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The Way of the World

In: English and Literature

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Masaryk University
Faculty of Arts

Department of English and American Studies

English Language and Literature

Lenka Drbalová

Comedy of Manners:
William Congreve and Oscar Wilde
Bachelor’s Diploma Thesis

Supervisor: prof. Mgr. Milada Franková, CSc., M.A.

2014

I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently, using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.
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Author’s signature

Acknowledgement
I would like to thank prof. Mgr Franková , CSc., M.A. and PhDr. Věra Pálenská, CSc. for their guidance, advice and kind encouragement.
Table of Contents
Preface ...............................................................................................2
Introduction ......................................................................................3

Chapter I – The Way of the World
1.1 In General ..................................................................................8
1.2 True Wit and False Wit ............................................................9
1.3 Courtship and Love .................................................................14
1.4 Invention vs. Reality ................................................................18

Chapter II – The Importance of Being Earnest
2.1 In General ................................................................................22
2.2 True Wit and False Wit ..........................................................23
2.3 Courtship and Love ................................................................28
2.4 Invention vs. Reality ...............................................................32

Conclusion .....................................................................................36
Résumé ...........................................................................................40
Notes ...............................................................................................41
Works Cited....................................................................................44

Preface
The comedy of manners is a genre which, since its beginnings in the Restoration comedy, enjoyed much attention from both the writers and the audience. Its reputation however suffered at times from accusations of many critics, who condemned it as being improper, shallow and immoral. However, it reflects various tendencies permeating the society in which it was created, be it the Restoration society or the one during the late Victorian period, as those saw the creation of the plays discussed in the thesis. They thus serve as a testament of not only what the authors created, but additionally, what the audience wished to see.
The aim of the thesis is to explore the origins of the genre and highlight how it contributed to theatrical environment as a whole. In addition it analyses two plays of the comedy of manners, both from a different period, which illustrate how the genre evolved and to what ideas it subscribed.
The thesis consists of an introduction, which focuses on the foundation of the comedy of manners and elaborates on the atmosphere in which those plays were created to ultimately provide basis for understanding the two plays discussed in the following chapters. The main part of the thesis consists of a study of two plays: The Way of the World (1700) by William Congreve (1670-1729) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), which both bear elements of the genre of the comedy of manners. The attention is paid to the notion of wit, which is a crucial aspect in understanding the plays, to the process of courtship and finally, it discusses to what degree the plays reflect the existing world in which they were created or whether they are a mere artistic invention.

Introduction
Restoration Comedy of Manners
For this part of the thesis the studied materials consist of The Comedy of Manners by John Palmer, The History of Restoration Drama by Allardyce Nicoll and English Drama: Restoration and Eighteenth Century, 1660-1789 by Richard W. Bevis. Each of them presents the genre from a slightly different angle, focusing on the critical reception, the audience or the changes regarding the architecture of the theatres. Together they offer a complex overview of the Restoration comedy as a genre and create foundation for understanding the plays discussed in the thesis.
The beginnings of the genre trace back to the Restoration period. As Palmer writes: “The English comedy of manners began with Etherege, rose to perfection in Congreve, declined with Vanbrugh and Farquhar and was extinguished in Sheridan and Goldsmith” (Palmer 2). It presents a unique explosion of wit, social satire and mannerism that lasted from 1660, when Charles II was restored to the English throne, and reached its peak with Congreve’s masterpiece The Way of the World, performed for the first time in 1700. Beginnings of the Restoration comedy were based on “the comic tradition of Jacobean and Caroline drama, which gave it an earthly grounding [and it] acquired its elegance and polish from French influences, notably Molière” (Thomas 16-17). French and Italian performances that were staged in London also introduced new elements of stage tricks or stage character to the English playwrights. Altogether, the Restoration period served as a melting pot, where old ideas met with the new ones and created a different and unique theatrical environment.
Such progression was partially possible due to the fact that it was “drama of a small and selected few” (Nicoll 4), and therefore the theatres profoundly depended on the lasting favour of a limited audience, which essentially constituted “infinitesimal portion of one town in the whole Britain” (Nicoll 4). Nicoll presents an account of typical theatre goers, who were: courtiers and their satellites, the noblemen in the pits, the fops and beaux and wits and would-be-wits who hung on to their society, the women of the court, deprived and licentious as the men, the contesans [... ] (8).
The theatre was for and about the small upper-class and as a consequence the relationship between the audience and the theatre was a very close one as the theatre kept adjusting to its tastes and interests.
To please such audience a constant change in the programme was crucial to fill the theatres. Nicoll mentions that no play “could count on a run of over a few days” (26). This did not solely create a great thirst for new plays, but it was also extremely challenging for the actors as they had to memorize a great amount of lines in short time. In addition, actors also became public personas and were familiar to both the dramatists and the audience and as a consequence tended to be typecast, thus strengthening the establishment of “stock characters” that are typical for this period. Nicoll mentions an actor Sanford, who was so well known for his brilliance in the portrayal of evil characters that the audience would not accept him in any different role and demanded to see him as they were accustomed to (Nicoll 64).
In addition, the Restoration theatre introduced actresses on the stage for the first time; however, they did not enjoy high social status and were not ranked much higher than prostitutes. Nevertheless this enabled not only a fresh look on the representation of female characters from the previous period, who were finally portrayed by women, but in addition those actresses had some influence on the contemporary playwrights as well and consequently some roles were specially written for them. Such was the case of Mrs Anne Brace Girdle and the role of Millamant in The Way of the World, which Congreve wrote intentionally for her.
Concerning the housing of the theatres, during the most of the Restoration period there were two companies that received patents from Charles II and opened in the summer of 1660: Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and Royal Opera House, Convent Garden. They competed for the audience, but eventually united in 1681. As Nicoll remarks: “The first years of Restoration certainly saw the birth of the modern stage” (4), in contrast to the theatres of the Renaissance era, they were completely roofed, employed more diverse scenery and also reduced the platform stage into a picture-frame stage. However, they were not altogether an example of the modern theatre, but entailed as Nicoll suggests a “compromise between the Globe of 1600 and the Covent Garden of 1900” (31). The names of the theatres alone indicate their royal patronage. Indeed, the King himself was a frequent theatre-goer. As was mentioned before, the Restoration theatres were extremely close to the court and therefore reflected its sentiments. They benefited from the fact that they enjoyed a cultured audience in possession of wit and elegance and also of some theatre experience from abroad. Consequently those qualities were also reflected on the stage to entertain the audience with the delicacy of language and wit. Indeed, Nicoll notices that “[t]here is nothing like the ease and refinement of dialogue in preceding dramas . . . the characters are true aristocrats” (Nicoll 25).
However, theatres did not only benefit from the refined audience, but also indulged in the immoral life of the court, which was reprehended by many critics and started a debate about propriety of such drama on stage. James Collier was the first one to invent the moral criterion for the plays in his Short View of the Profanes and Immorality of the English Stage published in 1698. His work changed the way how drama was perceived. Palmer remarks that before him it seems as if the period was unaware of the “enormous sinfulness of its theatre” (Palmer 6). Since then a reformation of manners started to be demanded. Indeed, Palmer quotes Steele, who states in the Spectator 51 that the audience should have “virtuous and moral people for heroes and heroines” (Palmer 8), and not the wicked rakes and adulteresses, who roamed the stage.
Indeed, the Restoration plays put morally corrupted characters on display and as some contemporary critics perceived it, they did not educate the audience or provide an example of proper behaviour. In consequence, dramatists were accused of corrupting the youth and of the fact that society cannot possibly benefit from such plays. Palmer mentions that a century later there was a brief shift in analysing the Restoration comedy with William Hazlitt or Leigh Hunt, who “rescued the seventeenth century dramatists for a brief moment” (Palmer 10), however this revival did not last long as Thomas Macaulay “repeated the success of Collier” (Palmer 10) by condemning the plays for being depraved and thus establishing the moral criterion once more.
Palmer criticises Macaulay for such approach stating that he “disclaims the moral test as final, but applies no other” (22-23). He points out that Macaulay is more interested in condemning the authors than he is in examining the plays; therefore he does not take into account all the aspects of the Restoration comedy. The way Palmer sees comedy of manners during the Restoration period greatly differs. In The Comedy of Manners he is making a point in enhancing the honest approach to representing the existing environment of the upper-class. In his opinion the “excellence of Restoration comedy is directly due to the honest fidelity with which it reflects the spirit of an intensely interesting phase of our social history” (Palmer 22), he goes as far as suggesting that “the conscience of society was never more at ease, where precept and practice were so clearly connected” (Palmer 37), thus presenting a critical approach stripped of the moral test. However, it is still important to note that the society to which he refers to consists of a small group of people and is not representative of the period and its social strata in general.
To conclude, the comedy of manners after the Restoration both benefited from the involvement of the court and suffered from its overindulgence and immorality. It depictured a period when theatre was concerned solely with a small upper-class: both as the audience and the subject of the plays on stage. Nevertheless this unique moment in theatre history enabled a number of substantial changes. The architecture of theatres underwent a transition towards modern theatres, the programme was constantly changing to please the audience and the plays themselves reflected the elegance of language and narration of the educated circles of high society. Last but not least the introduction of actresses enabled a new and fresh representation of women. Throughout the history there were dramatists who followed the genre of the comedy of manners and introduced new elements to the traditional concept, such as Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Oscar Wilde or in the 1920s Noel Coward followed by Henry Pinter or Joe Orton during the1960s. The comedy of manners has thus proven to be a valuable and inspirational contribution to the theatrical evolution.

