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Excerpt from

The Importance of Being Earnest  

- Oscar Wilde



Morning-room in Algernon's flat in Half-Moon Street. The room is luxuriously and artistically furnished. The sound of a piano is heard in the adjoining room. [Lane is arranging afternoon tea on the table, and after the music has ceased, Algernon enters.]

ALG Did you hear what I was playing, Lane?

LANE I didn't think it polite to listen, sir.

ALG I'm sorry for that, for your sake. I don't play accurately- anyone can play accurately- but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life.

LANE Yes, sir.

ALG And, speaking of the science of Life, have you got the cucumber sandwiches cut for Lady Bracknell?

LANE Yes, sir.

[Hands them on a salver.]

ALG [Inspects them, takes two, and sits down on the sofa.] Oh!... by the way, Lane, I see from your book that on Thursday night, when Lord Shoreman and Mr. Worthing were dining with me, eight bottles of champagne are entered as having been consumed.

LANE Yes, sir; eight bottles and a pint.

ALG Why is it that at a bachelor's establishment the servants invariably drink the champagne? I ask merely for information.

LANE I attribute it to the superior quality of the wine, sir. I have often observed that in married households the champagne is rarely of a first-rate brand.

ALG Good Heavens! Is marriage so demoralising as that?

LANE I believe it is a very pleasant state, sir. I have had very little experience of it myself up to the present. I have only been married once. That was in consequence of a misunderstanding between myself and a young person.

ALG [Languidly.] I don't know that I am much interested in your family life, Lane. LANE No, sir; it is not a very interesting subject. I never think of it myself.

ALG Very natural, I am sure. That will do, Lane, thank you.

LANE Thank you, sir.

[Lane goes out.]

ALG Lane's views on marriage seem somewhat lax. Really, if the lower orders don't set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.

[Enter Lane.]

LANE Mr. Ernest Worthing.

[Enter Jack.]

[Lane goes out.]

ALG How are you, my dear Ernest? What brings you up to town?

JACK Oh, pleasure, pleasure! What else should bring one anywhere? Eating as usual, I see, Algy!

ALG [Stiffly.] I believe it is customary in good society to take some slight refreshment at five o'clock. Where have you been since last Thursday?

JACK [Sitting down on the sofa.] In the country.

ALG What on earth do you do there?

JACK [Pulling off his gloves.] When one is in town one amuses oneself. When one is in the country one amuses other people. It is excessively boring.

ALG And who are the people you amuse?

JACK [Airily.] Oh, neighbours, neighbours.

ALG Got nice neighbours in your part of Shropshire?

JACK Perfectly horrid! Never speak to one of them.

ALG How immensely you must amuse them! [Goes over and takes sandwich.] By the way, Shropshire is your county, is it not?

JACK Eh? Shropshire? Yes, of course. Hallo! Why all these cups? Why cucumber sandwiches? Why such reckless extravagance in one so young? Who is coming to tea?

ALG Oh! merely Aunt Augusta and Gwendolen.

JACK How perfectly delightful!

ALG Yes, that is all very well; but I am afraid Aunt Augusta won't quite approve of your being here.

JACK May I ask way?

ALG My dear fellow, the way you flirt with Gwendolen is perfectly disgraceful. It is almost as bad as the way Gwendolen flirts with you.

JACK I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to town expressly propose to her.

ALG I thought you had come up for pleasure?... I call that business.

JACK How utterly unromantic you are!

ALG I really don't see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why, one may be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then the excitement is all over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty. If ever I get married, I'll certainly try to forget the fact.

JACK I have no doubt about that, dear Algy. The Divorce Court was specially invented for people whose memories are so curiously constituted.

ALG Oh! there is no use speculating on that subject. Divorces are made in Heaven.

[Jack puts out his hand to take a sandwich. Algernon at once interferes.]

Please don't touch the cucumber sandwiches. They are ordered specially for Aunt Augusta.

[Takes one and eats it.]

JACK Well, you have been eating them all the time.

ALG That is quite a different matter. She is my aunt.

[Takes plate from below.] Have some bread and butter.The bread and butter is for Gwendolen. Gwendolen is devoted to bread and butter.

