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G U I D E A TEACHERS GUIDE TO THE SIGNET CLASSICS EDITION OF

THE IMPORTANCE
OF BEING EARNEST
AND OTHER PLAYS
BY OSCAR WILDE
T E A C H E RS

BY LISE KLOEPPEL

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2 A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde

TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION ........................................................................................................................3
SYNOPSIS OF THE PLAY .........................................................................................................3
PREREADING ACTIVITIES .......................................................................................................4
I. THINKING LIKE A DRAMATURGE: BUILDING BACKGROUND
KNOWLEDGE ON THE WRITER, GENRE, AND PERIOD ..................................4
II. THINKING LIKE A DRAMATURGE: BUILDING BACKGROUND
KNOWLEDGE THROUGH INITIAL EXPLORATION OF THEMES ...................8
DURING READING ACTIVITIES.......................................................................................... 11
I. THINKING LIKE A DIRECTOR:
SCRIPT, CHARACTER & THEMATIC ANALYSIS ................................................ 11
II. THINKING LIKE AN ACTOR:
EXPLORING DIALECT AND DIALOGUE ............................................................ 15
AFTER READING ACTIVITIES ............................................................................................. 17
I. DISCUSSION QUESTIONS AND ESSAY TOPICS .......................................... 17
II. PERFORMANCE ACTIVITIES ............................................................................. 18
III. CREATIVE WRITING ACTIVITIES ..................................................................... 18
IV. MEDIA LITERACY ACTIVITIES ......................................................................... 19
V. MAKING CONNECTIONS BETWEEN PLAYS ................................................ 20
ABOUT THE AUTHOR OF THIS GUIDE ........................................................................... 21
ABOUT THE EDITORS OF THIS GUIDE ........................................................................... 21
FREE TEACHERS GUIDES .................................................................................................... 23

Copyright 2012 by Penguin Group (USA)


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A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde 3

INTRODUCTION
Often categorized as a comedy of manners or of The Importance of Being Earnest. Having
satirical farce, The Importance of Being Ear- your students consider the following essential
nest, creates a world that inverts reality questions before, during, or after reading this
where serious themes, such as marriage and play (written over 100 years ago) might help
class struggle, are trivialized and the trivial them find its contemporary relevance: What
aspects of life, such as the amount of sugar in does it mean to be a good person or do the
ones tea, are treated as incredibly serious. right thing? Who decides what is right or
Wilde was considered a proponent of the wrong? When can goodness be viewed as
aesthetics or art for arts sake movement. something negative? For example, what
He believed art should be the ultimate aim of comes to mind when you hear the phrase
any endeavor, and so he elevated the simple do-gooder or goody-two-shoes? How can
act of speech to an Olympic sport by having comedy be used to not only mock but also
his characters compete with one another critique power structures?
through his version of verbal gymnastics. This guide is designed to provide an approach
Many young people already enjoy and appre- to teaching The Importance of Being Earnest
ciate the irony and verbal sparring found in focusing on themes, character analysis, and
popular British comedies, such as Monty drama-based exercises. The before, during,
Python or TV sitcoms such as Keeping Up and after reading instructional activities serve
Appearances. A discussion of British humor to enrich the students experience of the play
can be an entry point for students to begin to and increase their appreciation of the art and
understand the language, period, and artistry craft of theater.

SYNOPSIS OF THE PLAY


Act I begins with John (Jack) Worthing who an infant in a handbag at Victoria Station.
assumes the name of Ernest in the city, visiting Overhearing Jacks invitation for Gwendolen
his fellow bachelor friend Algernon (Algy) to visit his country home, Algy concocts a
Moncrieff at his London flat. It is soon mischievous plan to assume the identity of
revealed that both have been deceiving their Jacks brother Ernest.
relations. Jack has invented a wicked brother In Act II, the setting shifts to Jacks country
named Ernest who conveniently lives in the estate where Cecily Cardew, Jacks young
city and always seems to be getting into trou- ward, is practicing her German under the
ble. This gives Jack an excuse to escape the watch of her governess, Miss Prism. Algy,
routine of his country life. Algy has an imagi- posing as Ernest, arrives and meets Cecily,
nary invalid friend named Bunbury who who immediately confesses her secret love
demands much of this time and allows him to affair with him, as she too has always fanta-
escape unwanted social responsibilities, such sized about marrying a man with the
as dinner parties with his Aunt Augusta. upstanding and respectable name of Ernest.
On this day, Algys cousin and aunt, Gwen- Meanwhile, Gwendolen decides to pay Jack
dolen Fairfax and Lady Bracknell, join the an unexpected visit and meets Cecily where
two men for tea. Jack confesses his love for they both claim to be engaged to the same
Gwendolen and asks her to marry him. She Ernest. The situation becomes even more
accepts his proposal as shes always dreamed ridiculous with Jacks early return home after
of marrying a man with the name Ernest. the sudden death of his brother Ernest. The
Lady Bracknell refuses to support their truth can no longer be kept a secret, and Jack
engagement because of Jacks unknown par- and Algy realize they must confess. Planning
entage and undignified past of being found as a christening with the Dr. Chasuble later in

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4 A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde

the evening, the men will soon be given the train station. In the end, Jack discovers that
name Ernest to satisfy their fiancs desires. he is indeed named Ernest and consequently
is Algys real-life older brother. The play con-
Upon Lady Bracknells arrival, we learn that
cludes with the lovers happily embracing and
twenty years ago Miss Prism was the one
the lessons of the last few days affirming the
responsible for misplacing baby Jack, the son
vital Importance of Being Earnest.
of Lady Bracknells sister, in a handbag at the

PREREADING ACTIVITIES

I. THINKING LIKE fairy tales. Have your students refer to the


A DRAMATURGE: brief chronology of his life on pp. xxxiii-xxxiv.
Ask them what aspects of his life do they find
BUILDING BACKGROUND the most intriguing and why.
KNOWLEDGE ON THE WRITER,
Wilde was famous not only for his literary works
GENRE, AND PERIOD but also for his public persona. During his time,
A dramaturge is a very important member of he was considered a celebrity dandy (a man
the theatrical production team who supports who pays excessive attention to his appear-
the actors, directors, and designers by con- ance). Wilde once said, One should either
ducting in-depth research on the contextual, be a work of art or wear a work of art. Have
literary, and historical aspects of the production. your students visit this website to see pictures
S/he helps the director develop a cohesive of Wildes signature style http://www.toptenz.
concept. Working to contextualize the world net/top-10-quotes-by-oscar-wilde.php. Ask
of the play, the dramaturge acquires a great them to consider the following questions:
deal of background knowledge about the Why was Wilde described as having a flam-
playwright, play, genre, and other influences. boyant personal style? What elements (hat,
jacket, accessories, shoes, etc.) of his clothing
made him unique? Does his clothing remind
WILDE, THE ICON you of any fashion trends seen today?
Known as a playwright, essayist, poet, and
Leading a double life of a husband with two
conversationalist, Oscar Fingal OFlahertie
children and maintaining a secret relation-
Willis Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland, in
ship with Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie), Wilde
1854 and died in Paris, France, in 1900. His
escaped into writing for its personal as well as
father was a doctor who opened a hospital for
financial rewards. Just as he was reaching the
the poor with his own money, and his mother
height of his success with the opening of The
was a well-known revolutionary poet. As a
Importance of Being Earnest, Bosies father, the
young boy, Wilde would sit in on his mothers
Marquess of Queensberry, left a card at Wil-
salon gatherings. Here he would begin to
des club that said he was posing as a som-
develop his artistic sensibilities. As the second
domite (sic). In 1885, homosexuality was
of three children, he would later be devastated
illegal in the UK so this accusation seriously
by the sudden death of his younger sister
affected Wildes reputation, leading him to
from a fever. Attending Trinity College and
accuse Queensberry of libel. In the three
later studying classics at Oxford, Wilde
trials that followed, Wilde was found guilty
excelled at his formal education embarking
of gross indecency and sentenced to two
on a yearlong lecture series on aesthetics in
years of hard labor. During the last five years
the United States. He married Constance
of his life, Wilde lived as a subject of public
Lloyd and had two sons, Cyril & Vyvyan. A
scandal, isolated and in poverty. Read the
versatile writer, he wrote plays but also
Afterword (pp. 189-197) to find more
numerous essays, a novel, The Picture of
information about the play, Gross Indecency:
Dorian Gray, and two collections of childrens

