The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People


The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde


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Title: The Importance of Being Earnest
A Trivial Comedy for Serious People

Author: Oscar Wilde

Release Date: August 29, 2006 [eBook #844]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)

***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST***



Transcribed from the 1915 Methuen & Co. Ltd. edition by
David Price, email ccx074@pglaf.org


The Importance of Being Earnest

A Trivial Comedy for Serious People


THE PERSONS IN THE PLAY


John Worthing, J.P.

Algernon Moncrieff

Rev. Canon Chasuble, D.D.

Merriman, Butler

Lane, Manservant

Lady Bracknell

Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax

Cecily Cardew

Miss Prism, Governess


THE SCENES OF THE PLAY


ACT I.  Algernon Moncrieff’s Flat in Half-Moon
Street, W.


ACT II.  The Garden at the Manor House, Woolton.


ACT III.  Drawing-Room at the Manor House, Woolton.


TIME: The Present.


LONDON: ST. JAMES’S THEATRE


Lessee and Manager: Mr. George Alexander


February 14th, 1895


* * * * *


John Worthing, J.P.: Mr. George Alexander.

Algernon Moncrieff: Mr. Allen Aynesworth.

Rev. Canon Chasuble, D.D.: Mr. H. H. Vincent.

Merriman: Mr. Frank Dyall.

Lane: Mr. F. Kinsey Peile.

Lady Bracknell: Miss Rose Leclercq.

Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax: Miss Irene Vanbrugh.

Cecily Cardew: Miss Evelyn Millard.

Miss Prism: Mrs. George Canninge.


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.]


Algernon.  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—any one 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 Shoreman 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
demoralising 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.]


Jack.  Well, you have been eating them all the
time.


Algernon.  That is quite a different matter. 
She is my aunt.  [Takes plate from below.]  Have some
bread and butter.  The bread and butter is for
Gwendolen.  Gwendolen is devoted to bread and butter.


Jack.  [Advancing to table and helping
himself.]  And very good bread and butter it is too.


Algernon.  Well, my dear fellow, you need not eat
as if you were going to eat it all.  You behave as if you
were married to her already.  You are not married to her
already, and I don’t think you ever will be.


Jack.  Why on earth do you say that?


Algernon.  Well, in the first place girls never
marry the men they flirt with.  Girls don’t think it
right.


Jack.  Oh, that is nonsense!


Algernon.  It isn’t.  It is a great
truth.  It accounts for the extraordinary number of
bachelors that one sees all over the place.  In the second
place, I don’t give my consent.


Jack.  Your consent!


Algernon.  My dear fellow, Gwendolen is my first
cousin.  And before I allow you to marry her, you will have
to clear up the whole question of Cecily.  [Rings bell.]


Jack.  Cecily!  What on earth do you
mean?  What do you mean, Algy, by Cecily!  I
don’t know any one of the name of Cecily.


[Enter Lane.]


Algernon.  Bring me that cigarette case Mr.
Worthing left in the smoking-room the last time he dined
here.


Lane.  Yes, sir.  [Lane goes out.]


Jack.  Do you mean to say you have had my
cigarette case all this time?  I wish to goodness you had
let me know.  I have been writing frantic letters to
Scotland Yard about it.  I was very nearly offering a large
reward.


Algernon.  Well, I wish you would offer one. 
I happen to be more than usually hard up.


Jack.  There is no good offering a large reward
now that the thing is found.


[Enter Lane with the cigarette case on a salver. 
Algernon takes it at once.  Lane goes
out.]


Algernon.  I think that is rather mean of you,
Ernest, I must say.  [Opens case and examines it.] 
However, it makes no matter, for, now that I look at the
inscription inside, I find that the thing isn’t yours after
all.


Jack.  Of course it’s mine.  [Moving to
him.]  You have seen me with it a hundred times, and you
have no right whatsoever to read what is written inside.  It
is a very ungentlemanly thing to read a private cigarette
case.


