Essay 2: Drama
Very few of us read plays for pleasure in the same way that we might take a novel with us to the beach. This isn’t surprising; most playwrights, in fact, never intend for their plays to be read in this way. Drama is a living art, and if you read the play text on the page, you are getting only one part of what has made drama so important to all cultures across many time periods. Plays are written for the stage and are meant to be experienced primarily in live performance. This means that as a reader you must be especially attentive to nuances of language in a play, which often means imagining what might be happening on stage during a particular passage of speech. Using your imagination in this way–in effect, staging the play in your mind–will help you with some of the difficulties inherent in reading plays. Also, as an aside, there have been at least two films made based on the play; you may consider checking one of these out to help you really understand some of the nuances of the play.
For things to keep in mind when writing about drama, please see page 14 of your text: Questions for Active Reading: DRAMA
For this essay, on The Importance of Being Earnest, choose from either of the following two writing prompts.
1. The scene in which Jack proposes to Gwendolen portrays a reversal of Victorian assumptions about gender roles. This is just one example of how Wilde subverts or satirizes Victorian manners, Victorian societal expectations, and Victorian gender roles. In your paper discuss, to what extent, Oscar Wilde blurs the line between the way society of this time had established a set of precise characteristics and norms to divide the sexes. If you pick this option, you will have to discuss the norms of Victorian gender roles at the time, and the ways in which Oscar Wilde subverts (or blurs or satirizes) those Victorian expectations.
2. According to Karl Beckson, “Central to Wilde’s life and art was the idea of the dandy as the embodiment of the heroic ideal as well as of the aesthetic temperament hostile to bourgeois sentiment and morality” (205). Which character or characters in the play embody this aesthetic principle, and how? Make sure if you pick this option you carefully outline Beckson’s ideas. You will need to carefully define the term and then look carefully at Algernon and/or Jack.
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