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A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde 5

The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, written in To love oneself is the beginning of a life-
1997 by Moiss Kaufman and also to discover long romance.
how the truth of Wildes real life caused crit- The truth is rarely pure and never simple.
ics to reexamine his literary works. He con- Modern life would be very tedious if it were
tinues to hold a prominent position in the either, and modern literature a complete
queer studies movement for aiding the social impossibility!
construction of homosexuality as a distinct
In matters of grave importance, style, not
identity. Homosexuality wasnt decriminal-
sincerity, is the vital thing.
ized in Britain until 1967.
Have students watch these four short videos
WILDE, THE PLAYWRIGHT
outlining the major turning points in Wildes
life http://www.biography.com/people/oscar- It is, so to speak, a play that is pure play (p.
wilde-9531078. Discuss the following ques- xxvii). In The Importance of Being Earnest,
tions: In what ways is a trial similar to a Wilde built upon the formula of the well-
performance? Can you think of contempo- made play by including mistaken identities,
rary examples of highly visible celebrity trials? romantic conflicts, a final revelation, and a
Why do you think Wilde was publically happy ending. Although he had written more
shamed while he lived but after his death serious plays (read Salom pp. 3-36 as an ear-
would be embraced and elevated to the status lier example), he perfected his dramatic style
of a literary genius and cultural icon? using the genre known as the Comedy of
Manners. Students might read Lady Winder-
meres Fan (pp. 39-105) to see how his high
Wildes Philosophy comedy writing developed. In the tradition
For students to get a better sense of Wildes of Richard Sheridans The School for Scandal,
philosophy, ask them to reflect on some of his Comedy of Manners is described as making
famous quotes found at http://www.cmgww. fun of well-bred, polite high society. The
com/historic/wilde/quotes.htm. Ask students genre is considered high comedy since it pri-
to describe what is ironic or surprising about marily uses language rather than physical
each quote. actions to evoke laughter from the audience.
The genre complemented Wildes life as an
One should never trust a woman who tells
artist who lived among the Victorian elite but
one her real age. A woman who would tell
due to his Irish ancestry would always remain
one that, would tell one anything.
an outsider. The audience essentially paid to
People who count their chickens before laugh at themselves. Direct students to read
they are hatched, act very wisely, because and take Cornell notes (http://coe.jmu.edu/
chickens run about so absurdly that it is learningtoolbox/cornellnotes.html) on the
impossible to count them accurately. Introduction, (pp. xxvi-xxxii) to learn more
The more one analyses people, the more background information about the play.
all reasons for analysis disappear. Sooner Wildes brilliant use of wordplay would later
or later one comes to that dreadful univer- influence other British playwrights, such as
sal thing called human nature. Noel Coward and Tom Stoppard.
Life is much too important a thing ever Have students work in small groups and use
to talk seriously about it. the notes taken on the Introduction to
We are each our own devil, and we make create a flyer or playbill introducing the play.
this world our hell. The flyer could include a representative image
One should always be in love. That is the and three important points gleaned from
reason one should never marry. their reading and three questions which
might be answered in the play.

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6 A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde

Comedy of Manners does a billboard speak? Person C repeats the


question, What language does a billboard
As a class, watch a portion or the entire epi-
speak? Person B delivers the punch line.
sode of the British sitcom Keeping Up
Sign language. Music plays as Person B exits
Appearances. Some of these episodes can be
stage right as the next person enters from the
found on youtube, for example http://www.
opposite side. By now, the students should
youtube.com/watch?v=tyvx_Xgdgr4.
get a sense of how the vaudeville act works.
As students view the program have them use Check to see if anyone has any questions.
the list below to identify common character- Supply appropriate jokes if students cant
istics found in the Comedy of Manners: recall any or youre concerned their jokes may
Witty Dialogue not be appropriate. Discuss boundaries for
appropriate and inappropriate jokes. If
Use of sarcasm or irony needed, give students a few minutes to prac-
Contrived situations tice their jokes out loud and memorize them.
Critiques of society, especially marriage Evenly divide the class into two groups. Have
one half enter from stage right and the other
Portrayals of class differences
should enter from stage left. Depending on
Contrasts between urban and rural the class size and time, each student may go
Ask students to discuss their findings and more than once. Afterwards discuss with
respond to the following questions: What them how important delivery and timing is
moments in the clip were funny? What made to the performance of comedy. Have them
them so? What social classes were repre- identify moments from the exercise that were
sented? How might situational comedies funny and probe them to articulate what
(sitcoms) be considered a modern form of elements made these moments comedic.
the Comedy of Manners genre?
What Makes You Laugh?
Comedic Timing Humor can be very subjective--what some-
Performance Exercise one finds funny another may not. To encour-
Allow students to practice comedic delivery age students to think about what makes
and timing by leading them through the fol- something funny, have them analyze differ-
lowing exercise. Model the sequence of steps ent types of comedic devices by asking them
using three volunteers who will be assigned to bring in examples of something that makes
the letters A, B, and C. Begin by playing them laugh. It might be a clip from a favorite
some upbeat music (you might consider TV show or movie, an excerpt from a book,
using the Benny Hill theme song) as persons or a comic strip. As a class, review different
A and B enter at the same time from opposite devices used in comedy, such as satire, incon-
sides of the stage. Person A enters from stage gruity, slapstick, hyperbole, exaggeration,
right, and Person B enters from stage left. irony, sarcasm, parody, deadpan, puns,
They meet center stage and face front towards double entendre, and repetition. Have them
the audience. Music stops. Person A asks a share their examples with a partner and then
question. (For the model, consider giving identify the comedic devices used.
them the joke.) For example, Why was the
teacher cross-eyed? Person B repeats the Incongruity Game
question, Why was the teacher cross-eyed?
Person A delivers the punch line. Because To help the students understand incongruity,
she couldnt control her pupils. Music plays have them play the improvisation game
as Person A exits stage left and Person C What are you doing? Everyone stands in a
enters from stage right. Music stops and circle. One person begins by doing an every-
Person B asks a question, What language day activity, such as combing her hair. The