Algernon.  Oh! it is absurd to have a hard and
fast rule about what one should read and what one
shouldn’t.  More than half of modern culture depends
on what one shouldn’t read.


Jack.  I am quite aware of the fact, and I
don’t propose to discuss modern culture.  It
isn’t the sort of thing one should talk of in
private.  I simply want my cigarette case back.


Algernon.  Yes; but this isn’t your
cigarette case.  This cigarette case is a present from some
one of the name of Cecily, and you said you didn’t know any
one of that name.


Jack.  Well, if you want to know, Cecily happens
to be my aunt.


Algernon.  Your aunt!


Jack.  Yes.  Charming old lady she is,
too.  Lives at Tunbridge Wells.  Just give it back to
me, Algy.


Algernon.  [Retreating to back of sofa.]  But
why does she call herself little Cecily if she is your aunt and
lives at Tunbridge Wells?  [Reading.]  ‘From
little Cecily with her fondest love.’


Jack.  [Moving to sofa and kneeling upon
it.]  My dear fellow, what on earth is there in that? 
Some aunts are tall, some aunts are not tall.  That is a
matter that surely an aunt may be allowed to decide for
herself.  You seem to think that every aunt should be
exactly like your aunt!  That is absurd!  For
Heaven’s sake give me back my cigarette case. 
[Follows Algernon round the room.]


Algernon.  Yes.  But why does your aunt call
you her uncle?  ‘From little Cecily, with her fondest
love to her dear Uncle Jack.’  There is no objection,
I admit, to an aunt being a small aunt, but why an aunt, no
matter what her size may be, should call her own nephew her
uncle, I can’t quite make out.  Besides, your name
isn’t Jack at all; it is Ernest.


Jack.  It isn’t Ernest; it’s Jack.


Algernon.  You have always told me it was
Ernest.  I have introduced you to every one as Ernest. 
You answer to the name of Ernest.  You look as if your name
was Ernest.  You are the most earnest-looking person I ever
saw in my life.  It is perfectly absurd your saying that
your name isn’t Ernest.  It’s on your
cards.  Here is one of them.  [Taking it from
case.]  ‘Mr. Ernest Worthing, B. 4, The
Albany.’  I’ll keep this as a proof that your
name is Ernest if ever you attempt to deny it to me, or to
Gwendolen, or to any one else.  [Puts the card in his
pocket.]


Jack.  Well, my name is Ernest in town and Jack in
the country, and the cigarette case was given to me in the
country.


Algernon.  Yes, but that does not account for the
fact that your small Aunt Cecily, who lives at Tunbridge Wells,
calls you her dear uncle.  Come, old boy, you had much
better have the thing out at once.


Jack.  My dear Algy, you talk exactly as if you
were a dentist.  It is very vulgar to talk like a dentist
when one isn’t a dentist.  It produces a false
impression.


Algernon.  Well, that is exactly what dentists
always do.  Now, go on!  Tell me the whole thing. 
I may mention that I have always suspected you of being a
confirmed and secret Bunburyist; and I am quite sure of it
now.


Jack.  Bunburyist? What on earth do you mean by a
Bunburyist?


Algernon.  I’ll reveal to you the meaning of
that incomparable expression as soon as you are kind enough to
inform me why you are Ernest in town and Jack in the country.


Jack.  Well, produce my cigarette case first.


Algernon.  Here it is.  [Hands cigarette
case.]  Now produce your explanation, and pray make it
improbable.  [Sits on sofa.]


Jack.  My dear fellow, there is nothing improbable
about my explanation at all.  In fact it’s perfectly
ordinary.  Old Mr. Thomas Cardew, who adopted me when I was
a little boy, made me in his will guardian to his grand-daughter,
Miss Cecily Cardew.  Cecily, who addresses me as her uncle
from motives of respect that you could not possibly appreciate,
lives at my place in the country under the charge of her
admirable governess, Miss Prism.


Algernon.  Where is that place in the country, by
the way?


