Importance of Being Earnest Summary

Importance of Being Earnest 

Key information:

  • Full Title: The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People.
  • Genre: Social comedy; comedy of manners; satire; intellectual farce.
  • Time of composition: 1894
  • First performed: 1895
  • Published date: 1899
  • Number of acts: Three acts each divided into two parts
  • Time setting: late nineteenth century or 1890s
  • Place setting: A stylish flat in London and A country house in Hertfordshire.


  1. Manner and sincerity 
  2. Nature of marriage
  3. love
  4. Dual identity
  5. Hypocrisy vs Inventiveness
  6. Language
  7. Reversal

Character list: 

  • Jack / Ernest Worthing: He is the drama’s protagonist and was adopted as an infant. He is a rich, young bachelor of 28 with no known family. He lives a double life – as Jack Worthing in the country and Ernest in town.
  • Gwendolen Fairfax: She is the drama’s heroine and Algernon’s first cousin, Lady Bracknell’s daughter, and Jack’s beloved.
  • Algernon Moncrieff: Algernon Moncrieff is a young, pleasure-seeking bachelor from a good family. He pretends to meet his imaginary friend Bunbury in the country to avoid social responsibility.
  • Cecily Cardew: She is Jack’s beautiful 18-year-old ward. She loves Jack’s wicked brother Ernest. She learns German from her governess Miss Prism.
  • Lady Bracknell: Lady Augusta Bracknell is Gwendolen’s mother and Algernon’s aunt.
  • Miss Prism: She is Cecily’s governess and was Jack’s nurse before she misplaced him when he was a baby.
  • Dr. Chasuble: He is a well-meaning but bumbling clergyman at the parish near Jack’s country home.
  • Lane: He is Algernon’s servant.
  • Merriman: He is the butler at Jack’s country home.

English Summary

So you can easily understand the complete critical summary of this drama in just 2 points. 2 points are,

  1. Story of the City or London
  2. Story of Village or Hertfordshire.

1. The story of the city or London:

  • A tea party at Algernon’s flat

The play started in 1895. Firstly, in the afternoon, a tea party is shown. Here the play begins in Algernon’s stylish flat. Algernon is shown playing the piano at the beginning. But it is basically a criticism. Because he can’t play the piano very well. So while Algernon clumsily plays the piano, his servant Lane prepares for the tea party. Because three guests will come to this afternoon tea party. One is Algernon’s aunt Lady Bracknell. Another is Algernon’s cousin or Lady Bracknell’s beautiful daughter Gwendolen Fairfax and Algernon’s friend Ernest. Ernest here refers to Jack. Actually, when Jack comes to London from the village, he takes the name, Ernest. And now that he’s in London, we’ll call him Ernest.

  • Ernest’s real identity is revealed as Jack

So Ernest arrives at Algernon’s flat first. Algernon tells him, friend, you won’t be here long today. Because my aunt Lady Bracknell and her beautiful daughter Gwendolen will be coming to this afternoon’s tea party. You can’t stay because you flirted with Gwendolen earlier. But Ernest doesn’t mind this and becomes happy. Because he has come to London to propose to Gwendolen. And this he tells his friend Algernon too. Algernon then taunts him and says that you clear up Cecily first. Then Ernest says I don’t know Cecily. Algernon then says to Ernest, Friend, I know you know Cecily very well. Still, Ernest refused. Then Algernon tells his servant Lane, Lane, you bring Ernest’s packet of cigarettes.

When Lane brings this pack of cigarettes, Algernon says to his friend Ernest, “Friend, you forgot to leave this packet of cigarettes. I saw in this packet that a girl named Cecily gave you this packet of cigarettes. She calls you Uncle. After hearing this Ernest realizes that Algernon knows everything. Jack/Ernest now realizes that Algernon knows everything. So he says, “Dude, my life is very tragic. As a child, I was picked up at Victoria railway station by a man named Thomas Cardew with a handbag. Since then he has looked after me. And before his death, he left the responsibility of his daughter Cecily to me. Cecily/Cecily Cardew is a very nice girl and she is about 18 years old.

  • Attendance of Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen at the tea party

Meanwhile, Jack/Ernest continues to talk with Gwendolen. Here they both express their feelings to each other. But Gwendolen says here that she wants to marry a man whose name will be named Ernest. Then Jack/Ernest says, Gwendolen if my name wasn’t Ernest, wouldn’t you love me? Then Gwendolen says, I would love you even if your name wasn’t Ernest. But Gwendolen knows that Jack’s name is Ernest. And she believes that the one she loves is Ernest. What he doesn’t know is that Ernest’s real name is Jack, not Ernest. Jack/Ernest then proposes to Gwendolen and Gwendolen accepts.

