SparkNotes: The Importance of Being Earnest: Quiz
New Society Dramas would often premier at the beginning of the London "season," and women would wait until they saw the fashions worn by the female characters in the play before they ordered their new gowns and hats.
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde — …
I propose that The Importance of Being Earnest allows for two readings: one can assume the role of the narrator of "The Portrait of Mr. W.H." (Wilde) or that of Lady Bracknell. Both readings have their limits and privilege the performance either of class or of sexuality in the play. In "The Portrait of Mr. W.H.," Wilde's narrator undertakes a project that is essentially one of recovery – a counter-reading in the face of the heterosexist narratives that have effaced the homosexual desire at the heart of Shakespeare's sonnets. This same assumption informs the arguments of Christopher Craft, Patricia Behrendt, and Joel Fineman; they look in Earnest for representations of a fully formed gay masculinity – a "Uraniste" in Ernest (Behrendt 172–73). They begin with a "positivist desire for proof in the pudding" (Craft 120) and find a current of same-sex desire running through the play that destabilizes various heterosexual assumptions. But it all begins with the assumption that there are representations of gay masculinities in the play; it begins with a theory, like Wilde's narrator's project – that there was a boy actor named Willie Hughes who was the object of Shakespeare's desire. Reflecting on this theory, the narrator reviews Shakespeare's sonnets and finds his proof in the pudding: "Every poem seemed to me to corroborate Cyril Graham's theory. I felt as if I had my hand upon Shakespeare's heart, and was counting each separate throb and pulse of passion. I thought of the wonderful boy-actor, and saw his face in every line" ("Portrait" 323).
And the mirror-image relationship between the audience and the play in late-Victorian Society Drama is more notable for what the theatre chose to leave out than what it mirrored.