Oscar Wilde: "The importance of being Ernest" and "The ballad of reading gaol" in inglese



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• TITLE: It’s a PAN (=play on words): the name should be written “Ernest”; here is written as the adjective but with the capital letter. It’s a paradox because none of the characters is sincere.
• TYPE OF WORK: Drama, comedy. New “Comedy of Manners” (a reference to the aristocratic manners), where the problems of the author’s age are reflected through witty (=clever and funny) remarks.
• PLOT: see page 149. IT’S NOT REALISTIC
• SETTING: London and the countryside.
o A lot of puns, misunderstandings, paradoxes, ironic remarks
• Verbal (when something said is funny) >> MISAPPLIED LOGIC: an apparent logical line of reason that is absurd. This is a technique too intellectual to be appreciated by people. Ironic use of SOLEMN LANGUAGE.
• Behavioural (centred around a character that behaves in a comic way)
• Situational (when characters don’t understand what is under their actions)
o Witty, dazzling(=extremely impressive) DIALOGUES, trough which the characters take existence (what is important is how they express what they say)
• TONE: brilliantly satirical
Neither the couple Jack-Gwendolen nor Algy-Cecily is TRUE TO LIFE >>they are UNREAL
o Jack (John Worthing): an aristocratic man. He’s initially an orphan (he had been found in a hand-bag at Victorian Station), adopted by Mr. Thomas Cardew, who made him the tutor of his daughter Cecily. In order to facilitate his social mobility, Jack has invented an alter ego, a younger, wicked brother called Ernest Worthing who lives in London (>>Jack becomes Ernest when he’s in London). He falls in love with Gwendolen Fairfax but her mother is disappointed because he has no parents.
At the end he will discover to be Algernon’s brother.
o Algy (Algernon Moncrieff): an aristocratic man. He’s the second son of Lady Bracknell’s sister. He’s more bright than Jack. He, as Jack, pretends to have an invented friend called Bunbury who is invalid and lives in London (>>Algy’s excuse to go to London). He wants to marry Cecily.
o Gwendolen Fairfax: Algernon’s cousin. Daughter of Lady Bracknell. A typical aristocratic girl, with fine clothes, good manners. She will marry Jack.
o Cecily: Daughter of Mr. Thomas Cardew. Jack’s pupil. She’s a rebel. She will marry Algernon.
o Miss Prism: Cecily’s governess. Is the person who had lost Jack when he was a baby: she was responsible of him but she had confused the bag in which he was and another bag, remained at Victorian Station. She at the end recognise the bag in which Jack was found.
o Lady Bracknell: Gwendolen’s mother and Algernon’s aunt. She’s the sister of Algernon’s (and Jack’s) mother, Mrs. Moncrieff. She is able to solve the mystery of Jack’s birth. She’s affectionate to money (she allows Algernon to marry Cecily only when she discovers she has a great amount of money). She’a the typical aristocratic lady, she follows Victorian values (respectability of the family, importance of money, good manners...)
• THE IMPLIED READER: Aristocratic people. They were enthusiastic because they didn’t understand they were got ride! (this confirms Wilde’s idea: aristocratic are idiots)
o criticizing of Victorian hypocrisy, prudery and exaggerated seriousness
o marriage: is the driving motive of the plot, but it’s presented in a ridiculous way. It’s an important and serious thing, but here it becomes a ridiculous and a superficial thing.
o Food: it’s a weapon (=something that helps you to achieve something difficult) of warfare(=the activity of fighting) both personal and social. The scenes in which there is food become emotional. The characters are always drinking and eating (tea, bread-and-butter, cake, muffins…)
o Money: Human frailty can be contrasted by money, a real, solid qualities, one of “the qualities that last and improve with time”. Lady Bracknell id the main character liked to this theme.
o Imagination is used as an escape from reality: in the play the characters can change their identity as they want and parents are discovered by an act of will.
o DOPPELGANGER=double go >> to have a double life >> hypocrisy
• PLOT: This is the comic climax of the play: Jack’s and Algernon’s deceptions(=inganni) are discovered.
Jack comes to Cecily’s house announcing that his brother Ernest has died, but at the same time Algernon has gone to Cecily’s house presenting himself as Ernest, Jack’s brother. In the same moment arrives also Gwendolen, curious to knowing the man called Ernest with whom she’s engaged.
The two girls comprehend that Jack and Algernon have deceived them pretending to be both Ernest. Jack says there is no Ernest at all. Cecily and Gwendolen are shocked and go away (into the garden).
