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This play was written and produced in 1895. It is a comedy of identity and self-invention. It is a satire on the hollowness of Victorian society and has the themes of homosexual relationships. It was thought to be Wilde’s most original work, however, it has been borrowed from most of the other plays.
Algernon Moncrieff (Algy) is seen waiting for his aunt Lady Bracknell and cousin Gwendolen Fairfax (her daughter). His servant comes and both talk about marriage and drink. Meanwhile, his friend ‘Ernest’ arrives.
Algy comes to know that Jack has come from the country to propose Gwendolen whom he is in love with. Algy doesn’t like this idea. He doubts Jack’s identity and inquires about the inscription on his cigarette case that calls him ‘Uncle Jack’ which was given to him by Cecily (who is no other but Ernest’s ward).
Ernest finally confesses that his real name is Jack and he is the guardian of Cecily. He visits London to meet his pretend brother Ernest and while in London he assumes the name of Ernest (a high-class name) as Gwendolen desires that the name of his lover should be ‘Ernest’.
Hearing this, Algy confesses that he also has created pretend friend in the countryside namely Mr. Bunbury (it refers to homosexuality) whom he often visits. He does this in order to search for Cecily whose love letters he often got (as well as the cigarette pack).
Jack at once recognizes that the girl sending him letters is no other but his ward and Algy has fallen in love with him. Thus he tries to hide his address from Algy. Algy’s aunt and cousin arrive. Jack introduces himself as Ernest before Gwendolen and the latter exclaims, ‘my idea has always been to love someone of the name of Ernest’ and agrees to marry him.
Jack introduces himself as Ernest before Gwendolen and the latter exclaims, ‘my idea has always been to love someone of the name of Ernest’ and agrees to marry him.
Lady Bracknell seeing her daughter and Ernest together orders Gwendolen to go-outs and starts asking questions to Jack. Upon knowing that he was adopted by Mr. Thomas Cardew (Cecily’s grand-father) after being found in a handbag at Victoria Station, she rejects his proposal and advice him to rather adopt some parents of high class.
In spite of knowing the fact, Gwendolen loves Jack. Jack gives her his address. Algy who has been secretly listening to them notes down his address.
Act II opens in the countryside. Cecily is seen watering plants. Miss Prism forces her to read books but Cecily tells that she hates reading books. Dr. Chusable, a local Vicar who is in love with Miss Prism enters. Both exchange love glances and then leave.
While Cecily is alone, Algy arrives and introduces himself as Ernest, Jack’s wicked brother. As Cecily always longed for Ernest, she falls in love with him.
Jack who was supposed to return by Monday comes back the same day with fake news that his brother Ernest died. He is shocked to know that Algy has come to meet Cecily assuming himself as Ernest. He tries to get rid of Algy but the latter refuses to go back.
While both are engaged in an argument, Gwendolen arrives and befriends Cecily. However both the ladies start quarrelling as both of them love Ernest, each claiming that Ernest belongs to her. Meanwhile, Algy and Jack arrive and get exposed. Both justify their relation and abuse other’s affair. An argument begins as who will be Christened as Ernest.
Gwendolen and Cecily remain emotionless before Jack and Algy. After a short argument, both couples lock in an embrace. Lady Bracknell enters. She doesn’t approve the marriage proposal of Jack and prepares to leave.
Jack tells her about the status and fortune of Cecily. Lady Bracknell at once expresses her desire to marry Cecily to Algy. However, Jack as the legal guardian rejects her proposal and declares that he will give his consent only when she approves his proposal.
While Lady Bracknell is preparing to leave, she happens to hear the name of Miss Prism. On seeing her she at once recognizes her as the maid of her sister who lost a child (of Lady Bracknell’s sister) in a bag and a novel book at Victoria Station because of her absent-mindedness.
Jack brings the same bag and Prism recognizes it. Thus Jack turns out to be the son of Lady Bracknell’s sister and brother of Algy. It is also revealed that their father’s name was Ernest.
Hence lovers are united at last.