The Importance of Being Earnest is Oscar Wilde's most famous play and is frequently revived for theater productions. The work is a farce and comedy of manners that satirizes Victorian society. Before starting the play, students should know what those terms mean. A lesson on Victorian society, including basic etiquette, courtship, tea, and moral standards, will help students better understand Wilde's satire. Some background on Wilde and the school of Aestheticism, which encourages art for art's sake, will further contextualize the play and can prompt discussion on how this work deviates from typical Victorian literature.


Students will have a fuller experience with this work if they see the play performed. Consider showing your class a movie adaptation of the play or clips from theater productions so that they may experience The Importance of Being Earnest in its truest form. You can also assign students roles and have them read the work aloud in class. By acting out the play or at least reciting it verbally, they will be more engaged.

Summary of The Importance of Being Earnest

Key Facts

  • First Performed: 1895
  • Publication Date: 1895
  • Length: 80 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1390
  • Recommended Grade Band: 11-12

Set in the Victorian era, The Importance of Being Earnest focuses on the lives of two wealthy gentlemen, Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff. Both men maintain fictitious personas to avoid unappealing social obligations. While the characters court their love interests, their deceptions are uncovered and their true identities revealed.

What Your Students Will Love About The Importance of Being Earnest

  • The humor of the characters' serious but absurd dialogue
  • The amusing commentary on Victorian society

Potential Student Struggles With The Importance of Being Earnest

  • Understanding all the ways Wilde satirizes Victorian society
  • Keeping track of Jack's identities and the characters' love interests

Learning Objectives for The Importance of Being Earnest

  • Identify targets of Wilde's satire and analyze the treatment of these targets.
  • Discuss the idea of art for art's sake.
  • Identify the pun central to the play and analyze its meaning.
  • Comment on the irony between the elegant demeanor of the characters and their absurd conversations and behavior.
  • Discuss the meaning of the play's subtitle "a trivial play for serious people."
  • Determine the importance of being trivial within the play.

Literary Elements in The Importance of Being Earnest

  • Comedy of Manners
  • Epigram
  • Farce
  • Inversion
  • Irony
  • Paradox
  • Pun
  • Satire
  • And more!

Major Themes in The Importance of Being Earnest

Marriage — Courtship and marriage are the driving forces of the play as characters discuss the nature of marriage and have their engagements impeded by trivial obstacles.

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Morality — The play includes ideas of Victorian morality and reveals how these strict moral rules constrain society. Wilde also unearths the hypocrisy and paradox of Victorian moral standards.

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Deception — Jack and Algernon both invent fictional people so they can escape their lives in the country and city respectively. Cecily also creates a fictional engagement to Ernest. As the characters' deceptions collide, the line between fact and fiction becomes muddled.

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Other Resources for The Importance of Being Earnest

Order The Importance of Being Earnest Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
The Importance of Being Earnest Paperback Student Edition
The Importance of Being Earnest Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Importance of Being Earnest AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Importance of Being Earnest Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Importance of Being Earnest Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Importance of Being Earnest Multiple Critical Perspectives Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Importance of Being Earnest Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

This free guide was originally posted in June 2016. It has been updated as of September 2020.