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The Importance of Being Earnest and Pack of Lies

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‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ was written as a play by Oscar Wilde in 1894, during the summer and reign of Queen Victoria. The play was performed in 1895. It is a classic comedy of manners and is regarded by many critics and scholars as being the wittiest play in the English language. It is set in England in 1890s, in the city of London (Act I) and Hertfordshire, a rural county not far from London (Acts II and III) Its primary source of humour is based upon the main character Jack’s fictitious younger brother Ernest. The play focuses on Jack and Algernon, two young men in love with girls both determined to marry someone named Ernest.

Jack and Algernon both create personas to be free. These other lives allow them to neglect their duties, in Algernon’s case, or to leave their duties and pursue pleasure, in Jack’s case. Gwendolen and Cecily reveal their true selves, especially in the tea scene. Oscar Wilde set his play during the Victorian era that he lived in, the late 19th Century. ‘Pack of Lies,’ was written by Hugh Whitmore in 1983 and performed in the same year. It is set in a London suburb in the early sixties, 1961, and is based on true events. The play opens as the Jackson family greets their good friends and neighbours, the Krogers.

The Jacksons are quickly thrust into the middle of an investigation by the mysterious Stewart, who tells them that the Krogers are Russian spies. Suddenly even innocent actions take on sinister meanings as the family struggles with deception, lies and choosing between loyalty to their country or to their friends. ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is an exaggerated and stylised piece. In contrast with ‘Pack of Lies,’ it is entirely different as ‘Pack of Lies’ is realism. The genre of each play is different, ‘Pack of Lies,’ is a drama, but ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ is a comedy.

The culture of ‘Pack of Lies’ is a suburban home in outer London, where middle class, ordinary people live. It is a very neighbourly place. However the culture of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ is upper class and is set in wealthy households in both London and Hertfordshire. The historical context of each play is different as well. ‘Pack of Lies, was based on true facts as during the era that Hugh Whitmore based was the Cold War and Russia. The Cold War was the war against Hitler, which had united America and Russia, but post-war splits appeared. They stopped short of full scale war because of the development of the Atomic bomb.

It turned into a battle for world domination which is why Britain got involved. This is why there were spies who tried to interrogate each country’s security. The Cold War was 1945-89. ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ was based on the society that Oscar Wilde lived in; the Victorian era in the late 19th century. Wilde tried to show up the snobbish attitude in his society for the audience to laugh at. However despite the historical context being different, the concept of the two plays being based on the writer’s life at that time is similar. The genre of each play is different as in ‘Pack of Lies,’ it is a drama but ‘The

Importance of Being Earnest,’ is a comedy. The impact of each play towards the audience is entirely different. For example the audience at the end of, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ may take a look at themselves and try to change their ways, because the character’s in Oscar Wilde’s play are generally shallow. However in ‘Pack of Lies,’ the ending of the play which is very tragic, with Barbara dying and Helen and Peter sent to prison, which could make the audience think how lucky they are not to be in a situation where they can not trust anyone. There are many themes in both plays, but one theme which is in them both is, ‘Not who they seem.

In ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ no one is really who they seem as Algernon pretends to be Earnest, Jack calls himself Earnest without realising that it is actually his real name and even Cecily and Gwendolen reveal their true colours when they get angry, especially in the tea scene. In ‘Pack of Lies,’ some characters are portrayed to be not who they seem, but there are different reasons for the deceptions. The Krogers are definitely not who they seem In Barbara’s monologue, she feels that no one is who they seem, especially Mr Stewart who tells nobody anything..

The audience see the gradual demise of Barbara emotionally, as she becomes more surrounded by lies, because of the lies she is faced with and is forced to pretend by MI5 ; upstairs in her household.. Overall ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and ‘Pack of Lies,’ both use the theme ‘Not who they seem,’ despite the different eras and the societies. ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is a social comedy that Oscar Wilde written, to gently mock the English upper classes of the society he lived in. For example the theme of the triviality of the upper class and the way in which they interact with one another, is ased on a social code, which Oscar Wilde uses as an advantage to be comical in his play.

For instance; Lady Bracknell is kind to Jack until she discovers his background. Gwendolen and Cecily are overly kind to one another until they find something upon which to disagree. Lady Bracknell is kind to Cecily when she discovers she has money. These examples show the complexities of each character and the many sides they show once they discover one’s status or wealth. The mood of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ is largely satirical.

This is because Wilde is seeking to mock the triviality of the upper class society of London. He often portrays lines that characters deliver as quite normal, for example when Gwendolen tells Ernest that she loves him because of his name. This, however, is quite ridiculous- making Gwendolen appear so. However ‘Pack of Lies,’ is about a family struggling with deception, lies and choosing between loyalty to their country or to their friends the Krogers, who are in fact Russian spies. The mood is very realistic and dramatic and compared to ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ is a lot darker.

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