Woman of No importance Essay Example:
Oscars Wilde’s “A Woman of No Importance” is an amusing Victorian soap opera about classes, morals and love. For a modern reader or theatre-goer it might be difficult to understand the play – the characters behave according to certain rules, which no longer apply in our lives. As well as in his other plays, in “A Woman of No importance” Wilde questions the values of the upper-class in his contemporary society. He makes fun of both men and women and challenges many Victorian social views. All in all, the play is an interesting critique of the nineteenth-century society’s flaws, ridiculous rules of behaviour and narrow and limited attitudes.
The play deals with rather serious issues – illegitimacy, sex outside of marriage and shameful dark secrets. The author, however, combines these issues with his renowned witty and epigrammatic style. “A Woman of No importance” is probably not Wilde’s most famous play, at the same time it is certainly worth reading even nowadays.
Oscar Wilde’s famous wit and sense of humour is what makes the play so special and interesting. He has a unique style of disclosing hypocrisy, foolishness and shallowness of people in a very amusing way. Interestingly enough, the plot is not really developed in the first act, and it is primarily devoted to the witty exchanges between the characters. The moralising tone of the play seems to contradict the amoral characters and creates a sort of cognitive dissonance. But once again, that’s what makes Oscar Wilde’s writing so interesting.
Not once in the play does Wilde make a critique of social etiquette. The author criticises not only behaviour and rules, but also moral values of his characters. For example, according to Lady Caroline, judgement can be made only by her social equals and morality is determined by social class and not by what is really right and what is really wrong. The characters seem to believe that because they belong to the upper class they do have to adhere to the same social values as the rest of the society and can even enjoy the immorality they are entitled to due to their high social status. Lady Caroline says that when she was young “one never met anyone in society who worked for a living. It was not considered the thing”. A century and a half later it is hard to believe that there were times when work was not considered a virtue. Further Lady Caroline adds that “It is not customary in England…For a young woman to speak with such enthusiasm of any person of the opposite sex. English women conceal their feelings till after they are married. They show them then”. This seems to imply that a woman does everything to get married and only then when the goal is achieved, reveals the truth about herself.
Oscar Wilde is a master of irony and word play. And that’s exactly what makes his plays so special and interesting and his points even stronger. Most of the words which Wilde puts into the mouth of his characters are ironic and contradictory. For example, when Kelvil says that “Women are always on the side of morality, public and private,” while the rest of the play proves him to be wrong. Equally ironic is the scene when Lord Illingworth states his desire to take
Gerald as his secretary, Lady Hunstanton comments that Mrs Arbuthnot “will have a great deal to thank you for.”
Many times throughout the play Wilde exposes the social inequality of women in a very ironic manner. In Victorian times, women were seen as inferior to men in many ways, and even after getting married, their status was lower than that of their husbands. This idea is interesting combined with Mrs Allonby’s idea of an ideal husband as a puppet and Lady Caroline’s attitude towards her husband, Sir John. The attitude of Mrs Allonby and Lady Caroline to men obviously contradicts all nineteenth-century expectations. Knowing that makes the characters of these women even more interesting.
There is a great wit and eloquence in the way Wilde’s characters talk. It is well demonstrated when Wilde explores Victorian attitudes to marriage. For example, Mrs Allonby remarks that “more marriages are ruined nowadays by the common sense of the husband than by anything else.” Then later he adds, “We (women) have always been picturesque protests against the mere existence of common sense. We saw its dangers from the first. ” The wit is exactly what makes the conversations between characters more effective.
The play is a great critique of Victorian morality and hypocrisy of society as well as rules the upper class used to adhere to. In my opinion, the play only gains from the wit and sense of humour Oscar Wilde used. The witty amusing language combined with serious issues the play deals with only adds to the constant feeling of contrasts in the play. The wit creates a contrast to foolish characters and the sadness of the situation.
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