Chapter One – The Way of the World
1.1 In General
First performed in 1700 at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the Way of the World was Congreve’s fourth and last comedy of manners. It consists of a prologue, five acts and an epilogue. In the prologue first spoken by Mr. Betterton, Congreve appeals to the audience asking for their opinion and confesses his anxiety about the reception of the play, pondering the uneasy role of a playwright. The following acts unfold a plot of two couples of adulterers: Mirabel and Mrs Marwood; together with Mr and Mrs Fairall and a deception aimed at a wealthy widow Lady Wishfort. However, the plot is not very important, as was the practice in comedies of manners, and the message is conveyed through the characters. In the epilogue Congreve condemns the critics that sit “judging in the pit” (Epilogue 11), trying to find fault in the play or misinterpreting satire for libel. Yet again, Congreve expresses anxiety about the reception of the play and highlights the hardship it presents for a dramatist to create a play that would please everyone.
The Way of the World is considered to be Congreve’s masterpiece and also a perfect example of the comedy of manners. Nicoll ascribes the play’s lack of success when it was first performed to the fact that “Congreve’s wit here is so refined that appreciation of the work as a stage play is well-night impossible” (147). However, he suggests that as a text it works brilliantly. The play’s last prominent adaptation dates back to 2012, when it was performed at Chichester Festival Theatre and enjoyed rather favourable reception, the official website of the festival features a review by The Daily Telegraph, which evaluated it with four stars.