Jack.  That is nothing to you, dear boy.  You
are not going to be invited . . . I may tell you candidly that
the place is not in Shropshire.


Algernon.  I suspected that, my dear fellow! 
I have Bunburyed all over Shropshire on two separate
occasions.  Now, go on.  Why are you Ernest in town and
Jack in the country?


Jack.  My dear Algy, I don’t know whether
you will be able to understand my real motives.  You are
hardly serious enough.  When one is placed in the position
of guardian, one has to adopt a very high moral tone on all
subjects.  It’s one’s duty to do so.  And
as a high moral tone can hardly be said to conduce very much to
either one’s health or one’s happiness, in order to
get up to town I have always pretended to have a younger brother
of the name of Ernest, who lives in the Albany, and gets into the
most dreadful scrapes.  That, my dear Algy, is the whole
truth pure and simple.


Algernon.  The truth is rarely pure and never
simple.  Modern life would be very tedious if it were
either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!


Jack.  That wouldn’t be at all a bad
thing.


Algernon.  Literary criticism is not your forte,
my dear fellow.  Don’t try it.  You should leave
that to people who haven’t been at a University.  They
do it so well in the daily papers.  What you really are is a
Bunburyist.  I was quite right in saying you were a
Bunburyist.  You are one of the most advanced Bunburyists I
know.


Jack.  What on earth do you mean?


Algernon.  You have invented a very useful younger
brother called Ernest, in order that you may be able to come up
to town as often as you like.  I have invented an invaluable
permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to
go down into the country whenever I choose.  Bunbury is
perfectly invaluable.  If it wasn’t for
Bunbury’s extraordinary bad health, for instance, I
wouldn’t be able to dine with you at Willis’s
to-night, for I have been really engaged to Aunt Augusta for more
than a week.


Jack.  I haven’t asked you to dine with me
anywhere to-night.


Algernon.  I know.  You are absurdly careless
about sending out invitations.  It is very foolish of
you.  Nothing annoys people so much as not receiving
invitations.


Jack.  You had much better dine with your Aunt
Augusta.


Algernon.  I haven’t the smallest intention
of doing anything of the kind.  To begin with, I dined there
on Monday, and once a week is quite enough to dine with
one’s own relations.  In the second place, whenever I
do dine there I am always treated as a member of the family, and
sent down with either no woman at all, or two.  In the third
place, I know perfectly well whom she will place me next to,
to-night.  She will place me next Mary Farquhar, who always
flirts with her own husband across the dinner-table.  That
is not very pleasant.  Indeed, it is not even decent . . .
and that sort of thing is enormously on the increase.  The
amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is
perfectly scandalous.  It looks so bad.  It is simply
washing one’s clean linen in public.  Besides, now
that I know you to be a confirmed Bunburyist I naturally want to
talk to you about Bunburying.  I want to tell you the
rules.


Jack.  I’m not a Bunburyist at all.  If
Gwendolen accepts me, I am going to kill my brother, indeed I
think I’ll kill him in any case.  Cecily is a little
too much interested in him.  It is rather a bore.  So I
am going to get rid of Ernest.  And I strongly advise you to
do the same with Mr. . . . with your invalid friend who has the
absurd name.


Algernon.  Nothing will induce me to part with
Bunbury, and if you ever get married, which seems to me extremely
problematic, you will be very glad to know Bunbury.  A man
who marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of
it.


Jack.  That is nonsense.  If I marry a
charming girl like Gwendolen, and she is the only girl I ever saw
in my life that I would marry, I certainly won’t want to
know Bunbury.


Algernon.  Then your wife will.  You
don’t seem to realise, that in married life three is
company and two is none.


Jack.  [Sententiously.]  That, my dear young
friend, is the theory that the corrupt French Drama has been
propounding for the last fifty years.


Algernon.  Yes; and that the happy English home
has proved in half the time.


Jack.  For heaven’s sake, don’t try to
be cynical.  It’s perfectly easy to be cynical.