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A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde 7

person to her right asks, What are you doing? rationalism of the Georgian period, the Vic-
She then continues to comb her hair but says torian age emphasized appearance in dress
she is doing something completely different, and manners above everything else. This was
such as giving her cat a bath. The person who a time of strict social codes for conduct where
asks must now spontaneously begin to panto- morality substituted for religion. Social and
mime giving a cat a bath. The next person sexual restraint was given high priority in
asks, What are you doing? The game con- public as well as private interactions. The
tinues around the circle until everyone has ruling aristocracy consisted of approximately
had an opportunity to pantomime an activity. three hundred families, but industrialization
As a follow-up to the exercise, ask the students brought about a burgeoning middle class.
to identify the most humorous moments and Increased leisure time and advances in tech-
have them analyze why they were funny. Was nology, such as railways, sewage systems,
it the ridiculousness of hearing and seeing lighting, and heating, created the conditions
two completely incongruous things? Was it of high society. This was also a period of great
the honest and serious commitment of the contradictions as people equated outward
students to the action? Were situations that appearance with inward morality, but social
were more exaggerated or extravagant than issues, such as prostitution, child labor, and
real-life, everyday activities more comical? poverty, were on the rise. After the imple-
mentation of several Reform Acts during the
period, approximately one in five men had
Anticipating the Play
the right to vote. Women would not have the
Before reading the play, consider showing same voting rights as men until 1928. Infor-
your students this 10-minute video that fea- mation available at http://www.victorianweb.
tures highlights from the most recent 2011 org/history/hist2.html.
Broadway production by the Roundabout
Theatre Company: http://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=aBCIwj6cqko&feature=related. KWL Group Research
After viewing the video, discuss the following Presentation
questions with your students: What does the Create a class chart with three columns with
background music convey about the tone of the labels: What I Know, What I Want to
the play? Based on the costumes and character Learn, What I Learned. Engage students in a
accents, where and when do you think the discussion about what they already know
play occurs? Why is a man playing the charac- about 19th century England. Encourage
ter of Lady Bracknell? What does it mean to them to consider other authors of the time,
send up something? Do you agree with the such as Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, or
statement one of the actors makes about wit Charles Darwin. List this information on the
never ages---what was funny 105 years ago is chart. If disagreements arise, suggest listing
funny now? Do you think the clips from the them in the middle column under questions
play are funny? Why or why not? How do you they want to have answered. Then, tell stu-
think the actors prepared for their roles? dents to categorize the information. Provide
an example to model how they might begin
VICTORIAN PERIOD to combine ideas and concepts. Students can
work individually or with a partner. Then,
The Victorian age of British history is defined discuss the categories and arrive at consensus.
by the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901)
when the British Empire ruled one quarter of Working individually, students should
the worlds population and land. This was a develop a list of what they want to learn,
period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibili- generating research areas. In addition to the
ties, and national self-confidence for Britain. topics that interest the students, consider
Marked by a cultural move away from the incorporating the following:

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8 A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde

Courtship and Marriage II. THINKING LIKE


Codes of conduct for men and women A DRAMATURGE: BUILDING
Clothing and Fashion BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE
Education THROUGH INITIAL
Food and Dining EXPLORATION OF THEMES
Professions and Occupations
Divide students into research groups. Assign LIVING LIFE AS ART
each group specific research questions. Have The word aesthetics derives from the Greek
them use the websites provided below as well word for perception and is often referred to
as other available media resources to com- as what is pleasing to the senses or what is
plete the last column, which describes what beautiful. How stimuli, such as art or nature,
they have learned. Each group presents their are perceived is often shaped by personal and
new findings to the class. cultural values. As part of the Aesthetics
The Victorian Web Movement of the time, Wilde reversed the
http://www.victorianweb.org typical view of Art as an imitation of Life and
Peer-reviewed website with primary and sec- thought Life should seek to reflect Art. Ask
ondary texts (including scholarly book student to read Wildes essay The Decay of
reviews) in British Victorian economics, lit- Lying to learn more about the principles of
erature, philosophy, political and social his- his new aesthetics at http://www.victorian-
tory, science, technology, and visual arts web.org/authors/wilde/decay.html. Use the
following prompts to further discuss this
The Dictionary of Victorian London
essay: Wilde states, Things are because we
http://www.victorianlondon.org/
see them, and what we see, and how we see it,
searchframe.html
depends on the Arts that have influenced us.
Archival newspaper articles, advertisements,
In what ways is nature our creation? How
illustrations, letters, and artifacts from the
does Wildes comment that At other times it
Victorian era
[art] entirely anticipates its age, and produces
Victorian Past in one century work that it takes another
http://www.victoriaspast.com/ century to understand, to appreciate and to
Essays, pictures, and quotes about social enjoy relate to the expression an artist
customs related to different rooms in the ahead of his/her time? Can you think of any
home, leisure activities, historical informa- artists past or present who fit this descrip-
tion, and gender differences to name a few of tion? Why might lying, the telling of beauti-
the many categories of research ful untrue things, be the aim of Art?
All Change in the Victorian Age
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/ Values Clarification
victorians/speed_01.shtml
Make two signsone saying, Agree and
An outline of the major changes that hap-
the other Disagree. Hang them on opposite
pened during the Victorian age
ends of the room. Students should picture an
imaginary line between the two signs that
represents a continuum of opinions. Tell
students that you will be reading a values
statement related to aesthetics, and they
should decide where to stand along the line
depending on how strongly they agree or
disagree with the statement. For example,
you might say, I am an artist. If they

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A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde 9

strongly agree with this statement, then they Beauty is


should stand as close as possible to the
Ask students to freewrite starting with the
Agree sign. If they are unsure, then maybe
phrase Beauty is about what they believe
they stand in the middle. Below is a list of
makes something beautiful. Give the students
statements you might use. You may also
a time limit and encourage them to spend the
develop your own statements or ask students
whole time writing. When the time limit is
to create their own based on what they
up, ask the students to underline key words
believe is beautiful or their ideas about art.
or phrases. Have all the students stand and
Encourage a few students to explain why
close their eyes. At the same time, ask them
they chose to stand where they did.
to create a spontaneous frozen image or tab-
Its important for people to appreciate art. leau with their bodies that represents their
Art influences how I see the world. thoughts on beauty. Cue students by saying,
Art can lead a person to truth. One, Two, Three, Freeze! Now ask them to
create an image that represents the opposite
Classical music is the highest form of music. of beauty. On a three-count, have them
Only people with money can afford to see art. seamlessly transition back to their first image
I spend a lot of time on my outward of beauty. Ask the students to respond in
appearance. writing to the following questions: What is
your definition of beauty? What criteria did
Some people dress like a work of art.
you use? Did you include specific people or
Nature is art. things as examples? What experiences or
After the exercise, ask students to discuss what memories were triggered by this exercise?
factors (family background, life experience, How does your definition coincide with your
religion, personality) influence their personal thoughts about art? Invite students who feel
beliefs. Discuss with them or have them comfortable to share with the whole class or
journal about how values around aesthetics in small groups what they wrote.
are shaped by institutions, such as schools,
churches, government, entertainment indus-
try, corporations, and/or museums.
DECEPTION AS A FORM
OF SELF EXPRESSION
Art for Arts Sake
Two Truths and A Lie
Divide students into groups of 3-4. Give
them ten minutes to take pictures using digi- Give students a slip of paper. Ask them to
tal cameras of anything in the classroom. write down two truths and one lie about
Some students interested in drawing may themselves. A tip is to make their lie believ-
wish to quickly sketch a still life of objects in able and try to throw others off with unusual
the room. Encourage them to be as imagina- truths. Have students read aloud what they
tive and creative as possible in their visual wrote while the rest of the class votes on
compositions. After the time has ended, have which one is the lie. To follow-up the exercise,
them choose their top three images. Each ask the students to discuss the following ques-
group can share their images with the rest of tions: What did it feel like to lie? Why do
the class and explain what makes them the people lie? Why is it difficult for some people
most aesthetically appealing. Discuss with to tell the truth? Is it always easy to know the
students: What is the purpose of art? What difference between a lie and the truth? Why?
makes something art? Should art always have In what ways might peoples non-verbal
a purpose or can it simply be? What makes a behaviors indicate whether they are lying or
person an artist? Can anyone be an artist? telling the truth? Is there a time when it
might be necessary to be deceptive in order to
protect yourself or do what you need to do?