1.2 True Wit and False Wit
Wit is a difficult term to define or translate. In providing an explanation of the term the era of Congreve’s society has to be considered as well because the meaning of the word shifted throughout the history. Gelber mentions that while in the sixteenth century wit stood for genius or wisdom, in the seventeenth century its meaning narrowed to a “capacity for ingenuity, an ability to make unexpected unions or contrast of generally diverse ideas” (Gelber 269). To discover its most accurate meaning in relation to Congreve’s play, it is best to refer to the critics of the Restoration period themselves and to the way they perceived it. Klára Bicanová points out in her dissertation that wit was seen as something more than humour or cleverness. For both Pope and Addison “wit involved good taste, morality and it was essentially interchangeable with the idea of literary genius.” (Bicanová 191). Hinnant adds that “wit refers to more than just a verbal play (puns, similitudes, antitheses etc.). It also points to a traditional ideal of decorum (“a propriety of words and thoughts”) whose theoretical basis provides a standard by which false wit can be judged” (Hinnant 374).
To elaborate more on the concept of true and false wit, characters in The Way of the World that express this notion can be divided into two groups: wits and would-be wits. However, Congreve creates more blurred distinction in dividing the characters into these two groups. In his interpretation, the separation between the two groups is not always clear, neither it is rigid, which makes it more difficult to distinguish the true wits of the play. Hinnant points out that those categories are “not as static, as they tend to be in the earlier comedies [of the Restoration period]” (Hinnant 381). Indeed, Congreve continues with the interest in the notion of wit, but offers a fresh outlook on in. His characters are not black and white. He allows his would-be wits to have some bright moments as well. The character of Anthony Witwoud can serve as an example, as he represents a rather problematic would-be wit. Hinnant mentions the fact that Witwoud was actually taken for a true wit by his contemporaries as his affectation is focused towards similitudes and his character “balances brilliance with dullness . . . a Witwoud who sparkles and a Witwoud who is tiresome” (Hinnant 375). This allows Congreve to express his sceptical attitude towards the usage of similitudes and its perception as an example of true wit. Witwoud is someone who confesses: “I talk like an old maid at a marriage, I don’t know what I say” (Congreve 1.230-231), but at the same time he tirelessly attempts to express what Kaufman names “the linguistic ease of the wits” (412). As a consequence, the audience can “witness a self-conscious obsession with wit transform a human being into a wit-producing automaton “(Kaufman 412). Witwoud is self-aware of his overindulgence in similitudes, but simply cannot stop himself even though his speeches are found tiresome by others. The scene that he shares with Millamant in act II is a perfect example of that:
MILLAMANT. Dear Mr. Witwould, truce with your similitudes; for I am as sick of em
WITWOUD. As a physician of a good air – I cannot help it madam, though tis against myself.
MILLAMANT. Yet again Mincing, stand between me and his wit.
WITWOUD. Do Mrs. Mincing, like a screen before a great fire. I confess I do blaze today, I am too bright. (Congreve 2.1.300-306)
Witwoud is conscious of his unstoppable flow of attempted wit, but he still tries to paint himself as a true wit. Kaufman described him as “the logical end product of a society that overvalues appearance” (414). He is a character that focuses predominantly on his rhetorical expressions, but lacks any sense of subtlety or fittingness of his utterances that are essential components of a true wit.
The attempt to present oneself as a true wit is also expressed by female characters in the play. They as well attempt to paint themselves as ingenious players in the game of the society. And just as male characters, they are both successful and failing. Mrs Marwood, Fainall’s mistress, shares with Witwoud the endeavour to present herself as a witty character. But just as he, she is not able to recognize the propriety of some of her expressions. When she is discussing the issue of female friendship with Fainall, she calls it “more sincere, and more enduring, than all the vain and empty vows of men” (Congreve 2.1.144-145), Fainall immediately reminds her that she is his wife’s friend and at the same time his lover, thus immediately undermining her argument. Her words could express true wit, but they would have to belong to a different character. After such disclosure of her impropriety, she resorts to a less witty and more malicious language that instead of the subtlety of true wit possesses unnecessarily dramatic exclamation such as “I loathe you” (Congreve 2.1.194) or that it is not too late to “detest, abhor mankind . . . and the whole treacherous world” (Congreve 2.1.211-212). Eventually she has to be reminded by Fainall: “You have a mask, wear it a moment” (Congreve 2.1.220-221) so she would compose herself once more.
Wit is indeed closely connected to language, but is not expressed solely in words, speeches or similitudes. It is also reflected through action. The central characters of the play Mirabell and Fainall are both very good rhetoricians; therefore it is the deeds rather that discourse that distinguish the true wit that is Mirabell from Fainall, who only feigns it, however masterfully at times, using the language of a gentleman to mask his real spiteful and vicious nature.
Indeed, it is mainly the action that uncovers his false wit. The way they both plot against Lady Wishfort brilliantly highlights the differences that demark the two characters. Fainall is unscrupulously pursuing his ambition to obtain his mother-in-law’s fortune and he is willing to destroy his wife’s reputation, to let her turn “adrift like a leaky hulk to sink or swim” (Congreve 5.1.403-405), thus fully uncovering his absolute lack of morality. Kaufman views Fainall as the “the libertine hero of the early Restoration – a predator whose vision of society is one of man’s animal instincts hidden under the veneer of “honour” or “reputation”” (418). However, those qualities as a result spoil his success and leave him to exit the stage defeated. His instincts are not accurate enough and he gets lost in his schemes. In his final scene, when he is faced with the evidence of the parchment that allocates his wife’s estate “in trust to Edward Mirabell” (Congreve 5.1.500), he cannot control his rage or find words to fight or defend himself, but flees after a failed attempt to assault his wife, which proves his ultimate defeat on the rhetorical battlefield as well.
The world of Congreve’s play is full of false wits, but there still can be found true wit among the characters. Both Mirabell and his love interest Millamant show superiority of wit among others. However, just as would-be wits have their moments of brightness, those two also struggle, but even when they are “laughable at times, in the main they are sympathetic and by the awareness of the way of the world (and a certain degree of luck) they are able to escape its ever-present dangers” (Kaufman 412). They learnt to conduct themselves in the society with sense of propriety and sufficient level of self-discipline. Mirabell does not pursue his scheme unscrupulously as Fainall does, but ensures that it does not pose real danger to Lady Wishfort, when he links her with a suitor that is already married. He pleads that it was an innocent device even though “it had a face of guiltiness” (Congreve 5.1.348-349) and that he has never intended to cause lasting distress to Lady Wishfort. Indeed, through his action he distances himself from Fainall and professes his moral superiority.
While Mirabell thus distances himself from Fainall, who portrays the villain of the play, Millamant is also in control of her own situation. She does not appear in person until the middle of the second act and immediately establishes herself as the character that possesses true wit in contrast to Witwoud, with whom she shares the scene. When he asks her about letters, she responds “I am persecuted with letters – I hate letters – nobody knows how to write letters; and yet one has ‘em, one does not know why. They serve one to pin up one’s hair” (Congreve 2.1.321-323). She admits that she receives letters from possible admirers and that she finds it rather tiresome, but at the same time she is careful to use “one” instead of “I” that would make her statement more offensive than amusing.
In conclusion, Congreve’s play The Way of the World offers a complex representation of wit in both its true and false forms. He uses typical wit-woulds from the Restoration comedies, but he operates with them in such a way that they do not remain only rigid, laughable characters. The barrier between them and true wits is sometimes so thin that they are almost indistinguishable from each other. However, in comparison to Mirabell or Millamant their affected wit (as Congreve called it in his dedication) proves to be false. The discourse of such characters does not possess sufficient subtlety or propriety and their actions lack sense of morality. As a result their schemes eventually succumb to those flaws, leaving them defeated in the game of society.
1.3 Courtship and Love
The Way of the World focuses greatly on romantic relationships, having the two couples of adulterers in form of Mrs and Mr Fainall, Mrs Marwood and Mirabell at its centre. Therefore the question of love and courtship is a prominent one. Many characters also ponder it themselves as they try to navigate their actions in the world of cuckolds, rakes and cast mistresses trying to find a suitable partner. Congreve portrays various types of relationships, from those that are “bound by wealth and status” (McCloskey 70), but prove to be malfunctioning, while at the same time he also introduces affection as a part of courtship that, with the presence of true wit, creates a mutually satisfying match for both Mirabell and Millamant. In that sense, the play also reflects the social change in the early eighteenth century when marriage ceased to function as “an alliance to improve the wealth or social position” (McCloskey 70) and where love gradually started to create foundation for marriage in high society.
Congreve creates two completely different courses of courtship that mark the differences between the two coexistent trends in appearing during the beginning of the eighteenth century. The predominant motive for marriage was still “the economic, social or political consolidation” (Stone 182), however love and mutual affection was slowly being considered an important element of the courtship due to the “respect for the individual pursuit of happiness” (Stone 183). The Way of the World was written among those occurring changes and thus presents both trends on stage.
The old way of courtship is brilliantly presented through the character of Lady Wishfort, Mrs. Fainall’s mother. She is part of the old “world, which is contrived, artificial, and committed to developing the appearance rather than the substance of value” (Lyons 258). She is a widow, who is desperate to find a partner in order to fulfil her cravings. Mirabell points out that “the good old lady would marry anything that resembled a man” (Congreve 2.1.276-277). However, her pursuit after a husband, while being comical, is also representative of the shortcomings of the old system, making her the perfect target of Mirabell’s scheme. When Mr. Waitwell, disguised as Mr. Rolland, is set by Mirabell to meet her and propose a possibility of their marriage, the only thing she is concerned about is whether he is handsome enough, while she also tries to present herself as youthful and beautiful as she possibly can, putting layers of white varnish on her skin, almost hiding her real face entirely under a mask. There is no honesty, transparency or sense of mutual understanding in their courtship. Lady Wishfort assures Mr. Rowland that she is not agreeing to marry him in such haste because of her “sinister appetite, or indigestion of widowhood” (Congreve 4.1.462), while those are exactly her reasons.
Indeed, Lady Wishfort presents herself to Mr Rowland as a completely different person that she is in the privacy of her rooms. Her language alone reflects this reality. When she is alone with Foible in the beginning of the fifth act and is angry with her, she abandons all the frills of her public persona: “Away, out, out! Go set up for yourself again! Do, drive a trade do!” (Congreve 5.1.9-10), which contrasts to her affected conversation with Sir Rowland, where her language is abstract and vague in meaning, but full of figurative statements. She addresses Sir Rowland: “I am confounded with confusion at the retrospective of my own rudeness. I have more pardons to ask that the Pope distributes in the year of Jubilee” (Congreve 4.1.421-423). Roper argues that in order for the courtship to lead to a successful marriage for both partners the ability to “unite their public and private lives, to center themselves upon a decent, intimate relationship while still participating fully in the mixed delights of society” (67) is crucial. Certainly, such union as marriage penetrates both private and public lives; therefore the integrity of those two is important.
In contrast to the courtship of Lady Wishfort and Mr. Rowland, Congreve presents a different pair of lovers – Mirabell and Millamant, who are eventually able to skilfully negotiate their union. The famous proviso scene is both mocking the usual false practices of courtship and its vices, but more importantly, also shows two people that are able to create “balance between the requirements of social life, the couple and the individual” (Roper 67). They both enter the scene having doubts about the union. Millamant is afraid she will lose her freedom and that Mirabell will try to control her. She is open about her desires and expectations, stating: “I’ll never marry, unless I am first made sure of my will and pleasure” (Congreve 4.1.152-153). She communicates to Mirabell her reluctance to give up her way of life and her liberty. In return Mirabell himself shares with her his concerns about the possible impropriety of her public behaviour that would damage his reputation and potentially make him a cuckold. “I covenant that your acquaintance be general; that you admit no sworn confidant . . . no decoy-duck to wheedle you a fop” (Congreve 4.1.205-209). Thus being open about their worries and expectations they are able to establish a match that would suit them both and “safeguard the union after seeing the faults around” ( Mueschke 27).
However, it is not only transparency and mutual understanding of each other that separates their courtship from the one of Lady Wishfort. The most important aspect of their union is the fact, that they introduce a new foundation for marriage, which is love. After they both agree on the provisos, Millamant remarks: “if Mirabell should not make a good husband, I am a lost thing, for I find I love I him violently” (Congreve 4.1.278-279). In the final scene of the play, Sir Wilfull, Millamant’s cousin and also one of her suitors admits that “the gentleman [Mirabell] loves her and she loves him” (Congreve 5.1.527). The Way of the World thus reflects the shift in society and the growing tendency to perceive love as a reason for marriage and the fact that the union started to be seen not only as a tool for improving one’s wealth or social position but also as a way to achieve personal happiness.
The developing relationship of Millamant and Mirabel contrasts to the degeneration of the one of Mr. and Mrs. Fainall, which is based on the values of the old world. Mrs. Fainall married in order to maintain her reputation and her husband wanted to “make lawful prize of a rich widow’s wealth” (Congreve 2.1.180-181). They both represent a marriage between two people that do not have any affection or love for each other, and eventually perceive their union as a prison, a cage. Their presence in the play as a married couple indicates the possibility of an unsuccessful marriage that Millamant and Mirabell managed to avoid and as a consequence portray the changing values in the society. As McCloskey remarks they defy the precedents of the old system and formulate their own, indeed, together they teach the old world a new trick. (75).
In conclusion, The Way of the World reflects the scene of matchmaking and its evolution during Congreve’s time, which he skilfully adapts on stage. In his play lesser importance is given to the social and economic advantages that a union between men and woman may bring. It still plays a role, but at the same time the falseness of the traditional courtship is disclosed and openly mocked, making the character of Lady Wishfort or even Mrs Fainall the perfect example of the ineffectiveness of such conduct. Moreover, Congreve not only presents this practice so he can criticise and satirize it, but he also portrays a couple that successfully navigates their relationship to a promising end, creating a strong foundation with transparency, mutual understanding and love.
1.4 Invention vs. Reality
The previous chapter already elaborated on the fact that the play reflects some real aspects of the society in form of the changing dynamics of courtship and marriage. It is important to note once more in discussing the factuality and realness of the play, that The Way of the World, as other Restoration plays before it, is concerned with a small portion of the population - the highest class of England, therefore it does not portray diverse setting or wide range of characters from different social ranks. However, it is interesting to observe what kind of picture of the wealthiest people is painted by Congreve in his play and to what extent it corresponds to reality. Indeed, the play offers some depiction of the society to the reader, which creates a certain image of the era. John Palmer perceives the excellence of the Restoration comedy in its “honest fidelity with which it reflects the spirit of an intensely interesting phase of our social history” (22). But as much as the comedies reflected some existent ease in the highest circles of the society, they still were an artificial creation primarily constructed to amuse and entertain and therefore whatever reality they reflected and it was inevitably limited to the framework of the genre and its purpose.
It is interesting to observe that the first arguments about the artificiality of the world on the Restoration stage were presented by the advocates of the comedy of manners, who defended it against the moralists during the second half of the seventeenth century. Palmer mentions that a critic and essayist Charles Lamb (1775-1783) in his essay On Artificial Comedy of the Last Century perceived the “world on stage as a fairy land” (Palmer 16). The fact that the comedy was defended on the basis of not being a true reflection of the society and that it was actually seen as being detached from the real world in the time of its origin shows that even some of its contemporaries were aware of the difference between the world of Fainall and Mirabell and the one they actually lived in.
However, there are also differing opinions regarding the factuality presented in the comedies of manners. Bonamy Dodré perceives those plays as representative of its time claiming that “the general life of the time, its movement, its amusements, its general conceptions, were mirrored upon the stage . . . [no one] can have any difficulties in matching the fiction with its reality” (Dobré 29-30). When trying to support his statement, he relies on small details in the plays that also occurred in real life. He claims that “the comic writers of this period took what they were able from the life around them” (28). He lists as an example the fact that mock marriages did not appear only on stage, but that in fact there is a case when “[t]he Earl of Oxfordbridge carried out a sham ceremony with a famous actress with an impregnable virtue” (29). Nevertheless it is arguable to draw any final conclusions regarding realness of the comedies based simply on a number of events contained in the play that corresponded to some occasions in real life and claim that the actions in the plays were truly representative of the Restoration society as a whole or even solely of the upper-society.
Indeed, some critics such as Elmer Edgar Stoll are convinced that the characters of Restoration comedy are in fact not “real men and women, living according to the rules of a real society” (Stoll 175). Their actions are certainly often irrational and do not seem authentic. Stroll mentions extreme gullibility that is inherent to some characters. Lady Wishfort’s naivety may certainly support such theory and serve as an example. In the fourth act, when she opens letter from Mrs. Marwood, which states that “[h]e, who pretends to be Sir Rowland is a cheat and a rascal (Congreve 4.1.514-515), she is convinced by her servant Foible and Waitwell, disguised as Sir Rowland, that the letter was false and in fact written by Mirabell. She does not express much concern about the truth of their argument, but is excited that she may still marry Sir Rowland and does not have to abandon her scheme, certainly, she is not interested in the proof Sir Rowland offers to support his theory stating: “Bring what you will; but come alive, pray come alive” (Congreve 4.1.564-565).
This gullibility is especially striking when it comes to the arrangement of marriages and it does not apply only to The Way of the World, but also to other comedies of manners, where couples get married in masks or in disguise. It is indeed startling, considering the fact that they lived “in day where divorce was for most people next to impossible (and on the stage almost unknown), when fraud was so common and, in marital matters justice so unobtainable” (Stoll 179). The lightness with which the characters such as Lady Wishfort approach this matter suggests that those situations are simply a device, a play-making to create comical moments, entertain the audience and in the end deliver a revelation of the fraud, which was a standard conclusion for comedies of the Restoration, and comedies that were produced in the next two hundred years, similarly to the way death was the typical conclusion of a tragedy (Stoll 180).
However, even though the plot and the action s of the characters are often exaggerated and irrational, there are still elements that the comedies share uniquely with the environment of Restoration in which they were produced. As was already mentioned in the Introduction the relationship between the court and the theatres was a close one and as a consequence they greatly influenced each other. Those plays “represented the tastes and the conditions of the courtly circles and its would-be imitators” (Miles 105). For example the possession of wit was “a passport to the most exclusive circles” (Miles 106) in both the real and the staged world, as a result Witwoud’s and Petulant’s constant attempts to prove their wit so they may enjoy a certain social position is not only Congreve’s dramatic, comical invention, but also had its place in the real society of the court. Indeed, “wit was a common idol that every coxcomb worshipped” (Miles 107) and ladies looked for it in their lovers. Its importance to the characters in The Way of the World and other comedies of manners mirrored the fact that it was greatly appreciated even in real upper-classes of the Restoration society.
To conclude, it is certain that dramatists were inspired by the real world around them and derived inspiration from the close relationship with their audience, which helped to create foundation for their work. However, the society in The Way of the World expresses enough artificiality to be perceived as an unauthentic representation of the Restoration upper-class. The characters and their actions are indeed limited to their functions as a part of the ensemble. They are an invention to serve a purpose: to amuse, entertain and possibly instruct. As a result, the play, similarly to other comedies of manners, is rather a testament to what the higher circles of the Restoration society considered to be the idea of entertainment rather than serving as a proof to what their lives were actually like.