Algernon.  My dear fellow, it isn’t easy to
be anything nowadays.  There’s such a lot of beastly
competition about.  [The sound of an electric bell is
heard.]  Ah! that must be Aunt Augusta.  Only
relatives, or creditors, ever ring in that Wagnerian
manner.  Now, if I get her out of the way for ten minutes,
so that you can have an opportunity for proposing to Gwendolen,
may I dine with you to-night at Willis’s?


Jack.  I suppose so, if you want to.


Algernon.  Yes, but you must be serious about
it.  I hate people who are not serious about meals.  It
is so shallow of them.


[Enter Lane.]


Lane.  Lady Bracknell and Miss Fairfax.


[Algernon goes forward to meet them.  Enter
Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen.]


Lady Bracknell.  Good afternoon, dear Algernon, I
hope you are behaving very well.


Algernon.  I’m feeling very well, Aunt
Augusta.


Lady Bracknell.  That’s not quite the same
thing.  In fact the two things rarely go together. 
[Sees Jack and bows to him with icy coldness.]


Algernon.  [To Gwendolen.]  Dear me,
you are smart!


Gwendolen.  I am always smart!  Am I not, Mr.
Worthing?


Jack.  You’re quite perfect, Miss
Fairfax.


Gwendolen.  Oh! I hope I am not that.  It
would leave no room for developments, and I intend to develop in
many directions.  [Gwendolen and Jack sit down
together in the corner.]


Lady Bracknell.  I’m sorry if we are a
little late, Algernon, but I was obliged to call on dear Lady
Harbury.  I hadn’t been there since her poor
husband’s death.  I never saw a woman so altered; she
looks quite twenty years younger.  And now I’ll have a
cup of tea, and one of those nice cucumber sandwiches you
promised me.


Algernon.  Certainly, Aunt Augusta.  [Goes
over to tea-table.]


Lady Bracknell.  Won’t you come and sit
here, Gwendolen?


Gwendolen.  Thanks, mamma, I’m quite
comfortable where I am.


Algernon.  [Picking up empty plate in
horror.]  Good heavens!  Lane!  Why are there no
cucumber sandwiches?  I ordered them specially.


Lane.  [Gravely.]  There were no cucumbers in
the market this morning, sir.  I went down twice.


Algernon.  No cucumbers!


Lane.  No, sir.  Not even for ready
money.


Algernon.  That will do, Lane, thank you.


Lane.  Thank you, sir.  [Goes out.]


Algernon.  I am greatly distressed, Aunt Augusta,
about there being no cucumbers, not even for ready money.


Lady Bracknell.  It really makes no matter,
Algernon.  I had some crumpets with Lady Harbury, who seems
to me to be living entirely for pleasure now.


Algernon.  I hear her hair has turned quite gold
from grief.


Lady Bracknell.  It certainly has changed its
colour.  From what cause I, of course, cannot say. 
[Algernon crosses and hands tea.]  Thank you. 
I’ve quite a treat for you to-night, Algernon.  I am
going to send you down with Mary Farquhar.  She is such a
nice woman, and so attentive to her husband.  It’s
delightful to watch them.


Algernon.  I am afraid, Aunt Augusta, I shall have
to give up the pleasure of dining with you to-night after
all.


Lady Bracknell.  [Frowning.]  I hope not,
Algernon.  It would put my table completely out.  Your
uncle would have to dine upstairs.  Fortunately he is
accustomed to that.


Algernon.  It is a great bore, and, I need hardly
say, a terrible disappointment to me, but the fact is I have just
had a telegram to say that my poor friend Bunbury is very ill
again.  [Exchanges glances with Jack.]  They
seem to think I should be with him.


Lady Bracknell.  It is very strange.  This
Mr. Bunbury seems to suffer from curiously bad health.


Algernon.  Yes; poor Bunbury is a dreadful
invalid.


