makes us question the title of the play. If "style, not sincerity is the vital thing," then what exactly is the importance of being earnest? This line encapsulates the genius of the play.
Algernon: My dear Aunt Augusta, I mean he [Bunbury] was found out! The doctors found out that Bunbury could not live, that is what I mean—so Bunbury died.
Lady Bracknell: He seems to have had great confidence in the opinion of his physicians. I am glad, however, that he made up his mind at the last to some definite course of action, and acted under proper medical advice. (III.55-56)
Algernon seems to buy into Lady Bracknell’s foolish idea that life and death are a matter of choice. To get rid of Bunbury, Algernon lies that he decided to die when the physicians "found out that [he] could not live." Lady Bracknell continues the hilarity by approving that Bunbury finally "acted under proper medical advice." This shows that one of Wilde’s primary comedic techniques is to turn a serious subject into something lighthearted.
Lady Bracknell: Kindly turn round, sweet child. [Cecily turns completely round.] No, the side view is what I want. [Cecily presents her profile.] Yes, quite as I expected. There are distinct social possibilities in your profile. The two weak points in our age are its want of principle and its want of profile. The chin a little higher, dear. Style largely depends on the way the chin is worn. They are worn very high, just at present. Algernon!
Algernon: Yes, Aunt Augusta!
Lady Bracknell: There are distinct social possibilities in Miss Cardew's profile. (III.73-75)
First of all, Lady Bracknell’s sudden approval of Cecily is based on the young girl's inheritance. We don't think Lady Bracknell is sincere when she compliments Cecily’s beauty. Secondly, it is absurd to divine "distinct social possibilities" from one’s profile.