Chapter Two – The Importance of Being Earnest
2.1. In General
The Importance of Being Earnest was premiered at the St James’s Theatre in London on 14 February 1895 as Oscar Wilde’s fourth social comedy. The play, consisting of three acts (originally four), brought him the biggest success to date. It retains some features of the comedy of manners as it deals with similar topics of the high society and its manners. As a consequence the play presents the continuing tradition of the genre, while at the same time it also illustrates its evolution as it changed over the two hundred years that separate it from Congreve’s play. The plot revolves around two male characters: Jack Worthing and his friend Algernon Moncrieff, who both represent the figure of the dandy, which constitutes Wilde’s contribution to drama. Both men play various social games to win the women they love. Jack, who is in love with Gwendolen Fairfax struggles to gain the approval of her mother Lady Bracknell, while Algernon intends to marry Jack’s foster-child Cecily.
The play contains many schemes, mistaken identities and various puns, one being its title itself. It has enjoyed lasting popularity and is still being adapted on stage from London’s Harold Pinter Theatre to Canberra Theatre Centre and has become a classic. In Brno it is currently staged in Mahenovo Divadlo.

2.2. True Wit and False Wit
The understanding of the word wit has undergone a substantial evolution since Congreve’s times. Victorians were not as concerned with the forms of true and false wit as was the practice of their predecessors during the Restoration, the critics focused more on the differences between wit and humour, however small, and in doing so, did not find wit to be something that one should aspire to express in order to be accepted and recognized by the society. Indeed, Martin mentions a Westminster Reviewer from 1871 that focused on the “evanescent character of wit, and especially that form of wit we call “punning”” and found it to be only “a flash, a sudden contrast, a laugh, and all is over…” (26). Indeed, Victorians appreciated humour more, since it was “distinguished from wit as being less purely intellectual, and as having a sympathetic quality in virtue” (Martin 26). Those characteristic appealed more to their “distrust of the intellect” (Martin 28) and encouraged their sentimentality. However, the last quarter of the nineteenth century began once more to “recognize the importance of wit and comedy as valid modes of perception” (Martin 29). Wilde continued with the exploration of wit and its modifications. Indeed, his invention of the dandy combined the virtues and vices of the previous wits and would-be wits and as a result created a unique expression on the stage that continued in the tradition of the comedy of manners.
It is really ambiguous to speak of the characters from The Importance of Being Earnest in terms of true and false wit. It is more accurate to speak of the wit of the playwright rather that the wit of his characters, as indeed, the characters are incredibly distant from the audience and convey almost no sense of credibility or realness themselves. They are primarily puppets and it is, indeed, interesting to observe that they almost do not possess a voice of their own as their sentences are easily interchangeable and could belong to any other character in the play. Henderson supports this idea by stating that: Wilde’s figures are lacking in vitality and humanity; it is impossible to believe in their existence. They are mouthpieces for the diverting ratiocinations of their author, often appearing less as personalities that as personified customs, embodied prejudices and conventions of English life. (79)
Indeed, the characters even share the same vocabulary and a common interest in words and their effects. Even Miss Prism, Cecily’s teacher, expresses such awareness while speaking with her student: “The manuscript unfortunately was abandoned. I use the word in a sense of lost or mislaid “(Wilde 22). Thus it is not the voice of the characters that is heard on the stage, but the one of Oscar Wilde, who only uses the personages as tools in his creation, while they themselves remain elusive.
However, interestingly enough, it is in their distance from the real world in which they are able to speak in the manner they do, indulge in the idea of wit and create a connection to the Victorian audience. Indeed, the characters remark on many of the attributed vices and virtues of society with a striking light-heartedness. Thus the reader may come across scenes such as the one where Jack apologises to Algernon for insulting his aunt saying:
JACK. …I suppose I shouldn’t talk about your own aunt in that way before you.
ALGERNON. My dear boy. I love hearing my relations abused. It is the only thing that makes me to put up with them all. Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven’t got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die. (Wilde 15)
Those absurd utterances, while amusingly witty, can only live in the world of the play, otherwise they would appear more insulting rather than humorous. It is only in the universe of the dandy, of the pleasure seeking individual, that they may be uttered to the audience’s delight.
Indeed, the world of the play is filled with characters, whose wit would not survive outside of the pages. Gregor suggests that: “The dramatic role of the dandy would seem to lead to a world where, of necessity, everything was amoral, inconsequential, and superficial” (502). Certainly, all the characters express a great degree of self-importance and self-love, which, while it makes their words more humorous on stage as they are uttered with absolute sense of dignity and grace on the part of the characters, they would not be accepted anywhere else for being too offensive or absurd. The wit of the characters therefore exists only within the margins of the play, where the style is more important than the content, and where Miss Prism may react to the news of Earnest’s alleged dead with a statement: “What a lesson for him! I trust he will profit by it” (26), and not witness a shocked reaction at her speech from her companions.
It is equally intriguing to observe that the wit expressed in the play is not aimed at entertaining other characters present on stage, but is mainly targeted at the audience, which supports the idea of it never being improper or false as the reaction to it is in control of the playwright. Certainly, most of the puns and utterances are received with cold disinterestedness among the personages in the play. A scene that Algernon shares with Cecily in the beginning of Act Two may serve as an example of such behaviour:
ALGERNON. Cecily, I shall not offend you if I state quite frankly and openly that you seem to me to be in every way the visible personification of absolute perfection.
CECILY. I think your frankness does you great credit, Earnest. (Wilde 31)
Cecily does not reply by expressing if or how Algernon’s words affected her, but rather offer a neutral commentary. This conversation is a perfect specimen of the emotional coldness expressed by the characters and at the same time of the enthusiasm they all share regarding the play of words. They almost seem to treat their vocabulary with more tenderness and passion than they do their romantic interests; their wit thus permeates every sentence and is omnipresent in the play, disregarding the fact who is speaking. Thus, Wilde managed to create a world where wit is never inappropriate, awkward or false, but creates the very essence of every conversation.
In addition it is also noticeable that while the characters and their wit are created in order to cause laughter, they are in reality never directly mocked, or truly harmed by each other’s conduct. Thus “the laughter is absolutely free from bitter afterthought (Walkley 197)” as there are no feelings hurt or characters deeply affected by someone’s blunt expressions. When Algernon expresses his surprise at Jack’s coldness at the end of the second act, when Cecily and Gwendolen find the truth about them lying, and asks how Jack can sit there and eat muffins, he replies:
JACK. Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. (Wilde 41)
The audience or the reader do not laugh at the characters, they laugh with them, as the world that is presented to them is stripped of the consequences of human behaviour and speech and the responsibility attached to them. In the world of dandy life is never taken seriously and thus there is no space for true shame, only pleasure.
Thus Wilde does not only employ the notion of wit that is predominantly intellectual, but comes closer to the concept of humour as well. Indeed, it is not only the wit that helped to earn the play a lasting favour of the audience over the centuries. It is the humour that brings the play closer to the spectators. Martin mentions Leigh Hunt, an English critic from the first part of the nineteenth century, who stated that humour “derives its name from the prevailing quality of moisture in the bodily temperament; and is a tendency of the mind to run in particular directions of thought or feeling more amusing than accountable” (30). Wilde in The Importance of Being Earnest created a perfect platform to display the sentiments of the society without being instantly dissected, condemned or severely judged. As Gwendolen states in the beginning of act three: “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing” (Wilde 44) and indeed, The Importance of Being Earnest manages to present a world where pleasure is the most important element. It is therefore not only the knowledge and intellect that is crucial to the concept of wit in the nineteenth century, but also the sentimentality and pathos, which are generally ascribed to humour and are traceable in the play.
To conclude, Oscar Wilde succeeded in creating a world in which wit may thrive and prosper without being inappropriate or false. The characters are indulging in verbal combats and puns, free of any serious unpleasant or negative reaction. Thus there is nothing present on stage, which would disturb the effect of the entertainment the play intends to offer the audience or the reader. The wit of the play is however limited to the boundaries of its world, where it is shared by the characters. It is only there, where it is appropriate and true, not false or offensive.
2.3 Courtship and Love
It has been previously stated that the play is absurd and hardly true to reality, however, as every piece of art, it is also reflective of human nature. In social comedies, various relationships are introduced in order to create amusement. Nevertheless, from a critical point of view they also serve as a testimony to the nature of rules and regulations that were approved and followed by the society. The Importance of Being Earnest employs courtship as a key element of the play, when both Jack and Algernon are trying to conquer the hearts of their partners, and thus their story offers a platform for Wilde to not only satirize the process, but also express his ideas on the matter. Thus, the world of the Victorian tradition represented by Lady Bracknell, Algernon’s aunt, whose idea of marriage is very similar to doing business, as there is no space for love or affection, is contrasted with the rebellious behaviour of her daughter Gwendolen, who is determined to decide her fate on her own and according to her personal requirements and ideals. Wilde thus artfully explores the hypocrisy of the courtship and emphasises the important role of ideals in the process of courtship.
It is interesting to observe the role of women in the process of courtship, which is both reflected in the play through its female characters and also highlighted by numerous critics focusing on Victorian society. Frost mentions the fact that “most historians have assumed that women were primarily concerned in courtship . . . they evaluated prospective mates, while encouraging suitable matches and discouraging unsuitable ones. They also did most of the planning for social occasions and weddings” (Frost 78). Lady Bracknell, Algernon’s aunt is the perfect embodiment not only of some Victorian sentiments such as her distrust of intellect and negative attitudes to education as she states that “the whole theory of modern education is radically unsound” (Wilde 13), but also of the role of a woman relative in courtship. Indeed, she possesses a great amount of power when it comes to the matter of potential marriage. When she discovers that Gwendolen is engaged to Jack, she dismisses the fact by stating that she is the one to decide on the matter: “Pardon me, you are not engaged to anyone. When you do become engaged to someone, I, or your father, should health permit him, will inform you of the fact” (Wilde 12). Gwendolen’s personal feelings of love and affection are not considered as relevant by Lady Bracknell. In addition, it is also interesting to note the absence of Gwendolen’s father, who never appears in the play and remains an abstract figure throughout the whole course of the three acts. As a result, he does not have any real power or control over the courtship of his own daughter and Jack. Lady Bracknell clarifies his role towards the beginning of the Third Act, where she states that while Gwendolen eloped, her father has not even been informed, but is “under the impression that she is attending a more than usually lengthy lecture by the University Extension Scheme on the Influence of a Permanent Income on Thought” (Wilde 45). The power in the matters of courtship thus remains in the hands of Lady Bracknell, who is according to the rules of society supposed to decide the fate of her daughter.