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10 A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde

Honesty Survey must ask each of the contestants the same three
questions, such as What would be your dream
Have students brainstorm survey questions
date? If you only had 24 hours to live what
related to lying and honesty. For example, is it
would you do? Why should I pick you? The
okay to lie in order to protect someones feelings?
contestants would answer each question in
Is it okay to exaggerate a story in order to make
character by dropping subtle hints related to
it more interesting? Is it okay to lie about your
their specific trait or quirk. For example, con-
age or lie about being sick in order to take a day
testant ones response to the first question
off work? Is it hard to trust someone who often
might be: Im unconventional in the sense
tells lies? Then, ask them to compile their ques-
that I would rather not go out to eat at a restau-
tions into a survey that can be administrated
rant but would cook a meal for you in my
via http://www.surveymonkey.com/. Have the
home. I have a food allergy. I have to be careful
students forward the survey to as many people
about what I eat. I wouldnt want our date to
as possible. Analyze and discuss the results.
end with us in the emergency room. This one
After reviewing the survey results, discuss time I went on a date and ordered a hamburger
with students: Is there ever a time when a lie with no pickles, but the waiter messed up my
can be justified? Can you think of any time order, and we had to call 9-1-1. After all three
when a small lie might reveal a bigger truth contestants respond to all three questions, then
or when a small lie can lead to a bigger lie? the person asking the questions tries to guess
the unique character traits of the three contes-
tants based on how they responded to the
LOVE AND MARRIAGE
questions. Afterwards, discuss with the stu-
In Wildes satire of English aristocracy, mar- dents: What criteria do they use to determine
riage often has little to do with love and more whether or not someone is suitable dating
to do with achieving or maintaining a certain material? How important is a persons family
social status. Assign students to visit this site background, education level, or occupation
to learn more about marriage during the when it comes to finding a potential mate?
Victorian age: http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/ What social codes exist around dating today?
agunn/teaching/enl3251/vf/pres/ziegenfuss. What are the pros and cons of typical Ameri-
htm. Discuss the reasons why Algernon says, can dating? Are you familiar with any dating
Divorces are made in heaven (p. 112). In rituals from other cultures? How has the
what way has marriage changed or stayed the Internet changed the way people date? Why
same since the Victorian times? Is marriage was dating in Victorian times called courtship?
always about love or pleasure? Can you think
of examples where marriage might be viewed
more like a business transaction? Oral Histories
Have students interview someone they know
who is married. Tell them to ask the inter-
Dating Game Improvisation
viewee how they met their spouse. How long
To get students to contemplate the themes of did they date each other before they got mar-
dating and courtship and also practice their ried? Did they need to get permission from
creative thinking and verbal communication their families? How long was their engage-
skills, have them play the following improvisa- ment? What do they enjoy most about being
tion game. Ask for four volunteers. One stu- married? What do they enjoy least? What
dent leaves the room. The other three are advice would they offer someone who was
assigned specific, usual personality traits or planning to get married? What, in their
quirks. For example, one might be allergic to opinion, makes a good marriage? Students
cucumbers, another aspires to be a radio deejay can work in small groups to compile their
while the third is an extreme pessimist. Then, results in a graphic organizer and then to
the student who left the room returns and discuss their findings with the class.

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A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde 11

ETIQUETTE: unfeeling behavior? How is etiquette used to


RULES OF POLITE SOCIETY maintain social status?

Introductions Charades Parlor Game


Assign students to read Chapter II on Intro- Entertaining friends and family in private
ductions pp. 6-18 from Manners and Rules homes was a favorite pastime of the Victori-
of Good Society, or, Solecisms to be Avoided ans. Many played the popular parlor game,
which can be found by searching for that title Charades, which was played differently from
at Google Books: http://books.google.com/ how we play it today. Assign students to read
bkshp?hl=en&tab=wp pp. 177-179 on Charades in Etiquette of
Good Society by Lady Colin Campbell (1893)
Working in small groups, students should to learn how to play Charades like people did
develop a two-minute scene where three or in the Victorian age. Have students search for
more characters must use the rules of proper the title at Google Books: http://books.
etiquette to introduce themselves to each google.com/bkshp?hl=en&tab=wp
other. Encourage students to use their imagi-
nations in inventing fictitious characters and Have the class play a game of Victorian
settings appropriate to the time period. Stu- Charades and discuss how household games
dents should share their scenes with the class have changed or stayed the same since the
and discuss what they think were the pur- Victorian times. Ask students to share stories
poses of etiquette during that time. Also dis- about social games they play in their homes.
cuss: Does etiquette sometimes mask rude or What is the purpose or value of these games
in social interactions?

DURING READING ACTIVITIES

I. THINKING LIKE A DIRECTOR: the effect. For example, Gwendolen accepting


SCRIPT, CHARACTER & Jacks proposal causes him to decide to kill
off his brother Ernest would be considered
THEMATIC ANALYSIS an event. Encourage students to draw or find
images to serve as visual landmarks for impor-
PLOT THROUGH-LINE MAP tant plot points and use arrows to show how
different events connect. Also get them to
The plot of The Importance of Being Earnest
think about the shape of the line. Is it straight,
becomes the playground on which Wildes
zigzag, or spiral? How can you visually repre-
witty language romps. One of the responsi-
sent the plot twists and turns?
bilities of a director is to make sure the story
of the play is clear. The through-line is what
connects the events of the play to the overall CHARACTER PROFILES
story. It becomes the journey that the audi- The directors job is to tell the story of the
ence travels from the beginning of the play to play as clearly and effectively as possible;
the end. To remain fully engaged, the audi- therefore, s/he must thoroughly understand
ence must be able to follow the path laid out who the characters are and how they relate to
by the playwright. If the audience misses an one another in order to effectively stage and
important piece of information, then they coach the actors. As your students read the
will get lost. As students read the play, have play, have them use the diagram below as a
them map the series of events that move the guide to create character profiles that repre-
story forward. Events occur when something sent different areas of the characters lives
happens that causes or permits something else (home, family, play, and daily routine) and
to happen. An event includes the cause and the people they interact with at those times.

