Oscar Wilde’s comedy The Importance of Being Earnest highlights the prejudices and stereotypes which were widespread during the Victorian era. The writer illustrates how these biases could influence the life of an individual.
To some degree, this literary work can be compared to Molière’s play The Learned Ladies because both authors attempt to throw light on the hypocrisy of the norms established in the society.
So, these plays are similar in terms of themes examined by the playwrights. Apart from that, there are important stylistic elements that are present in two plays; for instance, one can mention the use of similar stock characters. Nevertheless, there are important details that should be taken into account.
For instance, the writers achieve a comic effect in different ways. In particular, Molière evinces laughter by highlighting the differences between people’s outward behavior and their inner world. In contrast, Oscar Wilde relies heavily on paradoxical statements that seem to be absurd and superficial. These are the main questions that should be examined more closely.
It should be mentioned that both writers focus on the story of people who attempt to retain their love despite the resistance of other people who are mostly driven by their prejudice. For instance, Oscar Wilde focuses on the experiences of John Worthing and Gwendolen Fairfax who are deeply in love with each other.
Nevertheless, Gwendolen’s aunt Lady Bracknell insists that Gwendolen’s spouse should be a person of the noble birth (Wilde 18). Moreover, she cannot accept a foundling like John. Therefore, this requirement can ruin their marriage. In turn, Molière explores the experiences of Henriette and Clitandre who are not allowed to marry because Henriette’s mother believes that her daughter has to marry a very pretentious poet and scholar named Trissotin (Molière 12).
These are some of the similarities in the narrative. To a great extent, this development of the plot is typical of such a genre as farce. However, Oscar Wilde and Molière employ this element of the narrative to illustrate the hypocrisy of many assumptions that people can often take for granted.
Much attention should to some common elements. In particular, one can use about stock characters who are typical of certain genres such as comedy or farce (Silverblatt 49). At first, it is possible to mention witty lovers who attempt to find ways of overcoming social obstacles that are artificially created for them. These people try to find loopholes that can enable them to overcome artificial barriers. This is another issue that should be taken into consideration.
Apart from that, the authors examine the same conflict between social norms and love. Both authors demonstrate that these norms can become obsolete and irrelevant. Certainly, the plays have different settings. In particular, Oscar Wilde’s play depicts the life of the Victorian society whereas Molière depicts people, living in seventeenth-century France. Nevertheless, in both case, the writers illustrate the social conventions that are based on biases or prejudices (Booth178). These are some of the similarities that can be distinguished.
Nevertheless, one should mention that Molière includes a negative character named Trissotin who tries to convince to disrupt the marriage of Henriette and Clitandre. In contrast, such a character is not included in Oscar Wilde’s play. This author wants to create a comedy of errors in which there is no separate villain who creates challenges for the protagonists. This is one of the points that can be made.
There are other important differences that should be taken into account. One should mention that the authors employ different comic elements. In particular, Oscar Wilde relies on witty, paradoxical, and slightly careless statements that attract the attention of the reader. For example, Lady Brackness expresses her views on marriage in the following way, “To speak frankly, I am not in favor of long engagements.
They give people the opportunity of finding out each other’s character before marriage, which I think is never advisable” (Wilde 61). These comments are important for illustrating the cynicism of Victorian society. In contrast, Molière achieves comic effects by underlying pretense in people’s behavior. For instance, he can focus on the shallowness of Trissotins. Apart from that, Molière shows that Henriette’s mother cannot distinguish true art from mediocrity. These are some of the distinctions that should not be overlooked by the readers.
Overall, these two plays demonstrate how people may overcome the barriers that can be explained primarily by social conventions that are sometimes accepted without questioning. In many cases, these norms are based on prejudice against a particular social group. Oscar Wilde and Molière depict a society in which people are forced to comply with the rules that they do not fully understand.
Nevertheless, these literary works have important distinctions. Molière highlights the pretentiousness of a person’s behavior, while Oscar Wilde applies paradoxes that are necessary to create a comic effect. These techniques enable the playwrights to showcase the flaws of society. These are the main arguments that can be put forward.
Booth, Michael. Theatre in the Victorian Age, London: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Print.
Molière. The Learned Ladies, New York, NY: Dramatists Play Service, 1997. Print.
Silverblatt, Art. Genre Studies in Mass Media: A Handbook, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2007. Print.
Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest, New York: Heinemann, 1994. Print.