Indeed, her presumed control over the matter is expressed in the scene she shares with Jack, in which she interrogates him in order to discover whether he is suitable or not to marry Gwendolen. In addition this scene reflects the true processes during courtship, where a man “was expected to confess the peccadilloes of his bachelor life” (Raby 169) before bounding himself to a woman. The scene also reflects the whole machinery of matchmaking which is happening offstage. Lady Brackenell reveals that she has a “list of eligible young men” (Wilde 12) she shares with “the dear Duchess of Bolton” (Wilde 12) and that in fact, they “work together”(Wilde 12). However, when she starts the interview, Lady Bracknell does not only poses questions regarding Jack’s economic situation as would be expected in such situation, but also is keen to discover whether he knows “everything or nothing” (Wilde 12) and is pleased to discover that he knows nothing, which is not threatening her ideals of “natural ignorance” (Wilde 13). It is the fact that due to Jack’s unknown origins, he would not be able to have a “recognized position in good society” (Wilde 14), for which she refuses to give her consent as the opinion of the society matters the most.
Yet, as Lady Bracknell’s position in the matter of her daughter’s prospective marriage is determined by the society, Gwendolen proves to be incredibly rebellious and disregards the expected conduct. She is aware that “we live . . . in an age of ideals” (Wilde 10) and hers are different from those of her mother. Her ideal “has always been to love someone of the name of Earnest” (Wilde 10), which, as bizarre it might sound, represents the absurdity of someone’s expectations in the matter of courtship and the unwillingness to abandon them. Gwendolen, even after discovering her mother’s disapproval shows Jack’s affection behind Lady Bracknell’s back by blowing kisses at him when her mother is not looking (Wilde 12). This is the first sign of her free-mindedness and her inclination to rebel. However her rebellion is gradual. When she comes back to Jack after his interview with Lady Brackenell, she claims: “noting that she can possibly do can alter my eternal devotion to you” (Wilde 17). She has thus freed her mind from the authority of her mother and is ready to eventually go even further. Indeed, in the beginning of the second act Gwendolen appears again as she has escaped from her home and is determined to follow her ideals. When her mother discovers her, she openly states her mind:
LADY BRACKNELL. Gwendolen! What does this mean?
GWENDOLEN. Merely that I am engaged to be married to Mr. Worthing, mama. (Wilde 45)
The power of the ideals in the courtship that is presented in The Importance of Being Earnest is so strong it overpowers the rules and manners of the society.
The importance of one’s expectations when it comes to courtship is also reflected in the character of Cecily, Jack’s ward, who lives in the country, nurturing her fantasies about marrying someone called Earnest. Mackie writes that to be earnest “for a Victorian audience was to be ethically stringent” (161), however, Gwendolen and Cecily both imagine something different under the expression, for them the attraction to the name is an “aesthetic one” (161 Mackie) and quite surprisingly, they both utter the same sentence stating that the name Earnest “inspires absolute confidence” (Wilde10). This is their ideal, which plays a vital part in the process of courtship, as they will not marry unless their partners fulfil it. Wilde thus creates a relationship between two couples that is purely based on the notion of imagination, expectation, but where there is no other criterion introduced.
To conclude, The Importance of Being Earnest contrasts two sets of different ideals that are important in the process of courtship, the ones of the Victorian society represented by Lady Bracknell, who poses as a representation of the traditions and mannerism that permeates the upper-circles, but also the ones of Gwendolen and Cecily, who are obsessed with the idea of a person without actually considering their real character. Oscar Wilde thus emphasises the superficiality present in the process of courtship, where to be earnest does not mean to be honest or genuine, but to meet imaginary criterion of another person. 2.4 Invention vs. Reality
To distinguish reality and invention in The Importance of Being Earnest, it is crucial to take into account the era in which Wilde created his plays. The theatrical environment has evolved significantly. According to Bose “the traditional critical attitude is that by the last decade of the nineteenth century . . . English theatre grudgingly began to inch away from the posturing of melodrama and towards the honesty of realism” (5). The question is, whether there is some notion of reality to be found in Wilde’s play, which is an embodiment and celebration of artificiality in itself. Additionally, Wilde offers a glimpse into a rather limited world of a few representatives of the upper-circle; therefore the play cannot possibly offer representation of a broader spectrum of the society. However, Wilde was writing to an audience he knew and was consequently aware of what they expected and what they might enjoy. To gain an emotional response from the audience, it is important to draw on what is familiar to them, what they recognize in their own world and therefore can identify with when they encounter it in an exaggerated and satirized form on stage. Wilde thus revisits and reinvents the conventions and stereotypes of his times. Indeed, he “seems to weave in and out of the received wisdom of popular perception of the world, often laughing at common morality but sometimes upholding it” (Bose 27). His play is therefore an invention created to mirror some aspects of the society while remaining artificial and elusive as a whole.
What Wilde achieved by creating an artificial world that his characters inhabit, is the fact that it brilliantly depicts the factitiousness of the upper Victorian society, which he both mocks and admires at the same time. Indeed, his characters “celebrate their own artificiality, take precedence over “good morals”, a set of conventions whose artificiality was unacknowledged and largely concealed by upper-class Victorian society” (Mackie 146). In the far-fetched universe of the play this reality may be exposed, however absurd and distant the action on the stage is. It is ultimately representative of the fact that one’s identity in the society is created not in order to reflect the true character, but to satisfy the expectations of others. Lady Bracknell remarks that “London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained thirty-five for years” (Wilde 49). As youth is something they no longer possess, they construct it artificially.
The appearance as a crucial element in the Victorian society is also a key concept in The Importance of Being Earnest and it does not only include physical visage, but more importantly how one presents oneself in society. The style is more important than the essence. A scene which Gwendolen shares with Cecily in the beginning of the third act supports this theory. When Cecily is asked, if she believes Algernon’s arguments, she states:
Cecily. I don’t. But that does not affect the wonderful beauty of his answer.
Gwendolen. True. In manners of great importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing. (Wilde 44)
I does not matter what is being said, but in what manner and style it is being phrased. The beauty of the answer is more important than its truthfulness. Consequently, as long as the style remains intriguing, everything else is irrelevant. Wilde thus, in exaggerated terms, exposes the shallowness of the upper-society and its focus on appearance. As Bastiat notices, Wilde “tells us that appearances are deceitful” (56) as it is something which can be easily created or assumed. Algernon and Jack may both become Earnest, they only need to be baptised.
Consequently the play creates a place where everyone wears a mask. Martin writes that “English society seems a natural subject for comedy, since it is a compound of flatteries and intrigues, each striving to hoist himself up a step higher on the social ladder and to push back those who are climbing” (40).Wilde thus exposes in his play the notion of hypocrisy he observed in his own surroundings. Lady Bracknell may serve as an example of such social climber as she attained her position via marriage not birth. In the beginning of the third act she confesses “When I married Lord Bracknell I had no fortune of any kind. But I never dreamed for a moment of allowing that to stand in my way” (Wilde 40). She manages to maintain her position by conforming to the role that is expected from her. She embraces and absorbs the manners and codes of the upper-class society to such an extent, she immediately recollects that the number of house Jack professed to own is on “the unfashionable site” (Wilde 13). Bastiat notes that “Oscar Wilde rebels against the artificial and hypocritical social codes of his class and suggests that anyone can pass for an aristocrat with a bit of practice” (57). In The Importance of Being Earnest this is accentuated by the fact, that almost every character leads a double life. The audience is laughing at “the struggles of a particular social group to avoid being exposed for what they really are” (Raby 227). This represents the notion of private and public personages that create and important part of social life in the upper-class society. Oscar Wilde himself, as a prominent public figure, struggled to balance his public and private image. Being a homosexual in times where homosexuality was a criminal offence inevitably drove him to “hiding under the public mask” (Sammells 17).Wilde consequently incorporates the issue of double life into his writing. Every character has a secret, a different identity. Algernon, when tired by the society in the city escapes to the country under the pretence of visiting his imaginary sick friend Bunbury. Jack escapes the society in a similar manner, by inventing Earnest, who helps him to be a respectable guardian to Cecily and at the same time escape his obligations, when he desires to. Wilde thus presents to what an absurd extent one is willing to go to maintain one’s private identity and at the same time submit to the society’s expectations of high morals and duty. As a result “Wilde manages to combine commercial success with conservative audiences whilst mocking the very conventions that these audiences are supposed to live by” (Bastiat 54).
To conclude, as much as the play presents an entirely artificial environment on stage and bears little essence of realism, there are still some notions, which create connection with the audience and echo the times of the late Victorian era. Oscar Wilde wrote about the society he knew and in which he had to survive. He consequently exposes the duality of social life, the hypocrisy it involves and which he himself abhors, but at the same time he professes great admiration for the creative treatment of such matters. He elaborates on the resourcefulness with which his characters adjust to the expectations and attempt to balance their private and public parsonages. The play in its distance and absurdity offers Wilde a brilliant platform on which he can satirize, criticise, mock and admire the real inventiveness of the Victorian society, the hypocrisy that permeates it and the importance of appearance that is absolutely crucial. It is indeed not important to be earnest, but to successfully pretend to be, to appropriate the appearance

