Today's First Lines will be spent looking at the opening page of Oscar Wilde's most famous play, The Importance of Being Earnest. I've been reading through it in preparation for my directorial debut at my alma mater. Although An Ideal Husband is my favorite of Wilde's plays, The Importance of Being Earnest is perhaps the most memorable because most of the lines are famous zingers and brilliant satire.
Morning-room in Algernon’s flat in Half-Moon Street. The room is luxuriously and artistically furnished. The sound of a piano is heard in the adjoining room.
[Lane is arranging afternoon tea on the table, and after the music has ceased, Algernon enters.]
Algernon. Did you hear what I was playing, Lane?
Lane. I didn’t think it polite to listen, sir.
Algernon. I’m sorry for that, for your sake. I don’t play accurately—any one can play accurately—but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life.
Lane. Yes, sir.
Algernon. And, speaking of the science of Life, have you got the cucumber sandwiches cut for Lady Bracknell?
Lane. Yes, sir. [Hands them on a salver.]
Algernon. [Inspects them, takes two, and sits down on the sofa.] Oh!… by the way, Lane, I see from your book that on Thursday night, when Lord Shoreman and Mr. Worthing were dining with me, eight bottles of champagne are entered as having been consumed.
Lane. Yes, sir; eight bottles and a pint.
Algernon. Why is it that at a bachelor’s establishment the servants invariably drink the champagne? I ask merely for information.
Lane. I attribute it to the superior quality of the wine, sir. I have often observed that in married households the champagne is rarely of a first-rate brand.
Algernon. Good heavens! Is marriage so demoralising as that?
Lane. I believe it IS a very pleasant state, sir. I have had very little experience of it myself up to the present. I have only been married once. That was in consequence of a misunderstanding between myself and a young person.
Algernon. [Languidly.] I don’t know that I am much interested in your family life, Lane.
Lane. No, sir; it is not a very interesting subject. I never think of it myself.
Algernon. Very natural, I am sure. That will do, Lane, thank you.
Lane. Thank you, sir. [Lane goes out.]
Isn't that magnificent?
Reasons to keep reading:
1. Algernon. He is my favorite character.
2. Even the butler has hilarious lines! "I didn't think it polite to listen, sir..."
3. Who is Lady Bracknell?
4. Is this play going to be about matrimony?
5. What will happen next (with brilliant dialogue)??
Have you ever read a play? Did you like the format, or was it harder to read? Do you have a favorite play? Have you ever read Oscar Wilde's novel (The Picture of Dorian Grey) or his stories for children?