The Importance of Being Earnest

Oscar Wilde

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Act 1, Section 1

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 1, Section 1 of Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest.

The Importance of Being Earnest | Act 1, Section 1 : Algernon and Lane | Summary


Oscar Wilde divided The Importance of Being Earnest into three acts. This study guide further breaks down each act summary and analysis into sections.


Lane is setting up for tea while Algernon Moncrieff plays the piano in the next room. Algernon finishes and enters the morning room (a family living room) where Lane is working. Lane says he didn't think it polite to listen to Algernon playing the piano.

Algernon quizzes Lane about how much wine was consumed at a recent event, blaming the servants for the excessive consumption. They discuss marriage briefly. Algernon dismisses Lane, who returns a moment later to announce a visitor: Mr. Ernest Worthing.


This brief scene sets the tone for the play and introduces some of its themes as well as its main characters. The tone is light and comic. When Lane says he didn't think it polite to listen to Algernon playing the piano, he reverses the usual situation in which people play the piano to entertain others. When Algernon claims anyone can play accurately, he reverses common wisdom and reality as well: in reality it is very difficult to play music accurately.

When Algernon claims he keeps "science for Life" rather than applying it to music, he sets up a focused kind of situational irony, where reality contradicts expectation. Though the audience has just been introduced to Algernon, they understand quickly this is not a man who applies science to any aspect of his reality. Instead the discussion of how much champagne has been consumed establishes his world as one of pleasure and extravagance. When Algernon follows by blaming the servants for this excessive consumption, the audience understands his lack of responsibility as well. The wit with which Wilde laces almost every line finishes the evocation of this world: a world of such joyous verbal pleasure that audiences are quite willing to have their expectations inverted and watch silly people do sillier things.

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