JACK [Advancing to table and helping himself.] And very good bread and butter it is too.

ALG Well, my dear fellow, you need not eat as if you were going to eat it all. You behave as if you were married to her already. You are not married to her already, and I don't think you ever will be.

JACK Why, on earth do you say that?

ALG Well, in the first place girls never marry the men they flirt with. Girls don't think it right.

JACK Oh, that is nonsense!

ALG It isn't. It is a great truth. It accounts for the extraordinary number of bachelors that one sees all over the place. In the second place, I don't give my consent.

JACK Your consent!

ALG My dear fellow, Gwendolen is my first cousin. And before I allow you to marry her, you will have to clear up the whole question of Cecily.

[Rings bell.]

JACK Cecily! What on earth do you mean? What do you mean, Algy, by Cecily? I don't know anyone of the name of Cecily.

[Enter Lane.]

ALG Bring me that cigarette case Mr. Worthing left in the smokingroom the last time he dined here.

LANE Yes, sir.

[Lane goes out.]

JACK Do you mean to say you have had my cigarette case all this time? I wish to goodness you had let me know. I have been writing frantic letters to Scotland Yard about it. I was very nearly offering a large reward.

ALG Well, I wish you would offer one. I happen to be more than usually hard up.

JACK There is no good offering a large reward now that the thing is found.

[Enter Lane with the cigarette case on a salver. Algernon takes it at once. Lane goes out.]

ALG I think that is rather mean of you, Ernest, I must say.

[Opens case and examines it.] However, it makes no matter, for, now that I look at the inscription inside, I find that the thing isn't yours after all.

JACK Of course it's mine.

[Moving to him.] You have seen me with it a hundred times, and you have no right whatsoever to read what is written inside. It is a very ungentlemanly thing to read a private cigarette case.

ALG Oh! it is absurd to have a hard-and-fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn't. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn't read.

JACK I am quite aware of the fact, and I don't propose to discuss modern culture. It isn't the sort of thing one should talk of in private. I simply want my cigarette case back.

ALG Yes; but this isn't your cigarette case. This cigarette case is a present from someone of the name of Cecily, and you said you didn't know anyone of that name. JACK Well, if you want to know, Cecily happens to be my aunt.

ALG Your aunt!

JACK Yes. Charming old lady she is, too. Lives at Tunbridge Wells. Just give it back to me, Algy.

ALG [Retreating to back of sofa.] But why does she call herself Cecily if she is your aunt and lives at Tunbridge Wells?

[Reading.] "From little Cecily with her fondest love."

JACK [Moving to sofa and kneeling upon it.] My dear fellow, what on earth is there in that? Some aunts are tall, some aunts are not tall. That is a matter that surely an aunt may be allowed to decide for herself. You seem to think that every aunt should be exactly like your aunt! That is absurd! For Heaven's sake give me back my cigarette case.

[Follows Algy round the room.]

ALG Yes. But why does your aunt call you her uncle? "From little Cecily, with her fondest love to her dear Uncle Jack." There is no objection, I admit, to an aunt being a small aunt, but why an aunt, no matter what her size may be, should call her own nephew her uncle, I can't quite make out. Besides, your name isn't Jack at all; it is Ernest.

JACK It isn't Ernest; it's Jack.

ALG You have always told me it was Ernest. I have introduced you to everyone as Ernest. You answer to the name of Ernest. You look as if your name was Ernest. You are the most earnest looking person I ever saw in my life. It is perfectly absurd your saying that your name isn't Ernest. It's on your cards. Here is one of them. [Taking it from case.] "Mr. Ernest Worthing, B. 4, The Albany." I'll keep this as a proof that your name is Ernest if ever you attempt to deny, it to me, or to Gwendolen, or to anyone else.

[Puts the card in his pocket.]

About the book:

The Importance of Being Earnest is a play set in London where two friends, in order to marry their girlfriends, desire to change their names to 'Earnest'. However, while braving a snobbish aunt, terrible mistakes are made which lead to a secret coming out, leading to uproar and chaos.

Cleverly written, this play sheds light on the mindsets of people of different ages and in the Victorian era.

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