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What are the main stages of the battle of the wits between Gwendolen and Cecily in act two

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There are five main stages in the battle of the wits between Gwendolen and Cecily. While they battle they use a number of weapons that include: rhetoric questions, patronage, epigrams, sarcasm, deliberate disobedience and bragging.

From the very beginning when Gwendolen and Cecily first meet there seems to be an apparent grating of personalities. As soon as Gwendolen enters the scene she straightaway goes to shake Cecily’s hand, which is quite a dominating action. It gives the impression that Gwendolen is taking charge and that Cecily in the extreme, is almost powerless to stop her.

“Moving to her and shaking hands”. Gwendolen goes on to use command like sentences, which fortify the dominating characteristic that has already presented itself: “I may call you Cecily, may I not?…And you will call he Gwendolen, wont you?…Then that is all quite settled, is it not?” As soon as they meet, they have apprehensions of each other; this seems to add to the already accumulating fuel that will feed their battle.

This leads on to the second stage where Gwendolen and Cecily begin to have doubts about each other’s relationships to Jack, or Ernest as the case may be. When Gwendolen turns up at Jack’s house she seems to jump to the conclusion that Cecily is having an affair with her soon to be fianc�, that Cecily is Jack’s mistress. Gwendolen asks questions to verify her suspicions but unfortunately Cecily’s answers implicate her as what Gwendolen thinks she already is.

You are here on a short visit I suppose. Oh no! I live here. (Severely) Really? Your mother no doubt, or some female relative of advanced years, resides here also? Oh no! I have no mother, nor, in fact, any relations.

After Gwendolen finds out that Cecily is Jack’s ward, she softens a little bit, but she still tells Cecily what she would rather have her look like. “… Not so alluring in appearance…I wish that you were fully forty-two” Gwendolen mentions Ernest and Cecily notices the name, after all she is going to marry him. “I beg your pardon, Gwendolen, did you say Ernest?”

This leads on to another complicated conversation; which of them is going to marry Ernest. Little do each of them know that they are both engaged to a man that does not exists. Even though the ladies’ tempers are fraying, they are very polite to each other. They almost come to blows but fortunately they don’t. This may be because of the fact that Merriman enters in the nick of time.

When I see a spade I call it a spade. I am glad to say that I have never seen a spade. It is obvious that our social spheres have been widely different. (Enter Merriman, followed by the footman … Cecily is about to retort. The presence of the servants exercises a restraining influence, under which both girls chafe.)

They carry on insulting each other using stylish epigrams and satirical comments but less harsh.

“I hate crowds. I suppose that is why you live in town? …That is what the newspapers call agricultural depression, is it not? I believe the aristocracy are suffering very much from it just at present”

The third stage in the battle is over tea and cake. Cecily takes I upon herself to deliberately give Gwendolen exactly what she does not want for tea. She fills Gwendolen’s tea with sugar and gives her cake rather than bread and butter, which is what she asked for. This deliberate disobedience is rude and effective in the argument they are having. Gwendolen then sets about telling Cecily what she thinks.

You have filled my tea with lumps of sugar, and though I asked most distinctly for bread and butter, you have given me cake. I am known for the gentleness of the disposition, and the extraordinary sweetness of my nature, but I warn you miss Cardew, you may go too far.

The fourth stage is short but still important. Here Gwendolen believes that she has won the battle when jack enters and says that he is not marrying Cecily, as Gwendolen had thought.

May I ask you if you are going to be married to this young lady? (points to Cecily) To dear little Cecily? Of course not!

This victory is short lived though when Cecily informs Gwendolen that who she thinks she is about to marry is not Ernest but Mr. John Worthing.

The gentleman with his arm around your waist is my dear guardian, Mr John Worthing.

The fifth and final stage is when Cecily believes that she has won their battle of wits, after she candidly points out the mistake about Jack, Algernon enters and informs Cecily that he is only marrying her and not Gwendolen.

May I ask you – are you engaged to be married to this young lady? … Of course not! What could have put such an idea into your pretty little head?

However, this victory is also short lived when Gwendolen tells Cecily that she also is not marrying an earnest but in fact her cousin Algernon. “The gentleman who is now embracing you is my cousin, Mr Algernon Moncrieff.”

By the end of the battle it seems as if neither of the ladies has won. Both end their battle in each other’s arms.

“The two girls move towards each other and put their arms around each other’s waists as if for protection”

Even though the girls have fought, bitterly at times, throughout this short extract, they end with no apparent win or lose. If a judgement had to take place, it would seem that both of them have lost. Neither are very happy; they are both not engaged to a man named Ernest.

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