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The Importance of Being Earnest

By: Wilde

First Act

Scene: 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 [from music-room]

Alergnon Did you hear what I was playing, Lane?

Lane I didn’t think it polite to listen, sir.

Algernon 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.

Algernon 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

Algernon (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 Shoreham° 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.

Algernon 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.

Algernon Good heavens! Is marriage so demoralizing 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.

Algernon (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.

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

Lane Thank you, sir.

Lane goes out

Algernon 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

Algernon 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!

Algernon (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.

Algernon 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.

Algernon And who are the people you amuse?

Jack (airily) Oh, neighbours, neighbours.

Algernon Got nice neighbours in your part of Shropshire?°

Jack Perfectly horrid! Never speak to one of them.

Algernon 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?

Algernon Oh! merely Aunt Augusta and Gwendolen.

Jack How perfectly delightful!

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

Jack May I ask why?

Algernon 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 to propose to her.

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

Jack How utterly unromantic you are!

Algernon 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.

Algernon 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)