The Importance of Being Earnest (Nederlandse titel: Het belang van Ernst of Het belang om Ernst te zijn) is een komedie van de Ierse schrijver Oscar Wilde. Het stuk werd voor het eerst opgevoerd in het St James’s Theatre in Londen (op de foto een scène uit de originele productie met Allan Aynesworth als Algernon en George Alexander als Jack). Het was de opvolger van drie eerdere ‘sociale komedies’, te weten Lady Windermere’s FanA Woman of No Importance en An Ideal Husband die zich alle afspelen in de Engelse society-kringen. Het was ook het laatste toneelstuk dat Wilde zou schrijven, en het wordt beschouwd als zijn beste dramawerk. Het verhaal heeft een slim uitgewerkt slot, met bijzonder grappige ontmoetingen en geestige dialogen. Het stuk is zeer kunstmatig van opzet maar behoort tot de beste Engelstalige komedies. (Wikipedia)

In mijn studententijd heb ik een samenvatting gemaakt van “The Importance of Being Earnest”.

John Worthing pays a visit to Algernon Moncrieff. It’s a strange thing that this one always calles him Ernest. Besides, he has found a cigarette-case, belonging to John, in which is written: “From little Cecily with her fondest love to her dear Uncle Jack”. Because he is going to propose to Algernon’s cousin Gwendolyn, he has to explain what this means. He answers that Cecily is an 18 year old girl he’s teaching in the country. There his name is Jack (a domestication for John), while he pretends to have a brother, Ernest, in the town. Algernon calls this “Bunburying”, because he also pretends to have an old friend, Bunbury, who’s very ill and is able to die “when needed” (which means: when Algy wants to escape a dinner or so).
Enter Gwendolyn and her mother Lady Bracknell. Algy erns a dinner from John by dragging his aunt with him, so to leave the two lovers alone. John proposes and Gwendolyn inclines, but her sympathy for him is primarily based upon the attraction of his name… Ernest! And she certainly wouldn’t like a Jack or John. Her mother enters and tells her to leave, while she is questioning the young man. His answers are received positively until he reaches the point where he has to admit that he has no real name, because he was found in a handbag by the late Mr.Thomas Cardew. He had a trainticket for Worthing in his pocket and that explains his name. Before the mother and the daughter leave, Gwendolyn asks him his adress in the country. Algy writes it down, too…
Algernon presents himself to Cecily as being Ernest Worthing. While they are in the house, Jack tells the dreadful news of his brother’s death in Paris to the Reverend and miss Prism. Tableau when “Ernest” is presented to his brother, of course. “Happy” reconciliation. When they’re alone, Algy declares his love for Cecily. She greedily accepts, but she too is especially attracted by the name “Ernest” and she certainly wouldn’t like an “Algernon”. Algy decides (for himself) to be christened again by the Reverend (a thing Jack already has thought of). When Cecily is alone, Gwendolyn enters. Great embarrasment of course when they discover that they are both engaged to Mr.Ernest Worthing. Fortunately, Jack and Algy arrive. The have to confess their real name and the truth about Jack’s “brother” turns up. The girls are shocked and leave them.
The girls forgive them, because after all their lies were meant to make it possible to love them. While they are reconciliating, Lady Bracknell arrives. She inclines to the marriage of Algernon and Cecily, but still refuses that Jack and Gwendolen should see each other again. Therefore Jack, being the ward of Cecily, refuses to give his permission. When Prism arrives, however, Lady Bracknell gets angry. It seems that she had been employed by her several years ago. One day she went to the market with a baby and never returned. Prism explains that she had written a novel and by trying to get it published, she forgot the baby somewhere in a station. Jack fetches the bag, in which he was found, and obviously it’s hers. Lady Bracknell now explains that he is the elder brother of Algernon, namely her sister Lady Moncrieff’s son. Now everything is all right. It seems even that Jack had been christened Ernest, and in fact, he did have a brother (magic-realism in a burlesque way). In the end even Prism and the Reverend are going to marry! (The parallelism with “As you like it” is striking!)

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