The Lords and Ladies

The Importance of Being Earnest is riddled (lightly) with references to 'Lord' this and 'Lady' that, 'Honorable' and 'Sir' and so on. A fairly typical element of a 'comedy of manners' is that it deals with at least a few characters of the 'upper class', and your standard modern historical romance has invented a Duke (they're the most popular, currently) or at least an Earl. So what is all this snooty upper-crusting about?

Allow me to explain. No, there is too much - let me sum up.
The British aristocracy consist of peers/nobility and their families. Traditional rights included inherited positions in Parliament’s House of Lords, designation in the formal order of precedence, and the right to certain titles (or collection of titles). Also traditionally, these titles included land ownership and income from the rents on these lands. The given titles, in order of precedence, are: Duke (Duchess), Marquess (Marchioness), Earl (Countess), Visc…

Lady Bracknell - So Important She Has Her Own Time Zone

Dear Cast of The Importance of Being Earnest,

I hope you're proud of yourselves.

I really do, because I TOTALLY AM! It's like you've solved the mystery of the pyramids! Only not, since this is only a 120-year-old play, and those have been around for millennia. But you did DISCOVER a mystery that no one else seems to have noticed in over a century! Although I guess it's not really that mysterious. BUT IT DOESN'T MATTER BECAUSE YOU GUYS ARE AWESOME AND YOU BROKE MY BRAIN.

(But I'm fine now.)

So the first question I got from y'all was about that weird little timeline issue in the first act where Lady Bracknell gets all up in Jack's bid'ness (does anybody still say that anymore? No? OK then) and then storms out with a frosty 'Good morning!' even though it's actually somewhere between 5:30 and 'nearly seven' in the evening. I was pretty excited - these nit-picky little research questions are MY bread and butter (bless you, Gwendolyn).…

A Haven for Wilde's 'Drinking Class'

There is an unspoken... well, 'rule' might be a strong word... an unspoken 'policy' that great literature and alcohol go hand in hand, in that the first might not exist without the second. It may be a specifically British policy (about which we might ask J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis for confirmation), and it lends itself to a delightful confluence of events that is looking forward to the opening of an Oscar Wilde-themed bar in New York City.

There are wonderful ironies included in the location and decor, including the fact that the bar occupies space that was once part of NYC's Bureau of Prohibition. The place is literally full of classical allusions along with marble statues; and the furniture and decorations are a clever and whimsical mix of pieces from around the world. All of this speaks directly to Oscar Wilde's intelligence & playfulness, as well as the complex, extraordinarily resourceful nature of his comedy and other writings.

And, naturally, the …

Victorians Gettin' Around

Lady Bracknell suffers the supreme indignity of having to catch a luggage train in order to follow Gwendolyn following Jack. What's that all about?   

According to the Oxford University Press, a 'luggage train' is just that: 'A train for transporting goods, not travellers.' Apparently no one saw fit to take pictures of the interior of compartments on luggage trains, or at least not post them online. (Grrr.) To ride a luggage train, options would probably include sitting on trunks or wooden crates in one of the compartments, or riding with the driver up in the engine car. (Probably illegal, but if anyone is going to bully their way into it it would be Lady B. The downside with the engine car is that it would be smoky, dirty, & loud - riding with the trunks is likelier.) Trains in the 1890's traveled around 30 miles an hour, so the luggage train would still have been relatively safe. And Hertfordshire is only about 20 miles north of London, so even at 30 miles…

Notes about Notes (or, Funding 'the Funds')

There are a few references to money in The Importance of Being Earnest, usually regarding whether or not one has some, generally followed by a clever quip. (Are 'food' and 'money' the 'death' and 'taxes' of Earnest/Oscar Wilde? Hmm.) Let's see if we can bring in a little clarity.

Cecily Cardew's fortune is valued at '130,000 pounds in the funds.' The Funds were another name for the British national debt. When investors put their money 'in the funds' (or invested it in government stocks which paid against the national debt) they were guaranteed an annual return from the government of 3-5% (which led to the nicknames 'the three-percenters' and 'the five-percenters'). It was an extremely stable investment, and therefore very popular. People could have made more putting their money in other stocks, investment schemes, or even banks, but nothing else was as secure on the return as the funds.

This means that Cecily was…

The Play's the Thing

'No great artist sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.'

So spoke Oscar Wilde, a prominent representative of the Aesthetics movement and defender of the 'art for art's sake' philosophy. Aesthetics embraced this idea as a response to utilitarian social philosophies and the ugliness and practicality that was symptomatic of the Industrial age, there near the end of the Victorian era. 'Art for art's sake' declares that art has no function other than to exist as a representation of the artist's self-expression - it just IS. Art can and should exist only as art; it has no moral justification, no responsibility to teach. (There's a related concept from the Greek thinkers: that something is 'autotelic', or 'complete in itself'.)

Critics of the movement insist that art must attempt to communicate something, to connect individuals if it is to have any value, and that 'pure art' solidifies the soc…

The Importance of 'The Importance of Being Earnest'

London, 1895. Valentine's Day, surprisingly chilly. (Fog, likely - this IS London.)

The empire flourishes under the reign of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria (her accomplishments as related to her gender are the exception, not the rule, as she's one of the first to remind you). Theatre has become a haven for the masses, with commoners on benches down in the house and the titled upper classes in box seats above.

A new play is on offer tonight, and seems promising. The playwright has been making quite a name for himself - this is his fourth new work in the past three years, with the third enjoying a month-long run at another theater just down the street. He's very clever, the author, though there are rumors of scandalous behaviors that crop up now and then. Surely nothing with which respectable denizens of the city should concern themselves.

The audience has settled, and the lights are dimmed at last. The curtain rises on Oscar Wilde's newest work, The Importance of Being Ear…