Lady Bracknell.  Well, I must say, Algernon, that
I think it is high time that Mr. Bunbury made up his mind whether
he was going to live or to die.  This shilly-shallying with
the question is absurd.  Nor do I in any way approve of the
modern sympathy with invalids.  I consider it morbid. 
Illness of any kind is hardly a thing to be encouraged in
others.  Health is the primary duty of life.  I am
always telling that to your poor uncle, but he never seems to
take much notice . . . as far as any improvement in his ailment
goes.  I should be much obliged if you would ask Mr.
Bunbury, from me, to be kind enough not to have a relapse on
Saturday, for I rely on you to arrange my music for me.  It
is my last reception, and one wants something that will encourage
conversation, particularly at the end of the season when every
one has practically said whatever they had to say, which, in most
cases, was probably not much.


Algernon.  I’ll speak to Bunbury, Aunt
Augusta, if he is still conscious, and I think I can promise you
he’ll be all right by Saturday.  Of course the music
is a great difficulty.  You see, if one plays good music,
people don’t listen, and if one plays bad music people
don’t talk.  But I’ll run over the programme
I’ve drawn out, if you will kindly come into the next room
for a moment.


Lady Bracknell.  Thank you, Algernon.  It is
very thoughtful of you.  [Rising, and following
Algernon.]  I’m sure the programme will be
delightful, after a few expurgations.  French songs I cannot
possibly allow.  People always seem to think that they are
improper, and either look shocked, which is vulgar, or laugh,
which is worse.  But German sounds a thoroughly respectable
language, and indeed, I believe is so.  Gwendolen, you will
accompany me.


Gwendolen.  Certainly, mamma.


[Lady Bracknell and Algernon go into the
music-room, Gwendolen remains behind.]


Jack.  Charming day it has been, Miss Fairfax.


Gwendolen.  Pray don’t talk to me about the
weather, Mr. Worthing.  Whenever people talk to me about the
weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something
else.  And that makes me so nervous.


Jack.  I do mean something else.


Gwendolen.  I thought so.  In fact, I am
never wrong.


Jack.  And I would like to be allowed to take
advantage of Lady Bracknell’s temporary absence . . .


Gwendolen.  I would certainly advise you to do
so.  Mamma has a way of coming back suddenly into a room
that I have often had to speak to her about.


Jack.  [Nervously.]  Miss Fairfax, ever since
I met you I have admired you more than any girl . . . I have ever
met since . . . I met you.


Gwendolen.  Yes, I am quite well aware of the
fact.  And I often wish that in public, at any rate, you had
been more demonstrative.  For me you have always had an
irresistible fascination.  Even before I met you I was far
from indifferent to you.  [Jack looks at her in
amazement.]  We live, as I hope you know, Mr. Worthing, in
an age of ideals.  The fact is constantly mentioned in the
more expensive monthly magazines, and has reached the provincial
pulpits, I am told; and my ideal has always been to love some one
of the name of Ernest.  There is something in that name that
inspires absolute confidence.  The moment Algernon first
mentioned to me that he had a friend called Ernest, I knew I was
destined to love you.


Jack.  You really love me, Gwendolen?


Gwendolen.  Passionately!


Jack.  Darling!  You don’t know how
happy you’ve made me.


Gwendolen.  My own Ernest!


Jack.  But you don’t really mean to say that
you couldn’t love me if my name wasn’t Ernest?


Gwendolen.  But your name is Ernest.


Jack.  Yes, I know it is.  But supposing it
was something else?  Do you mean to say you couldn’t
love me then?


Gwendolen.  [Glibly.]  Ah! that is clearly a
metaphysical speculation, and like most metaphysical speculations
has very little reference at all to the actual facts of real
life, as we know them.


Jack.  Personally, darling, to speak quite
candidly, I don’t much care about the name of Ernest . . .
I don’t think the name suits me at all.


Gwendolen.  It suits you perfectly.  It is a
divine name.  It has a music of its own.  It produces
vibrations.