Conclusion
The comedy of manners builds on the tradition of Jacobean and Caroline drama and has its foundation in the upper-class society of the Restoration period. As such, it reflects the sentiments of the environment in which and for which it was created. It is important to consider that it does not address or represent a wide range of social strata; however, it is still an ample testimony to what the essence of high-society entertainment consisted of. As a genre the Restoration comedy of manners both benefited and suffered from the close connection to the upper-class society and its manners. It reflected on stage both the sophistication of language and culture and at the same time it indulged in the immorality of the life at court, which was frequently mirrored in the plays and consequently criticised by authors such as James Collier or later Thomas Macaulay. However, this moment in theatrical evolution also introduced female actresses on the stage for the first time and saw many fundamental changes to the architecture and programme of the theatres. Altogether it presented an essential segment of the theatrical evolution that inspired many other playwrights who continued with the tradition of the genre and contributed to its survival.
Both Oscar Wilde and William Congreve, whose plays are the subject of the thesis, however different their lives and personalities may be, targeted similar notions in their plays and consequently their works elaborate on similar concepts, such as the idea of morals, manners and social behaviour . Nevertheless, their style and way of artistic expression also greatly differ in many aspects. This is apparent for example in their treatment of the notion of wit. It is not only the fact that the Restoration society ascribed wit a slightly different set of characteristics than the Victorian one, but it is also the way both playwrights approached it that makes their plays unique. Whereas in The Way of the World Congreve attempts to create true wit in contrast to the attempted wit in such a manner that the audience may see the difference, Oscar Wilde created a world in which wit may never be truly false, as it will never be recognized as such. He stripped his characters of a true sense of personality and created them in a way they are more of his own echo rather than posing as individuals with their own voice. Consequently, they do not differ as much from each other as the characters in The Way of the World do and as a result the same distinction between false and true wit cannot be applied.
When the hypocrisy of the upper-society is concerned, both playwrights seem to approach the subject with similar intentions as it presents a fantastic opportunity for the creation of comic situations. But in addition it also enables displaying of the false virtues of the upper-society be it the Restoration or the Victorian one. Both plays explore the feigned morality and pretended manners and emphasise the importance of appearance, both physical and social. Indeed, their characters tirelessly attempt to portray themselves as something they, in reality, are not, whether it is through layers of varnish that Lady Bracknell in The Way of the World uses on her skin to look younger for her suitor, or the pretence of Jack to pose as Earnest in the city. Thus both playwrights elaborate on the idea of two identities, the one that is private and the other, which is artificially invented to ensure social acceptance and position.
Consequently this reality greatly affects relationships presented in the plays, however, Wilde’s outlook and approach to this topic differs from the one of Congreve. Indeed, The Way of the World elaborates on the idea of overcoming the hypocrisy and establishing an honest, sincere relationship, while navigating through the vices of society, as is brilliantly reflected in the proviso scene between Millamant and Mirabel. In contrast, Wilde’s play does not subscribe to the same idea. The world in The Importance of Being Earnest is artificial in its very nature. The significance of a transparent relationship is not stressed as is the case in Congreve’s writing. On the contrary, it is not sincerity that is emphasised in the establishment of relationships, but the constancy of style. Indeed, Wilde’s world of the dandy puts style on a pedestal and therefore anything that would endanger it, such as the reality stripped of its fancy might, is pushed into the background. In fact, Wilde emphasises the importance of ones ideals that rarely correspond to the reality and uses those as a platform to expose the superficiality that permeates the process of creating relationships, especially those of romantic nature. Wilde does not resort to offering a relationship that would be built on more sincere and transparent foundations, as is the case of the union between Mirabel and Millamant.
It is very difficult to draw any real connections between the existing upper-classes of the Restoration and the Victorian period and the world introduced on stage. In general, literary critics agree on the fact that the society displayed in the plays of the comedy of manners is artificial and does not correspond to the actual state of the reality. There are some suggestions that support the argument that the world in the comedies and the real life of the upper-society are similar, such as the proposition of Bonamy Dobré, who focuses in detail on the plays and tries to discover examples of various events that occurred both in reality and were then repeated on stage, however, the evidence from the Restoration critics, who defended the genre on the basis of the world of the comedies of manners being a fairy land suggests that the occurrence of some similarities is more an indication of the authors’ being inspired by some events in their proximity rather than authentically recreating them in their writing. Thus both Congreve and Wilde’s plays cannot pose as an honest and genuine depiction of the era in which they were produced, even though they still bear some characteristics of the time in which they were created.
To conclude, The Way of the World and The Importance of Being Earnest both elaborate on similar notions of the upper-class as both authors aim at uncovering the hypocrisy and superficiality that is to be found behind the layers of sophisticated manners of the highest social circles. However, their approaches also differ, as Oscar Wilde takes the importance of fancy and creates a world that is built on the notion of superficiality entirely, while Congreve attempts to present an ideal version of a true wit, who would be able to navigate the world full of attempted wits.