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12 A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde

Example for Cecily:


MISS CECILY CARDEW, age 18

HOME FAMILY
(where she lives, who lives with her) (immediate & extended relations)

The Manor House, Woolton, Calls Jack her uncle out of respect
Hertfordshire Thomas Cardew, deceased grandfather
Lives with guardian, Jack Worthington who adopted Jack as a boy
Schooled by her governess, Miss Prism

PLAY DAY
(what she does in her free time) (activities in her daily routine)

Records her secrets in her diary Waters flowers


Fantasizes about her imaginary Practices German
love affair with Ernest Studies geology, political economy
Writes letters to herself pretending Walks in the country
to be Ernest

CHARACTER COUPLES from key dramatic moments in the plays to


VENN DIAGRAM each group. Have the groups read through the
scene to determine the key visual elements of
There are nine characters in the play. All have the moments, such as the spatial relation-
their match, except for Lady Bracknell. Dis- ships, body positions, and facial expressions.
cuss why Wilde included an odd number of
characters. Have students use Venn diagrams Examples:
to discover the similarities and differences pp. 124 LADY BRACKNELL: In the car-
between the following characters personality, riage, Gwendolen!
hobbies, education, occupation, and back-
pp. 160 JACK: [] However, I will tell you
grounds: Gwendolen & Cecily, Jack & Algy,
quite frankly that I have no brother Ernest. I
Miss Prism & Dr. Chasuble, and Lane &
have no brother at all.
Merriman.
pp. 179 JACK: [] I always told you, Gwen-
dolen, my name was Ernest, didnt I?
GROUP SCULPTURES
Each group should create three frozen pic-
A director must also visually tell the story. tures with their bodies that illustrate the
Before beginning rehearsals, a director typi- before, during, and after actions connected to
cally blocks the show by determining where their quote. Then, each group shares their
and how the actors will move on stage and images as the class interprets them. This is less
what visual images they will leave in the audi- about playing charades (although the stu-
ences mind. Use this activity to encourage the dents should read their quotes afterward) and
students to visualize the action of the play as more about prompting the students to make
they are reading it. Divide students into meaning from visual pictures and begin to see
groups of 4-5 students. Pass out one quote how visual images tell stories.

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A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde 13

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS Victorian ideals of decorum from this


statement (p. 117)?
A good director knows how to ask and
respond to questions. Invite students to 10) In what ways do Algernon and Jacks
develop their own list of discussion ques- views about love and marriage differ? Use
tions. Encourage them to include a variety of specific lines from the script to support
comprehension and evaluative questions. your ideas.
Here are some to consider: 11) Based on Lady Bracknell and Algernons
first exchange, what do we learn about
Act I Lady Bracknells character? What role do
you predict shell play in the story (p. 118)?
1) What does Algernon mean when he says,
I keep science for Life and later con- 12) What kind of relationship do you think
nects this idea to Lane preparing the Lady Bracknell has with her husband?
cucumber sandwiches for Lady Bracknell 13) How do we know Algernon and Jack are
(p. 109)? close friends? Can you think of a similar
2) What do we learn about Algernons rela- exchange youve had with a good friend?
tionship with his servant Lane from their 14) What evidence from the script tells us
conversation about marriage? that the setting for the play is late-Victo-
3) In the world of the play, how do expecta- rian England?
tions related to moral responsibility 15) How does Lady Bracknells question
relate to social class differences? Why is about whether Jack was born in the
this humorous (p. 110)? purple of commerce or the ranks of
4) Algernon says, The very essence of the aristocracy reflect on the social
romance is uncertainty. If ever I get mar- structure of the upper class in Victorian
ried, Ill certainly try to forget the fact (p. England (p. 126)?
111). How does this statement critique 16) Explain the absurdity of Jacks romantic
Victorian attitudes toward marriage? origin (p. 132).
5) Oh! it is absurd to have a hard-and-fast 17) Why does Lady Bracknell not consider
rule about what one should read and Jack an eligible husband for Gwendolen?
what one shouldnt. More than half of
modern culture depends on what one 18) Why does Jack find it necessary to kill
shouldnt read (p. 113). What is Wilde his brother Ernest?
saying about modern culture? 19) Which character do you think most rep-
6) Why does Jack establish two different resents the voice of the playwright? Why?
identities for himselfone for the coun- Provide evidence to support your claim.
try and another for the city? 20) Identify moments in Act I when Wilde
7) Why does Jack initially lie about his utilizes irony as a comedic device.
relationship to Cecily? What does his
decision to lie say about his attitude Act II
toward Algernon?
1) What does Cecily mean when she
8) What is a Bunburyist (pp. 115-117)? describes her Uncle Jack as being very
Why does Algernon find it necessary to serious (p. 134)?
be one?
How does her definition of seriousness
9) Why does Algernon consider a woman differ from Miss Prism? In what ways
who flirts with her husband in public might their ages affect their views on the
scandalous? What do we learn about subject?

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14 A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde

2) In Act I, Jack says, Cecily is not a silly, 14) Why do Gwendolen and Cecily want to
romantic girl (p. 130). Do you think his marry an Ernest?
description is accurate? Why or why not?
15) What is Wildes view towards formal
3) What can you infer about Miss Prism education?
when she corrects Dr. Chasuble upon
16) Why do Cecily and Gwendolen keep
being called Egeria and reminds him
diaries? Whats the purpose of a diary for
that her name is Laetitia (p. 136)?
young women during this time?
4) What new perspectives do Miss Prism
17) How does Gwendolens assessment of her
and Dr. Chasuble bring to the play?
fathers status within his family stand in
5) What is Miss Prisms attitude toward the contrast to conventional Victorian
practices of the Primitive Church? What notions of gender?
does her attitude reveal about her rela-
18) How does the scene between Cecily and
tionship with Dr. Chasuble (p. 140)?
Gwendolen on pp. 156-158 exemplify
6) Compare and contrast Miss Prism and the Comedy of Manners genre?
Lady Bracknell. What factors have
19) After Jack and Algernons lies are revealed,
shaped their values?
how does Wilde use triviality to keep the
7) What is Miss Prism referring to when she play from becoming too serious?
says, I have often spoken to the poorer
20) Is it completely absurd for Jack and
classes on the subject [christenings]. But
Algernon to change their names to Ernest
they dont seem to know what thrift is (p.
in order for Gwendolen and Cecily to
142)? What does her comment reveal
marry them? Can you think of other
about her attitudes toward the lower class?
changes (i.e. religion, occupation, resi-
8) What is the significance of a christening? dence) individuals living in contempo-
Why are people often christened at birth? rary society might make to be a suitable
9) Responding to Jacks comment about him mate for their intended partner?
being overdressed, Algernon says, If I am
occasionally a little over-dressed, I make Act III
up for it by being always immensely over-
1) What effect does Lady Bracknells appear-
educated(p. 147). Algenons character
ance have on the newly reconciled lovers?
might be described as a dandy--a person
for whom appearance is of the upmost 2) How does Jack convince Lady Bracknell
importance. How does Algernons com- that Cecily is a suitable wife for her
ment reflect Wildes views on aesthetics? nephew Algernon?
10) In what ways is Cecilys personality dif- 3) How is Lady Bracknells monologue
ferent from Gwendolens? reacting to Cecilys inheritance a way of
Wilde mocking the hypocrisy of Victo-
11) Why does Cecily say she was engaged to
rian society (p. 169)?
Ernest (Algernon) before she ever met
him in person? 4) What is ironic about Lady Bracknell
saying, To speak frankly, I am not in
12) How does Cecilys diary mirror Jacks
favor of long engagements. They give
brother and Algernons invalid friend?
people the opportunity of finding out
13) What is humorous about Algernons line each others character before marriage,
Half of the chaps who get into the which I think is never advisable (p. 171)?
Bankruptcy Court are called Algernon
5) How does exaggeration contribute to the
(p. 151)?
humor in the discussion of Algernons
engagement to Cecily?

