Oscar Wilde's wit and way with words shines brilliantly in this comedy of manners.
Polite society demands polite excuses for missing social obligations. Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing have invented perfect excuses; Bunbury, an invalid friend in the country, and Earnest, a younger brother in London.
Their deceptions weave tangled webs, as they each try to protect their secrets while navigating the shark-infested waters of love and London society.
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The Importance of Being Earnest is about a man named John(Jack) Worthing who comes to visit his friend; Algernon in London. John has come down to propose to Algernon's cousin: Gwendolen. Coincidentally, Algernon is expecting Gwendolen and her tyrannical mother; Lady Bracknell to arrive for tea and cucumber sandwiches. Algernon agrees to steer Lady Bracknell out of the room so that Jack can propose to Gwendolen. Before Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen arrive, a simple cigarette lighter given to Jack by his young and beautiful ward; Cecily, unlocks a double life that Jack has been leading. Algernon thinks Jack's name is really Ernest, but Ernest is a secret identity that Jack uses so he can escape to London from his dull life in the country. Jack tells everyone in the country that he has wild brother named Ernest who gets into the most dreadful scrapes. After Algernon finds out the truth about Jack and his double identity, he tells Jack about his imaginary invalid, his friend Bunbury who always gets sick and lives in the country. To get out of boring social obligations, he pretends that Bunbury is sick and he must go to visit him and administer to the poor man's health.
Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen arrive, and Algernon escorts Lady Bracknell away to go over some music for a coming party that will be hosted by Lady Bracknell. Jack takes the opportunity to propose to Gwendolen who accepts him. Lady Bracknell comes in and sends Gwendolen away so that she can take the opportunity of judging Jack's character. When she finds out that Jack was found as a baby in a hand bag at one of London's larger railway stations, she does not approve of his lineage, and forbids the marriage. She leaves poor Jack despondent.
Gwendolen sneaks back in and they make plans to meet at Jack's place in the country. Algernon overhears Jack telling Gwendolen where he lives, and he makes plans to adopt Jack's alias. to be Jack's brother Ernest because he has heard so much about Jack's excessively pretty ward; Cecily. After Jack leaves; Algernon tells his butler to get his travelling clothes together. He is off to see his imaginary invalid.
The act opens with Cecily being tutored by her prim governess; Miss Prism. Miss Prism is mean-spirited and semi-religious. When the local minister arrives who Miss Prism has a secret crush on, Cecily manages to get the celibate couple to go on a walk together so she can avoid her horrid lessons. At that moment, Algernon shows up with a week's worth of luggage pretending to be Jack's wicked brother Ernest. Cecily has loved Ernest ever since she heard stories of his wicked ways, so they quickly fall in love. Cecily tells Algernon, she could only love someone with the name of Ernest. He is astounded by this and asks her what she thinks of the name; Algernon. She says she could not love him if that was his name, so he makes plans to get christened immediately as Ernest.
Jack shows up after Ernest and Cecily have left the stage. He is dressed in black to mourn the death of his imaginary brother Ernest. They console him when Cecily comes out to tell Jack, that Ernest is not dead. He is alive and is in fact visiting. When Jack sees Algernon, he orders him to leave. Cecily manages to get them to shake hands and an uneasy truce descends. When Cecily is alone on stage, Gwendolen shows up to see Jack. They have tea. At first they are cordial, but since Jack has been pretending to be Ernest to Gwendolen and Algernon has been pretending to be Ernest to Cecily, both girls think they are engaged to the same Ernest. They end up the tea scene by being coldly hostile to each other. When the two gentleman arrive onstage, the girls find out that the young men have been both pretending to be the imaginary Ernest. They say that they will only marry Ernest and leave. Algernon and Jack are reduced to eating muffins
The couples reconcile, but then Lady Bracknell shows up. She still refuses to allow Gwendolen to marry Jack but she sees no obstacle to Algernon marrying Cecily because she will inherit a large fortune. Jack forbids his ward from from marrying Algernon unless Lady Bracknell allows Gwendolen to marry Jack. When Lady Bracknell hears that a Miss Prism is part of the household she summons her and it turns out that Miss Prism used to be in her employ, and that Jack was in Miss Prism's care when he was a baby and she had accidentally placed him in a hand bag and forgot him at a railway station where Cecily's kindly grandfather had rescued him and brought him up as his own. It further turns out that Jack is actually Algernon's older brother and his name actually happens to be Ernest.
Everyone then ends up in relative happiness.
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