Jack.  Well, really, Gwendolen, I must say that I
think there are lots of other much nicer names.  I think
Jack, for instance, a charming name.


Gwendolen.  Jack? . . . No, there is very little
music in the name Jack, if any at all, indeed.  It does not
thrill.  It produces absolutely no vibrations . . . I have
known several Jacks, and they all, without exception, were more
than usually plain.  Besides, Jack is a notorious
domesticity for John!  And I pity any woman who is married
to a man called John.  She would probably never be allowed
to know the entrancing pleasure of a single moment’s
solitude.  The only really safe name is Ernest.


Jack.  Gwendolen, I must get christened at
once—I mean we must get married at once.  There is no
time to be lost.


Gwendolen.  Married, Mr. Worthing?


Jack.  [Astounded.]  Well . . . surely. 
You know that I love you, and you led me to believe, Miss
Fairfax, that you were not absolutely indifferent to me.


Gwendolen.  I adore you.  But you
haven’t proposed to me yet.  Nothing has been said at
all about marriage.  The subject has not even been touched
on.


Jack.  Well . . . may I propose to you now?


Gwendolen.  I think it would be an admirable
opportunity.  And to spare you any possible disappointment,
Mr. Worthing, I think it only fair to tell you quite frankly
before-hand that I am fully determined to accept you.


Jack.  Gwendolen!


Gwendolen.  Yes, Mr. Worthing, what have you got
to say to me?


Jack.  You know what I have got to say to you.


Gwendolen.  Yes, but you don’t say it.


Jack.  Gwendolen, will you marry me?  [Goes
on his knees.]


Gwendolen.  Of course I will, darling.  How
long you have been about it!  I am afraid you have had very
little experience in how to propose.


Jack.  My own one, I have never loved any one in
the world but you.


Gwendolen.  Yes, but men often propose for
practice.  I know my brother Gerald does.  All my
girl-friends tell me so.  What wonderfully blue eyes you
have, Ernest!  They are quite, quite, blue.  I hope you
will always look at me just like that, especially when there are
other people present.  [Enter Lady Bracknell.]


Lady Bracknell.  Mr. Worthing!  Rise, sir,
from this semi-recumbent posture.  It is most
indecorous.


Gwendolen.  Mamma!  [He tries to rise; she
restrains him.]  I must beg you to retire.  This is no
place for you.  Besides, Mr. Worthing has not quite finished
yet.


Lady Bracknell.  Finished what, may I ask?


Gwendolen.  I am engaged to Mr. Worthing,
mamma.  [They rise together.]


Lady Bracknell.  Pardon me, you are not engaged to
any one.  When you do become engaged to some one, I, or your
father, should his health permit him, will inform you of the
fact.  An engagement should come on a young girl as a
surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be.  It is
hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself
. . . And now I have a few questions to put to you, Mr.
Worthing.  While I am making these inquiries, you,
Gwendolen, will wait for me below in the carriage.


Gwendolen.  [Reproachfully.]  Mamma!


Lady Bracknell.  In the carriage, Gwendolen! 
[Gwendolen goes to the door.  She and Jack
blow kisses to each other behind Lady Bracknell’s
back.  Lady Bracknell looks vaguely about as if she
could not understand what the noise was.  Finally turns
round.]  Gwendolen, the carriage!


Gwendolen.  Yes, mamma.  [Goes out, looking
back at Jack.]


Lady Bracknell.  [Sitting down.]  You can
take a seat, Mr. Worthing.


[Looks in her pocket for note-book and pencil.]


Jack.  Thank you, Lady Bracknell, I prefer
standing.


Lady Bracknell.  [Pencil and note-book in
hand.]  I feel bound to tell you that you are not down on my
list of eligible young men, although I have the same list as the
dear Duchess of Bolton has.  We work together, in
fact.  However, I am quite ready to enter your name, should
your answers be what a really affectionate mother requires. 
Do you smoke?


Jack.  Well, yes, I must admit I smoke.