Now Gwendolen and her mother, Lady Bracknell, arrive at Algernon’s flat. Algernon excuses himself to Lady Bracknell, “Aunt, I can’t feed you more than tea today. I mean I can’t have a dinner party. Because my friend Bunbury is very ill. I have to go see him. But I promise, next Sunday for you, I will organize a dinner party”. Algernon then offers Lady Bracknell to go to the music room and arrange a party. And they both went to the music room.

Algernon then approaches Ernest and finds him a little gloomy. Just then Gwendolen comes in again and says to Ernest, “Ernest, why didn’t you tell me earlier that you were an orphan? I love you even more after hearing you’re an orphan. I love you, no matter how much my mother denies it. And give your home address so that we can exchange letters”. Ernest then gives Gwendolen the address of his village home in Hertfordshire. Meanwhile, Algernon also secretly wrote down this address.

Read More: Waiting for Godot

  • Ernest’s proposal to Gwendolen
  • Lady Bracknell’s rejection of Jack

Meanwhile, Lady Bracknell comes in from the music room and Gwendolen tells her that Gwendolen loves Ernest (Jack). Lady Bracknell then sends Gwendolen out to the carriage. He then asks Ernest (Jack) about his parentage. Here Ernest tells the truth about himself to Lady Bracknell. He is an orphan. A rich man took him in and brought him up. Upon hearing that Ernest is an orphan, Lady Bracknell says, “Upper-class people like us can’t make relationships with an orphan like you”. Saying this she left.

  • Jack’s village address was taken by Gwendolen

2. The story of the village or Hertfordshire.

  • Cecily and Miss Prism’s conversation in the garden

From here the scene moves to Ernest’s village home in Hertfordshire. Here Cecily and Miss Prism are sitting in the garden and talking. At this point, a character named Dr. Chasuble enters. When Dr. Chasuble arrives, Cecily says to Miss Prism, “Ma’am, you wandered a little that way with that clergyman”. So after listening to Cecily, Miss Prism started walking with Dr. Chasuble and began to express their feelings. Old age love is shown here between these two characters.

  • Algernon’s arrival in the village by the name Ernest

Meanwhile, Jack and Cecily’s house servant Merriman arrives and says, “Ma’am, Jack’s brother Ernest has arrived”. Cecily gets a little excited when she hears Ernest’s name and tells him “You hurry and bring him”. Actually, Algernon comes here under the name Ernest. But one question remains, why Cecily was so excited after hearing Ernest’s name? In fact, whenever Jack visited Gwendolen in London, he told Cecily that he had a younger brother named Ernest in the city. He goes to London to meet him. Jack admired Ernest very much to Cecily. That’s why Cecily falls in love with Ernest without seeing him.

In this place, the dual identity is shown. When Jack goes to town, he takes the name Ernest. And when Algernon comes from town to village, he takes the name, Ernest. But nobody is actually Ernest.

  • Algernon’s proposal to Cecily

Ernest/Algernon then enters the house from the garden. Entering the house, Cecily shows the many letters she wrote to Ernest /Algernon. Seeing this, Algernon immediately proposes to Cecily. Cecily then says, ” You don’t need to propose anymore. Because I already love you”. Then they started talking.

  • Jack’s return to the village 

Just then Jack entered the garden. He arrives and tells Miss Prism, “Miss Prism I am very sad. Because my younger brother Ernest died last night in Paris”. At this point, he says to Dr. Chasuble, “Dr. Chasuble, you make an arrangement in the church to Christianize my brother. Christianization basically means being baptized. Dr. Chasuble and Miss Prism then leave.

  • Cecily and Jack’s conversation

Cecily comes out from inside the house to the garden and says, “Uncle, your little brother Ernest has arrived from London”. Hearing this, Jack is shocked and says, “How is this possible! My younger brother Ernest died last night in Paris”. Cecily then tells him, “Uncle you should not tell a lie”. Jack then tells the truth, “I don’t actually have a younger brother named Ernest”. Cecily then tells him again, “Uncle you should not tell a lie”.

  • Jack and Algernon meet face to face

At Cecily’s insistence, Jack remembers that Algernon wrote down his address when he was giving Gwendolen his address in London. Algernon was inside of the house in the dining room. Jack ran into the dining room. Jack is very disappointed to see Algernon. Again Algernon is also disappointed to see Jack. This is because Cecily told Algernon, Jack will be back on Monday. But Jack comes back before Monday. Jack finds out why Algernon came here under the name Ernest. Actually, Algernon is here to marry Cecily.