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A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde 15

6) After Jack learns the truth of his birth, he States, actors performing in an Oscar Wilde
excitedly embraces Miss Prism and com- play would typically use whats called Received
ments on the double standards between Pronunciation (RP) or BBC English, which is
men and women. What statement, if any, considered the standard British dialect.
do you think Wilde is trying to make Watch with your students this scene from Act
about gender inequalities? I between Gwendolen and Jack from the
7) What do we learn about Jacks birth father? most recent film version of the play: http://
www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZK9pY1dA7
8) At the end of the play, Jack says to Gwendo-
4&list=PLCBBFDF3132ED186A&index=2
len, it is a terrible thing for a man to find
&feature=plpp_video
out suddenly that all his life he has been
speaking nothing but the truth. Can you Students can take notes on what produces a
forgive me? She replies, I can. For I feel British dialect. They should pay attention to
sure that you are sure to change (p. 179). variations in pitch, different vowel and con-
What is Wildes opinion about honesty? sonant pronunciations, and the way the
actors form the words with their mouths.
9) What does Lady Bracknell mean when
They can also listen to an example from the
she tells Algernon that he seems to be
BBC news broadcast http://www.bbc.co.uk/
displaying signs of triviality (p. 180)?
news/world/. Ask the students to consider
10) Rank the characters in order from most how BBC English is different from American
to least earnest or moral. What are the English. What vocal adjustments, such as
standards on which you have based your phonetic substitutions, sound placement,
rankings? and pitch, produce this distinct dialect? For
11) Why does Wilde title the play The further study and practice on dialects, have
Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial students visit the following websites to learn
Comedy for Serious People? how to speak with a standard British dialect:
http://www.videojug.com/film/how-to-do-a-
british-accent

II. THINKING LIKE AN ACTOR: http://www.wikihow.com/Speak-in-a-Brit-


ish-Accent
EXPLORING DIALECT
AND DIALOGUE
VERBAL PING PONG
W.H. Auden once said that The Importance of
Being Earnest is the only pure verbal opera in To appreciate the seemingly spontaneous,
English because Wilde subordinates every quick wit of Wildes writing, students can
other dramatic element to dialogue for its play the improvisation game Questions.
own sake and creates a verbal universe in Working in pairs, they should have a conver-
which the characters are determined by the sation only using questions. Give them a
kinds of things they say, and the plot is noth- theme for their conversation. For example, if
ing but a succession of opportunities to say the theme is basketball, Person A would say,
them. (An Improbable Life, review of The Have you ever played basketball? Person B
Letters of Oscar Wilde (editor, Rupert Hart- would respond, Why would I want to play a
Davis) in The New Yorker, (9 March 1963)) sport that involves so much running? Person
A: Do you prefer watching basketball?
Person B: Did you know the Chicago Bulls
BRITISH DIALECT won the game last night? Coach students to
Although there is no such thing as a single have a real conversation without repeating
British dialect since there are as many dialects questions or changing the subject. The game
spoken in Great Britain as in the United ends when one person can no longer think of

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16 A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde

a question or forgets to answer with a ques- The suspense is terrible. I hope it will
tion. Discuss what happened as they played last (p. 177).
the game. Did you find it easy or difficult?
How humorous were your conversations? CHARACTER ANALYSIS
How might this game help you understand
the pace of Wildes dialogue? The acting teacher Robert Cohen encourages
actors to use an approach to character analy-
sis that he calls GOTE, which stands for
BODY AND VOICE CONNECTION Goal, Other, Tactics, and Expectation. Stu-
Watch this clip from Inside the Actors dents can create their own GOTEsheets
Studio featuring Colin Firth, a popular based on a character from the play. They
actor from the UK: http://www.youtube. should answer the questions as the character
com/watch?v=BLuPsnwgfv8&feature=rela would. Heres an example of a GOTEsheet
ted. He talks about his training and how the for Algernon in the first scene of the play.
language of a script affects his movements. 1. Basic information about the character
Working in pairs, ask the students to stand
up and take turns speaking the following Name: Algernon
lines of dialogue to each other. They should Sex: Male
have fun exploring extravagant ways of using Age: late twenties
their voices by changing their inflection or Marital status and history: single;
emphasizing different words to vary the eligible bachelor
meaning. Tell them to let their faces and Educational level: university
bodies be affected by their voices and feel free Economic/social status: upper class;
to add gestures and movements to fully aristocracy
embody the words. 2. Goal: What do I really want? When do I
It is very vulgar to talk like a dentist want it? I want Jack to tell me the truth
when one isnt a dentist. It produces a about his identity this very instant.
false impression (p. 115). 3. Other: From whom do I want it? Why?
The amount of women in London who I want it from Jack because I hate when
flirt with their own husbands is perfectly people lie to me although I love the
scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply excitement.
washing ones clean linen in public (p. 4. Tactics: How can I get it? I can get it by
117). interrogating him, drilling him with
may I ask, Mr. Worthing, who is that questions until he cracks, mocking him,
young person whose hand my nephew and enticing him to join the Bunbury
Algernon is now holding in what seems to club.
me a peculiarly unnecessary manner? (p. 5. Expectation: Why do I expect to get it?
168). Why does it excite me? What will I do when
I hate waiting even five minutes for any- I get it? I expect to get it because I get
body. It always makes me rather cross. I everything I want. I actually love lying. It
am not punctual myself, I know, but I do makes life exciting. Almost like a game.
like punctuality in others, and waiting, Once I learn the truth I will congratulate
even to be married, is quite out of the my friend for giving me such a pleasur-
question (p. 173). able experience.
If you are not too long, I will wait here
for you all my life (p. 176).

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A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde 17

AFTER READING ACTIVITIES


After reading the play, students are ready to make Deception
connections and engage in activities that deepen
What is the significance of the notion of
their understanding and appreciation of the plays
being earnest for the play?
themes and Oscar Wildes unique perspective.
What is the importance of being trivial
within the play?
I. DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
AND ESSAY TOPICS How does Cecily create reality? What is the
connection between reality and writing?
The following topics and questions can be
used for essay topics, whole class, or small
group discussions. Social Status
What do the main characters think about
Character Profiles the lower classes?

If students created character profiles as one of What is the correlation between bun-
their during-reading activities, ask them to burying and wearing social masks?
reference the profiles as they respond to the How does the play challenge conven-
following prompts. tional notions of sex and gender and
Compare and contrast Jack and Algernon, public and private spheres?
Gwendolen and Cecily, Lady Bracknell and To what extent is Gwendolen a typical
Ms. Prism. How does this parallel structure Victorian lady? To what extent does she
relate to the themes of the play? not fulfill typical Victorian standards and
What significance do names and acts of requirements for being a lady?
naming or christening hold within the
play? What do their names reveal about Love and Marriage
their personalities and backgrounds?
What attitudes toward marriage do
What relationship, if any, do the charac- Algernon and Lady Bracknell represent?
ters have to the natural world? Whats the
significance of setting Act I in the city In what ways are the plays values about
and Act II and III in the country? love and marriage similar to or different
from todays values?