Lady Bracknell.  I am glad to hear it.  A man
should always have an occupation of some kind.  There are
far too many idle men in London as it is.  How old are
you?


Jack.  Twenty-nine.


Lady Bracknell.  A very good age to be married
at.  I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to
get married should know either everything or nothing.  Which
do you know?


Jack.  [After some hesitation.]  I know
nothing, Lady Bracknell.


Lady Bracknell.  I am pleased to hear it.  I
do not approve of anything that tampers with natural
ignorance.  Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch
it and the bloom is gone.  The whole theory of modern
education is radically unsound.  Fortunately in England, at
any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever.  If it
did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and
probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.  What
is your income?


Jack.  Between seven and eight thousand a
year.


Lady Bracknell.  [Makes a note in her book.] 
In land, or in investments?


Jack.  In investments, chiefly.


Lady Bracknell.  That is satisfactory.  What
between the duties expected of one during one’s lifetime,
and the duties exacted from one after one’s death, land has
ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure.  It gives one
position, and prevents one from keeping it up.  That’s
all that can be said about land.


Jack.  I have a country house with some land, of
course, attached to it, about fifteen hundred acres, I believe;
but I don’t depend on that for my real income.  In
fact, as far as I can make out, the poachers are the only people
who make anything out of it.


Lady Bracknell.  A country house!  How many
bedrooms?  Well, that point can be cleared up
afterwards.  You have a town house, I hope?  A girl
with a simple, unspoiled nature, like Gwendolen, could hardly be
expected to reside in the country.


Jack.  Well, I own a house in Belgrave Square, but
it is let by the year to Lady Bloxham.  Of course, I can get
it back whenever I like, at six months’ notice.


Lady Bracknell.  Lady Bloxham?  I don’t
know her.


Jack.  Oh, she goes about very little.  She
is a lady considerably advanced in years.


Lady Bracknell.  Ah, nowadays that is no guarantee
of respectability of character.  What number in Belgrave
Square?


Jack.  149.


Lady Bracknell.  [Shaking her head.]  The
unfashionable side.  I thought there was something. 
However, that could easily be altered.


Jack.  Do you mean the fashion, or the side?


Lady Bracknell.  [Sternly.]  Both, if
necessary, I presume.  What are your politics?


Jack.  Well, I am afraid I really have none. 
I am a Liberal Unionist.


Lady Bracknell.  Oh, they count as Tories. 
They dine with us.  Or come in the evening, at any
rate.  Now to minor matters.  Are your parents
living?


Jack.  I have lost both my parents.


Lady Bracknell.  To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing,
may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like
carelessness.  Who was your father?  He was evidently a
man of some wealth.  Was he born in what the Radical papers
call the purple of commerce, or did he rise from the ranks of the
aristocracy?


Jack.  I am afraid I really don’t
know.  The fact is, Lady Bracknell, I said I had lost my
parents.  It would be nearer the truth to say that my
parents seem to have lost me . . . I don’t actually know
who I am by birth.  I was . . . well, I was found.


Lady Bracknell.  Found!


Jack.  The late Mr. Thomas Cardew, an old
gentleman of a very charitable and kindly disposition, found me,
and gave me the name of Worthing, because he happened to have a
first-class ticket for Worthing in his pocket at the time. 
Worthing is a place in Sussex.  It is a seaside resort.


Lady Bracknell.  Where did the charitable
gentleman who had a first-class ticket for this seaside resort
find you?


Jack.  [Gravely.]  In a hand-bag.


Lady Bracknell.  A hand-bag?


Jack.  [Very seriously.]  Yes, Lady
Bracknell.  I was in a hand-bag—a somewhat large,
black leather hand-bag, with handles to it—an ordinary
hand-bag in fact.


Lady Bracknell.  In what locality did this Mr.
James, or Thomas, Cardew come across this ordinary hand-bag?


Jack.  In the cloak-room at Victoria
Station.  It was given to him in mistake for his own.


Lady Bracknell.  The cloak-room at Victoria
Station?


