In the play “The Importance of being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde, he has used the language of the characters to express humor and satire, which he uses in the play as a parody towards the characters, and mock the Victorian values. The dialogues of the characters are witty, and at times even absurd. Wild expresses his genius through word plays and devices such as epigrams to really bring out the ridiculousness of the play, which leads to a rather light hearted play that can be appreciated as a parody.
The play itself starts with such dialogue. The butler, Lane, walks into Algernon playing the piano, to which Algernon says “I don’t play accurately—any one can play accurately—but I play with wonderful expression”. While at a first glance this may seem absurd to read, but when looked at closely it seems to be mocking aestheticism. Playing a piano is not something that can be done in an abstract form without proper notes, and the fact that Algernon claims he can do so – while his tone may seem like being overly self confident while doing so – is clearly him mocking the ideals of aestheticism, which was a really important movement during the Victorian era.
This sort of dialogue is very prevalent throughout the play, with Wilde hinting towards developments at the time, thereby mocking the attitudes of the privileged upper classes in the Victorian Era. Another example of this is when Algernon tells Lady Bracknell that Bunbury, his fake personality, died as a result of him ‘exploding’. To this Lady Bracknell has a rather sudden and hilarious outbreak, saying “Exploded! Was he the victim of a revolutionary outrage? I was not aware that Mr. Bunbury was interested in social legislation. If so, he is well punished for his morbidity.”. This seems like something that would be said in a rather serious tone, as Lady Bracknell was quite alarmed, and her saying that ‘Bunbury deserved this’ because he took part in social legislation mocks the attitudes of the elite towards the common people trying to incite a revolution.
Another way in which WIlde has used dialogue to generate humor – and in a way criticism towards Victorian morals – is by taking themes of importance, such as marriage and divorce, and reducing it to something that seems almost meaningless through the characters. This can be seen when Lane says that “I have often observed that in married households the champagne is rarely of a first-rate brand”; mocking the importance of marriage and relationships at the time by saying that the champagne is not of a first-rate brand. After this he goes on to say that he was married just once, and that was the result of a misunderstanding. Dialogues like this provide a straight jab towards Victorian ideals – making something like marriage seem almost like a joke – and hence enhance the parodic nature of the play. Along with witty dialogue, literary devices such as epigrams – as seen in Algernon saying “Divorces are made in heaven” – serve a dual purpose of making the very dialogue itself hilariously absurd, as well as mocking divorces.
As a whole, Wilde has used dialogue and tones in an excellent way, using them to bring out humor in the form of the ridiculousness of what is being said, and express satire towards Victorian ideals – and thus making a parody of a well-made play, which embraces many of the aforementioned ideals and values. Wilde has used this sort of language very frequently as well, making it very apparent that the play is not something serious, but rather a parody. This language has also helped establish the characters as rather shallow and flat, which gives a very light-heartedness to the play, allowing the readers/audience to actually appreciate the satire.