Aesthetics
Etiquette and Victorian Society
In what ways could the characters as
individuals be considered works of art? How does Wildes tone and style help
reinforce his critical perspective on social
To what extent does the play champion class in Victorian England?
the principles of the Aesthetic Movement?
In what ways does Wilde attack Victorian
After reviewing the first production, George values? In what ways does he uphold them?
Bernard Shaw commented that the play
was rib-tickling but lacking in human- What is Wildes attitude toward the Vic-
ity (p. xxvii). Do you agree or disagree with torian preoccupation with philanthropy?
Shaws criticism? Does all art need a purpose Why is the play considered a Comedy of
or can it simply exist for its own sake? Manners? What elements of this literary
Identify specific ironic moments from the genre are included in the play?
play. What effect do these instances of
irony have on the reader?

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18 A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde

II. PERFORMANCE ACTIVITIES To assist them in their writing, encourage


them to use a four-part structure. The first
part is stasis or what life is like every day.
SCENE WORK Then, the event happens that makes this day
Students can rehearse and perform short different from every other one. Next is the
scenes from the play for each other. Here are resolution or how successfully or unsuccess-
a few key scenes you might use: fully the event was handled. Lastly, end the
monologue with what life was like from that
Algernon and Jack pp. 128-131
day on. Exaggeration should be encouraged.
Algernon and Cecily pp. 138-140 Afterwards discuss with students what com-
Jack, Miss Prism, Dr. Chasuble pp. 141-143 monalities existed between the monologues.
Cecily and Gwendolen pp. 152-156 How does an overemphasis on the trivial help
people realize what things really matter in life?
Jack and Lady Bracknell pp. 168-170
Students might consider playing characters of
the opposite gender as a man has often per- III. CREATIVE WRITING
formed the role of Lady Bracknell. Here are a ACTIVITIES
few tips for the students to keep in mind:
Read the scene out loud several times to WORDPLAY
hear and feel the rhythm of the language.
Learn the lines exactly as written. Wildisms
Imagine all the details of the setting. Prac- Create a list of witty paradoxes and epigrams
tice using all Wildes stage directions from the play. Discuss what function they
eating sandwiches or taking off gloves. serve. Tell the student to imagine theyve
Repetition of the lines helps you make it been hired by a marketing firm to create the
seem as if youve been speaking this way Oscar Wilde brand. Decide what type of
your entire life. merchandise matches with each phrase and
Believe in the absolute sincerity of the develop slogans and marketing strategies. For
lines. Remember to play the lines as seri- example, Bunbury Cologne--for the man
ously as possible rather than playing for who seeks adventure. The epigram The old
the laugh. fashioned respect for the young is fast dying
out. Whatever influence I ever had over
Imagine your acting partner and the audi-
Mamma, I lost at the age of three could be
ence are inferior to you in every way.
on a phrase on a greeting card next to a pic-
Maintain your superior status by moving ture of a small child pouting.
and speaking as politely and carefully as
possible.
Bunburying Diary
SERIOUSLY TRIVIAL As a class listen to the LA Theatre Works
MONOLOGUE audio recording of the scene between Alger-
non and Jack where he explains what Bun-
Throughout the play, the characters trivialize burying means: http://www.youtube.com/
serious issues, such as marriage or death, and watch?v=l6DkzntEyiM. Ask students to
treat trivial things, such as eating muffins, write out their own definition of Bunbury-
very seriously. For this activity, students will ing. Cecilys fantastical diary entries may
identify a trivial event, such as the how much also make her a member of the Bunburying
milk is left in the refrigerator, and write and club. Have students invent a double life to
perform a monologue as if this were the most explain their absence from something they
serious thing that has ever happened to them. would rather not do. Ask them to write sev-

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A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde 19

eral entries in their imaginary diary that IV. MEDIA LITERACY ACTIVITIES
records their Bunburying activities. Heres a
sample entry:
CULTURE JAMMING
Bunburying is the act of avoiding responsi-
bilities by claiming obligations to a fictitious The play critiques Victorian society. Discuss
person. with your students similarities and differences
between the Victorian era and today. Encour-
My Bunbury is my visually impaired, yet age them to practice a contemporary form of
socially active grandmother. Today my nice, cultural critique known as culture jamming,
yet slightly annoying, neighbors asked if I which is a subversive art form that unmasks
might pet sit their six ferrets next week while the lies often found in the media and attempts
they go out of town for a camping trip. to expose a deeper truth in order to encour-
Although I want to be a good neighbor, I age viewers to be more conscious and critical
think grandmother may have a reunion of what they are consuming. Have students
planned with her old square dancing club. learn more about culture jamming by visiting
Looks like Im going to have to drive her the University of Washingtons Center for
again. Ive been wanting to go to the beach so Communication & Civic Engagement web-
maybe her reunion is in Tampa Bay, FL. Yes, site http://depts.washington.edu/ccce/pol-
that sounds like a good plan. Get ready to commcampaigns/CultureJamming.htm.
pack your bags, grandma! Students can create their own culture jams
based on issues they feel are important. After
Wilde Love Advice Column they share their projects, help the students
connect this experience back to the themes of
Writing as one of the characters in the play, the play by making connections between the
students can compose a letter to the Wild(e) role of art and social criticism.
Love advice column seeking counsel on a
love-related issue. After everyone writes a
letter, then the letters should be redistributed. EARNESTNESS PUBLIC SERVICE
Students should read the letter they received ANNOUNCEMENT (PSA)
and then respond to it in character as Oscar
Public Service Announcements are similar to
Wilde. For closure, each person gets their
commercials except the purpose is to educate
original letter and reads it aloud in small
viewers about an issue rather than sell a
groups or to the whole class.
product. Assign students the task of develop-
ing a one-minute PSA that demonstrates the
Wilde Review importance of being earnest. In small groups,
they should first brainstorm why they believe
As a member of the Aesthetic Movement,
its important to be earnest. Then, they can
Oscar Wilde was a strong critic of art. Ask
develop a script by answering the following
students to write a review of a movie or play
questions: Who is your target audience, i.e.
theyve seen recently. Have them use Wildes
parents, children, general public, or politi-
views on art as guidelines. Consider having
cians? Whats your message? In one sentence,
them read Wildes essay The Critic as Artist
what do you want your audience to remem-
h t t p : / / w w w. o n l i n e - l i t e r a t u r e . c o m /
ber? What story or action will you communi-
wilde/1305/ before writing their reviews to
cate? What characters are there, if any? What
learn more about Wildes philosophy.
dialogue is there? Where does the PSA take
place? What persuasive techniques (scare
tactic, testimonial, re-enactment, symbolism,
humor) will you use? What tag line do you
want to use? When thinking about your tag-
line, keep in mind what you want your

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20 A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde

audience to take away. What techniques (still Literature Circle Roles:


images with narration, monologue, dialogue,
Discussion Director writes specific com-
movement/dance, song/music) will you use
prehensive and evaluative questions for
to create your PSA? Finally, they should
each act that prompt thoughtful discussion.
shoot and edit their videos for screening.
Connection Maker pays particular atten-
tion to the moments in the play that are
V. MAKING CONNECTIONS similar to ones in The Importance of Being
BETWEEN PLAYS Earnest and/or to contemporary society.
Summarizer prepares a synopsis of each act
OTHER WILDE PLAYS and a brief description of each character.
Students can read the other two plays in the Word Wizard creates a glossary of
Signet Classics editionSalom and Lady unusual terms or jargon.
Windermeres Fan. Ask them to discuss or Key Scene Finder generates a list and
write essays on the following questions: In brief description of key scenes pertinent
what ways does the play comment on moral- to the play that best represent the play-
ity? How are the themes of triviality and wrights tone and style.
seriousness similar or different from The As a post-reading response activity, each
Importance of Being Earnest? What roles do group will prepare a dramatic reading or
women and men play? Were these conven- performance of one of the key scenes they
tional or unconventional for the time? select that illustrates a theme of the play.