Cecily is not here. So now Jack and Algernon start talking. Jack angrily tells Algernon, “Why are you coming to my house and syncretizing like that? You cheated on me. Get out of here “. Then Algernon says, “Okay, okay, I’ll go, but there’s one condition. You have said that your brother is dead. Take off the black gown because you’re also a cheater. Then I’ll go.” Then Jack went inside of his room to take off the black gown.

  • Gwendolen’s arrival at the village

The next scene goes to the garden. Because Gwendolen has already moved from London to Jack/Ernest’s country house for her love. Cecily is happy to see Gwendolen in this place. They became very good friends and started talking.

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  • Gwendolen’s quarrel with Cecily

Cecily says to Gwendolen at one point, “Madame, you have come on a very good day. Today, after a long wait, I have found my love. His name is Ernest, and I want to marry him. Gwendolen becomes very upset when she hears this. Because she also loves Ernest. That’s why she came from the city to the village. This time there is a quarrel between these two girls.

  • Unraveling the true mystery of the name Ernest

Jack now changes clothes and comes to the garden. Seeing Jack, Gwendolen says, “Ernest, are you going to marry Cecily”? At this point, Cecily says, “Madam you’re wrong somewhere. Why should he be Ernest? He’s my uncle, Jack”. At this point, the author also makes Algernon enter the garden to make the comic scene beautiful. After Algernon enters the garden, Cecily asks him, “Ernest, are you going to marry Gwendolen”? Now Gwendolen says to Cecily, “What are you saying? He is Algernon. He is not Ernest. He is my cousin Algernon”. Now everything is clear to everyone. Both Jack and Algernon took the name Ernest and gave their false identities to Cecily and Gwendolen. So both Cecily and Gwendolen get very angry. And Jack and Algernon try to convince them both.

  • The arrival of Lady Bracknell in the Village

Meanwhile, Lady Bracknell, unable to find her daughter Gwendolen in London, moves to Hertfordshire, the village. She arrives and tells Gwendolen and Algernon, “Come with me to London right now”. But Gwendolen says, “No, mother, I love Jack, and I will marry him”. Meanwhile, Algernon also says, “I love Cecily too, and I will marry her”. Lady Bracknell then tells Algernon, ” He can not marry her. Her parentage must be known”. Jack then says to Lady Bracknell, “Aunt, what are you talking about? Do you know how rich Cecily is? She has the power to buy you off. As much as she has, I look after. I am now her guardian after her father’s death”. When Lady Bracknell learns that Cecily is very wealthy, she consents to Algernon’s marriage. But at this point, Jack says, “I am Cecily’s guardian until she is 30 years old. If she goes against my will before 30 years, she will lose her share of the estate. If you don’t accept my relationship with Gwendolen, I won’t allow the marriage of Cecily with Algernon”.

  • Revelation of Jack’s real identity 

At this point Dr. Chasuble arrives and says to Jack, “Sir, all the arrangements for your brother’s Christening have been made. Come with me to the church”. Then Jack says, “There’s no need for that”. Dr. Chasuble was a little surprised to hear Jack’s answer. He repeated, “Sir, Miss Prism is waiting for us at the church”. Lady Bracknell was shocked to hear Miss Prism’s name. Then she remembered a story of 28 years ago. She says to Dr. Chasuble, “Who is Miss Prism? Can you bring her here”? Then Jack says, “Why not”? Lady Bracknell recognizes Miss Prism when she sees her. She tells her, ” Aren’t you the governess whom my sister employed as a governess to take care of her two sons”?

Miss Prism then says, “Yes ma’am, I am the governess. But due to a mistake of mine, I lost your sister’s elder son with my handbag at Victoria railway station”. After hearing about this handbag, Jack went straight to the library and brought the handbag from the library, and showed it to Miss Prism. Then Miss Prism said, “Yes, that’s the handbag”. Then Lady Bracknell said, “Jack is my sister’s elder son. And Algernon is his younger brother.”

Jack then asks Lady Bracknell, “Aunt, what is my real name then”? Lady Bracknell then said, “I don’t remember your real name. But you were named after your father. I don’t remember your father’s name either. But he was an army general. You’ll have to look at the army list to see his full name”. Now, everyone starts searching the army list together. And from there, it is known that Jack and Algernon’s father’s name was Ernest John Moncrieff. That is, Jack’s real name is Ernest. Gwendolen was very happy to hear this. Because her wish was fulfilled. She is going to marry someone named Ernest. And Jack here expresses his feelings to his aunt that for the first time in his life, he can realize the true feeling of being Ernest.

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Mottaleb Hossain
Mottaleb Hossain

This is Motaleb Hossain, working on studying, a researcher on English literature and Theology.

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