Notes
Performances in the Czech Republic
The Way of the World
Tylovo divadlo – 31 May 1967 until 11 March 1968, translation Karel Michal, music Evžen Illín, performed under the title Jak to na tom světě chodí

The Importance of Being Earnest
Divadlo Máj Praha – April 1982, translation J. Z. Novák, set to music by Jakub Pospíšil
Městské divadlo Brno – 20 December 2003, final performance 4 June 2008, translation Jiří Zdeněk Novák
Městská divadla pražská: Divadlo ABC. 7 December 2002, translation J. Z. Novák
Městské divadlo Zlín – 16 February 2002, translation J. Z. Novák
Národní divadlo Brno – 23 March 2012, translation J. Z. Novák
Národní divadlo moravskoslezské v Ostravě – 18 October 2012, translated and modernized by Pavel Dominik under the title Jak důležité je mít Filipa
Slovácké divadlo – 16 June 2012, translation Pavel Dominik, title Jak důležité je ho mít
William Congreve
William Congreve was born on January 24th 1670 in Bardsey, Yorkshire. When he was four, his father moved with the family to Ireland and eventually joined the Duke of Ormond’s Regiment. Congreve was thus able to attend Kilkenny College and later Trinity College in Dublin. Due to the College closing, he moved to London and quickly became acquainted with the circle of wits that gathered at Will’s Coffee House and became close friend with Dryden.
He published his first novella Incognito anonymously in 1691. The following year he finished The Old Bachelor, his first play, which was first performed in March 1693 and was a big success. His second play The Double Dealer was not so warmly accepted. In 1694 he finished Love for Love, which starred the famous actress Anne Bracegirdle in one of the leading roles. His first tragedy titled The Mourning Bride was performed at Lincoln’s Fields in 1697 and was again a great success. His most famous play The Way of the World was first staged on 12 March 1700 and again contained an important role for Anne Bracegirdle as Millamant, however, the play received little recognition and after that Congreve abandoned writing plays altogether.
However, he did not leave the world of theatre. He was planning to open a new opera house with Vanbrugh in the Haymarket, but that plan was a failure and Congreve inclined towards solitude. He started working as a Commissioner for Wines, sometimes creating poetry. Eventually he held the position of the Secretary to the Island of Jamaica.
Towards the end of his life he began a relationship with a married woman - Lady Henrietta Godolphin, who was with him when he died on 19th January 1729 at his place in Surrey Street. He is buried at Westminster Abbey.
Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin on 16 October 1854. After finishing Trinity College he moved to Oxford and quickly established himself as an important social figure, being known for his wit and intelligence. In 1881 he gave a series of lectures in America that enabled him to make connections that eventually led him to finish his first play Vera, which was produced in New York in 1882.
In 1884 he got married to Constance Lloyd, with whom he had two sons. He earned a living as a journalist before publishing his essays Intentions and his other works, notably the novel The Picture of Dorian Grey, which was a sensation. In 1891 he got acquainted with Lord Alfred Douglass and both entered into a complicated and passionate relationship. Between the years 1891 and 1895 he produces many comedies of manners, the first play being Lady Windermere’s Fan, which was performed for the first time in St. James Theatre on 20 February 1892. This was followed the next year by A Woman of No Importance. In 1893 he finished Ideal Husband His next and last comedy of manners was The Importance of Being Earnest, which was first performed at the St. James Theatre on 14 February 1895.
His professional success was then spoiled by his private life as he had to stand trial for sodomy and was eventually sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour, the majority of it undertaken at Reading Prison. While being imprisoned, he created a letter to Douglass which is eventually published as De Profundis. After his release he moved to France, where he died on 30 November 1990. He was buried in Cimetière de Bagneux, but his grave was later moved to Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Works Cited

Primary Sources:
Congreve, William. The Way of the World. Ed. Brian Gibbons. London: A&C Black, 1994. Print.
Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. New York: Dover Publication, 1990. Print.