COMEDY OF MANNERS FILM-VERSIONS OF THE PLAY


LITERATURE CIRCLES Here is a list of films based on the play. Some
Have students participate in literature circles youtube clips are available. Choose the same
on other plays belonging to the Comedy of scene from two or three film versions. Show
Manners genre. First you will give a brief the clips to your students and ask them to
description or booktalk on each of the consider how different directorial and design
plays you select. Then group students accord- choices influence the audiences experience of
ing to their choices. They will choose specific the scene. Discuss with your students how
roles, outlined below, for the literature circle. the different versions are similar to or differ-
ent from how they pictured the scenes in
Comedies of Manners:
their minds and how the experience of
Twelfth Night, The Comedy of Errors, watching a film-version of a play is different
Much Ado About Nothing by William from seeing live actors perform the play.
Shakespeare (1600s)
The Importance of Being Earnest
She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Gold-
Dir. Anthony Asquith. British Filmmakers:
smith (1773)
1952
The School for Scandal by Richard Sheri-
Dir. Stuart Burge. BBC: 1986.
dan (1777)
Dir. Kurt Baker. Electric Concepts: 1992.
Man and Superman by George Bernard
Shaw (1903) Dir. Oliver Parker: Miramax Films: 2002.
Private Lives by Noel Coward (1930) The Making of the 2002 film
The Homecoming by Harold Pinter (1964) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ccqJ
YBT1uM&feature=related
As Bees in Honey Drown by Douglas
Carter Beane (1997) Dirs. Brian Bedford & David Stern:
All Mobile Video: 2011.

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A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde 21

ABOUT THE AUTHOR OF THIS GUIDE


LISE KLOEPPEL is an Assistant Professor and community cultural development. She
of Drama at the University of North Carolina received her MFA in Theater for Youth from
Asheville. In addition to coordinating the Arizona State University and is K-12 Theater
K-12 Theater Arts Licensure Program, she Arts licensed in the state of North Carolina.
teaches courses in acting, theater education,

ABOUT THE EDITORS OF THIS GUIDE


JEANNE M. McGLINN, Professor in the JAMES E. MCGLINN, Professor Emeritus
Department of Education at the University of of Education at the University of North Caro-
North Carolina at Asheville, teaches Chil- lina at Asheville, has taught high school Eng-
drens and Adolescent Literature and directs lish and developmental reading at all levels,
the field experiences of 9-12 English licensure elementary through adult. His research inter-
candidates. She serves on various editorial ests focus on motivating and increasing the
and professional boards and is the president reading achievement of students in high
of the Language Experience Special Interest school and college. He is the author and
Group of the International Reading Associa- editor of numerous Penguin Teachers Guides.
tion and editor of its on-line journal. She has
written extensively in the area of adolescent
literature, including numerous teachers
guides and a critical book on the historical
fiction of adolescent writer Ann Rinaldi for
Scarecrow Press Young Adult Writers series.

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22 A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde

NOTES

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A Teachers Guide to The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde 23

FREE TEACHERS GUIDES

G U I D E

D E
A TEACHERS GUIDE
TO THE SIGNET
CLASSICS EDITIO

THE IMPORT
N OF

OF BEING EA ANCE

G U I D E
D E

TION OF A TEACHE

AND OTHE RNEST


EDI RS GUI
CLASSICS

G U I
NET DE TO THE
THE SIG
SIR G
SIGNET

BY OSCAR WIL R PL AY S
DE TO CLASSICS

THE GRAWAIN AND


RS GUI TO EDITION
A TEACHE A TEACHERS GUIDE OF

EMMA LP TT DE
THE HE
G U I

STEN EEN KN
BY JA
NE AU HRYN STOCKE
BY KAT IGHT

E RS

RS
E RS
RS

C H E
T E A C H
C H E

T E A C H

T E A
T E A

BY LISE KLOEPPE
L BY KE
LLI Mc
SELF CALL
CALL SELF
BY KE
LLI Mc MCGLINN
BY JEANNE M.

A full list of Teachers Guides and


Teachers Guides for the Signet Classic Shakespeare Series is available
on Penguins website at: us.penguingroup.com/tguides
TEACHERS GUIDES
Adventures of The Fountainhead My ntonia Redwall
Huckleberry Finn Frankenstein A Narrative of the Life The Scarlet Letter
Animal Farm The Grapes of Wrath of Frederick Douglass, The Scarlet Pimpernel
Anthem An American Slave
Great Expectations The Secret Life of Bees
Atlas Shrugged Nectar in a Sieve
Heart of Darkness Silas Marner
The Awakening 1984
The Help Sir Gawain and
Beowulf The Odyssey the Green Knight
The Importance
The Call of the Wild of Being Earnest Of Mice and Men Sophocles:
Cannery Row and Other Plays One Day in the Life The Complete Plays
Incidents in the of Ivan Denisovich A Streetcar Named Desire
Chekhovs Major Plays
Life of a Slave Girl The Pact A Tale of Two Cities
City of God
Jane Eyre The Pearl A Thousand Splendid Suns
The Country of the Pointed
Firs and Other Stories A Journey to the Center Persuasion The Time Machine
of the Earth The Phantom
The Crucible Treasure Island
The Jungle of the Opera
Dear Zoe Two Years Before the Mast
The Kite Runner Poems by Robert Frost
Death of a Salesman Up from Slavery
Listening is an Act of Love Pride and Prejudice
Doctor Faustus The Wal-Mart Effect
Looking Backward The Prince and the Pauper
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Washington Square
Lysistrata Pygmalion
A Dolls House We the Living
Main Street Ragged Dick
Dubliners The Women of
The Mousetrap A Raisin in the Sun Brewster Place
Emma and Other Plays The Red Pony Wuthering Heights
Ethan Frome
TEACHERS GUIDES FOR THE SIGNET CLASSIC SHAKESPEARE SERIES
Antony and Cleopatra Julius Caesar A Midsummer Richard III
As You Like It King Lear Nights Dream Romeo and Juliet
Hamlet Macbeth The Merchant of Venice The Taming of the Shrew
Henry IV Part I Measure for Measure Much Ado About Nothing The Tempest
Henry V Othello Twelfth Night

New Titles

DR Wilde Earnest TG 100912a.indd 23 10/24/12 4:56 PM


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