The two man remain in the room, talking about what to do but they really come to no solution: Algi starts eating muffins irritating Jack. The only thing they have managed both is to baptize themselves as Ernest. But they cannot be baptized both with the same name.
• SETTING: Cecily and Jack’s house.
o Repetition, parallelism
o Comic situation (the discussion about muffins), PARADOXES (lines 46-47, 56, 86-88, 91, 94-95, 104, 107-110, 113-119, 124, 127)
• LANGUAGE: spoken (exclamations; “good heavens!”; “My dear fellow”), but typical of the higher classes.
• CHARACTERS: see the presentation of the play and the plot
o Criticizing of Victorian seriousness (lines 56-61), business society (lines 82), Victorian hypocrisy (lines 127-129);
o Food (muffins) (lines 86-95) – see the presentation of the play.
• TITLE / TIPE OF WORK: “ballad” it’s a genre typical of medieval times; it deals with love and death; it’s a sort of song because it implies music and it has strophes and refrains (ritornelli). “Reading gaol”=prison.
It is Wilde’s masterpiece in poetry. It’s totally different from his other works. The only work he wrote after his release from prison.
• GENERAL UNDERSTANDING: It tells the story of a hanging which took place in reading gaol in July 1896 and which Wilde witnessed as an inmate(=prisoner). The narrator is in first person, he had seen what he describes and write also his feelings.
• First stanza: background, the reason why this man (a soldier) is imprisoned (he had murdered his wife)
• Second-third stanzas: description of the prisoner
• Fourth stanza: other prisoners try to understand what kind of crime he had committed because he’s going to be hanged
• Fifth stanza: narrator’s feelings (he feels compassion for him and this cancel his personal pain)
• Sixth-tenth stanzas: narrator’s reflection upon this situation (each man kills what he loves)
• Eleventh-twelfth stanzas: preparation of the prisoner’s death
• Thirteenth-fourteenth stanzas: narrator’s reflection on the life of a prisoner (he cannot be what he wants to be there [>> “Il fu Mattia Pascal”…]; here there is no consolation)
• Fifteenth-eighteenth stanzas: the prisoners follow the man as if they were “the Devil’s Own Brigade”. Realistic description of their situation: hard work, all of them going in lines and dragging(=trascinado) their chains (=catene).
• Nineteenth stanza: realistic description of the hanging (he was killed as an animal)
• Twentieth stanza: after his death (no care about his corps).
• Twenty-one – twenty-three stanzas: religious references (the chaplain has no particular attention to him (?); Chris saves also him; death is the natural end of life; the only mourners[=chi porta il lutto] for him will be outcasts)
• Twenty-four stanza: conclusion of the speaking voice: life in prison is a torture; gaol is another world that changes you; DEATH PENALTY IS WRONG).

• LAY-OUT: 109 stanzas grouped into six sections. Sestets, quartets, couplets.
o use of colours:
• first stanza: scarlet, red=blood, death, passion
• second stanza: grey=prison
• third stanza: blue=freedom
• nineteenth stanza: purple throat=death
o concrete, vivid language
o exclamation (line 25: “Dear Christ!”)
o reference to the Bible (line 41)
o realistic descriptions
Tone: SERIOUS (desperation , hopelessness, pity, compassion).
• FIGURES OF SPEECH: similes (line 28), metaphors (lines 72, 80 “the Fools’ Parade!”, 82, 84, 124 “the wall is strong”=impossibility to escape (?) ), personification (lines 45-46)
o Absolutely NO IRONY and NO EDONISM, he caser about COMPASSION, PITY >>profound change in Wilde
o CATASTROPHIC WAY OF SEEING THE WORLD: Loving someone does not protect him/her.
>> NO HOPE: also when they love, MEN ARE DESTRUCTIVE >> everybody hurt
o He MADE FUN OF THE SOCIETY but paradoxically he wanted to BE UNDERSTOOD by this society
o Realistic descriptions of life in prison
o RELIGION: faith (lines 113-114). Christ is the only point of reference remained.
• TYPE OF WORK : eighty-page open letter that Wilde addressed from gaol to Lord Douglas to let the world know what his real position had been in the whole affair.
• TONE: hopeless, submitted, it express his acceptance of the situation.
o SUFFERING (“I wept”)
o REGRET for the people who laughed at him, not for him
o He’s INNOCENT, his only pity was to ask for protection to Society (lines 28-32)
o Criticizing towards the cruel society who condemned him pretending to knowing him