Secondary Sources:
Bastiat, Brigette. “The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) by Oscar Wilde: Conformity and Resistance in Victorian Society.” Cahiers Victoriens & Édouardiens. 72 (2010): 53-63. Literature Online. Web. 16 October 2014.
Bevis, Richard W. English Drama: Restoration and Eighteen Century, 1660-1789. London: Longman, 1988. Print.
Bicanová, Klára. “From Rhetoric to Aesthetics: Wit and Esprit in the English and French Theoretical Writings of the Late Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries.” Diss. Masarykova Universita. 2011. Print.
Bose, Sarika Priyadarshini. “Women as Figures of Disorder in the Plays of Oscar Wilde.” Diss. U of Birmingham. 1999. Print.
Dobré, Bonamy. “The Framework.” Restoration Comedy 1660-1720. London: Oxford UP, 1962. 17-31. Print.
Frost, Ginger S. “Courtships and Weddings.” Promises Broken: courtship, class, and gender in Victorian England. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1995. 58-80. Print.
Gelber, Michael W. “Dryden’s Theory of Comedy.” Eighteen Century Studies. 26.2 (1992-1993): 261-283. JSTOR. Web. 21 April 2014.
Gregor, Ian. “Comedy and Oscar Wilde.” The Sewanee Review. 74.2 (1966): 501-521. JSTOR. Web. 15 October 2014.
Henderson, Archibald. “Archibald Henderson 1907.” Wilde Comedies. Ed. William Tydeman. London: The Macmillan P, 1982. Print.
Hinnanat, Charles H. “Wit, Propriety and Style in The Way of the World.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. 17.3 (1977): 373-386. JSTOR. Web. 21 April 2014.
Kaufman, Anthony. “Language and Character in Congreve’s The Way of the World.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language. 15.3 (1973): 411-427. JSTOR. Web. 24 April 2014.
Kroll, Richard W. F. “Discourse and Power in The Way of the World.” EHL. 53.4 (1986): 727-758. JSTOR. Web. 22 April 2014.
Lyons, Charles R. “Disguise, Identity and Personal Value in The Way of the World.” Educational Theatre Journal. 23.3 (1971): 258-268. JSTOR. Web. 21 April 2014.
Mackie, Gregory. “The Function of Decorum at the Present Time: Manners, Moral Language, and Modernity in "an Oscar Wilde Play".” Modern Drama. 52.2 (2009): 145-167. Project Muse. 16 October 2014.
Martin, Robert Bernard. The Triumph of Wit. London: Oxford UP, 1974. Print.
Miles, Dudley, Dudley H. Miles. “Morals of Restoration.” The Sewanee Review. 24.1 (1916): 105-114. JSTOR. 22 April 2014.
Mueschke Miriam, Paul Mueschke. A New View of Congreve’s Way of the World. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1958. Print.
McCloskey, Susan. “Knowing One’s Relations in Congreve’s The Way of the World.” Theatre Journal. 33.1 (1981): 69-79. JSTOR. 21 April 2014.
Nicoll, Allardyce. A History of Restoration Drama, 1660-1700. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1923. Print.
Palmer, John. The Comedy of Manners. London: G. Bell, 1913. Print.
Raby, Peter. The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde. London: Cambridge UP, 1977. Print.
Roper, Alan. “Language and Action in The Way of the World, Love’s Last Shift and The Relapse.” ELH. 40.1 (1973): 44-69. JSTOR. 21 April 2014.
Sammells, Neil. Wilde Style: The Plays and Prose of Oscar Wilde. Harlow: Longman, 2000. Print.
Stoll, Elmer Edgar. “The “Real Society” in Restoration Comedy: Hymeneal Pretenses. Modern Language Notes. 58.3 (1943): 175-181. JSTOR. 22 April 2014.
Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977. Print.
Thomas, David. William Congreve. Houndmills: Macmillan, 1992. Print.
Walkey, A. B. “A.B. Walkley on the Importance of Being Earnest.”Oscar Wilde: Critical Heritage. Ed. Karl Beckson. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970. Print.
Worth, Katharine. Oscar Wilde. London: Macmillan P, 1983. Print.

Summary
The bachelor thesis focuses on the theatre genre of the comedy of manners, which has its beginnings in the Restoration period after the return of the Stuarts on the English throne in 1660. Its aim is to examine the first phase of the genre in which the plays dealt with in the thesis were created and its specifications and also to show the context in which the plays studied in the following two chapters were created.
After introducing and analysing the plays, that is The Way of the World (1700) by William Congreve and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) by Oscar Wilde, as two representative comedies of manners, the focus is put on the concept of wit, the way courtship is constructed and what role love plays in the dramatic action and last but not least to what extent the plays reflect the actual life of the upper-circles in the times of the Restoration and Victorian periods. In the last part of the thesis I compare and contrast the two plays in terms of aforementioned aspects and examine their differences and similarities which are shared by both playwrights.

Resumé
Bakalářská práce se zaměřuje na divadelní žánr komedie mravů, který datuje své počátky od období restaurace Stuartovců na anglický trůn v roce 1660. Cílem práce je objasnit počátky tohoto žánru a jeho zaměření a ukázat, v jakém kontextu vznikly hry, které jsou předmětem následujících dvou kapitol.
Po úvodu je prostor věnován dvěma hrám, které je možné zařadit mezi komedie mravů, a to Jak to na tom světě chodí (The Way of the World,1700) od Williama Congreva a Jak je důležité míti Filipa (The Importance of Being Earnest, 1895) od Oscara Wilda. U obou her jsou zkoumány stejné aspekty, a to koncept, který se schovává pod pojmem „wit“, způsob, jakým jsou prezentovány námluvy a jakou roli v nich hraje romantická láska a v neposlední řadě do jaké míry odrážejí hry realitu vyšších společenských kruhů v období restaurace a viktoriánské Anglie. V závěru práce se věnuji porovnání obou her z daných aspektů a hledání rozdílů či podobností, které oba dramatiky a jejich hry spojují či odlišují.

--------------------------------------------
[ 1 ]. a character in literature, theatre, or film of a type quickly recognized and accepted by the reader or viewer and requiring no development by the writer. (www.dictionary.reference.com)
[ 2 ]. a man, especially one who is rich or with a high social position, who lives in an immoral way, especially having sex with a lot of women (www.dictionary.cambridge.com)
[ 3 ]. www.cft.org.uk/the-way-of-the-world
[ 4 ]. a man devoted to style, neatness and fashion in dress and appearance (www.oxforddictionaries. com)
[ 5 ]. the humorous use of a word or phrase so as to emphasize or suggest its different meanings or applications, or the use of words that are alike or nearly alike in sound but different in meaning; a play on words
[ 6 ]. All information comes from the official web pages of the theatres
[ 7 ]. Taken from: Thomas, David. William Congreve. Houndmills: Macmillan, 1992. Print.
[ 8 ]. Taken from: Worth, Katharine. Oscar Wilde. London: Macmillan P, 1983. Print.
[ 9 ]. volně přeloženo jako důvtip…...

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...Dating: God’s Way Against the World’s Tiffany R. Jones Liberty University Abstract The subject of dating according to the way of the Lord is isn’t something that is often approached. However, it is very important that Christians apply biblical principals when approaching dating relationships. It is unfortunate that even believers have dismissed the way that the Lord intended for us to establish relationships. As a result, there are an increased number of couples that have become comfortable with dating and choosing to avoid marriage. Whether it’s a dating relationship or a simple friendship, the God should be the foundation. By making sure that things are done the way that the Lord directed, there will be many more healthy relationships in the world. As important as the topic is, dating isn’t one that is discussed in churches today, at least not in the ones that I have been a part of. Many ministries deal with single people and married couples, but seemingly the stage in between goes untouched, leaving those in this stage to fend for themselves. Although dating isn’t mentioned in the bible per say, I believe that there is distinct difference in the way that the secular world presents the dating and mating process and how God directs us to select our mates. The bible says in 2 Corinthians 6:14 (New International Version), “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with......

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