Jack.  Yes.  The Brighton line.


Lady Bracknell.  The line is immaterial.  Mr.
Worthing, I confess I feel somewhat bewildered by what you have
just told me.  To be born, or at any rate bred, in a
hand-bag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a
contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds
one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution.  And I
presume you know what that unfortunate movement led to?  As
for the particular locality in which the hand-bag was found, a
cloak-room at a railway station might serve to conceal a social
indiscretion—has probably, indeed, been used for that
purpose before now—but it could hardly be regarded as an
assured basis for a recognised position in good society.


Jack.  May I ask you then what you would advise me
to do?  I need hardly say I would do anything in the world
to ensure Gwendolen’s happiness.


Lady Bracknell.  I would strongly advise you, Mr.
Worthing, to try and acquire some relations as soon as possible,
and to make a definite effort to produce at any rate one parent,
of either sex, before the season is quite over.


Jack.  Well, I don’t see how I could
possibly manage to do that.  I can produce the hand-bag at
any moment.  It is in my dressing-room at home.  I
really think that should satisfy you, Lady Bracknell.


Lady Bracknell.  Me, sir!  What has it to do
with me?  You can hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell
would dream of allowing our only daughter—a girl brought up
with the utmost care—to marry into a cloak-room, and form
an alliance with a parcel?  Good morning, Mr. Worthing!


[Lady Bracknell sweeps out in majestic
indignation.]


Jack.  Good morning!  [Algernon, from
the other room, strikes up the Wedding March.  Jack looks
perfectly furious, and goes to the door.]  For
goodness’ sake don’t play that ghastly tune,
Algy.  How idiotic you are!


[The music stops and Algernon enters cheerily.]


Algernon.  Didn’t it go off all right, old
boy?  You don’t mean to say Gwendolen refused
you?  I know it is a way she has.  She is always
refusing people.  I think it is most ill-natured of her.


Jack.  Oh, Gwendolen is as right as a
trivet.  As far as she is concerned, we are engaged. 
Her mother is perfectly unbearable.  Never met such a Gorgon
. . . I don’t really know what a Gorgon is like, but I am
quite sure that Lady Bracknell is one.  In any case, she is
a monster, without being a myth, which is rather unfair . . . I
beg your pardon, Algy, I suppose I shouldn’t talk about
your own aunt in that way before you.


Algernon.  My dear boy, I love hearing my
relations abused.  It is the only thing that makes me put up
with them at all.  Relations are simply a tedious pack of
people, who haven’t got the remotest knowledge of how to
live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die.


Jack.  Oh, that is nonsense!


Algernon.  It isn’t!


Jack.  Well, I won’t argue about the
matter.  You always want to argue about things.


Algernon.  That is exactly what things were
originally made for.


Jack.  Upon my word, if I thought that, I’d
shoot myself . . . [A pause.]  You don’t think there
is any chance of Gwendolen becoming like her mother in about a
hundred and fifty years, do you, Algy?


Algernon.  All women become like their
mothers.  That is their tragedy.  No man does. 
That’s his.


Jack.  Is that clever?


Algernon.  It is perfectly phrased! and quite as
true as any observation in civilised life should be.


Jack.  I am sick to death of cleverness. 
Everybody is clever nowadays.  You can’t go anywhere
without meeting clever people.  The thing has become an
absolute public nuisance.  I wish to goodness we had a few
fools left.


Algernon.  We have.


Jack.  I should extremely like to meet them. 
What do they talk about?


Algernon.  The fools?  Oh! about the clever
people, of course.


Jack.  What fools!


Algernon.  By the way, did you tell Gwendolen the
truth about your being Ernest in town, and Jack in the
country?


Jack.  [In a very patronising manner.]  My
dear fellow, the truth isn’t quite the sort of thing one
tells to a nice, sweet, refined girl.  What extraordinary
ideas you have about the way to behave to a woman!


Algernon.  The only way to behave to a woman is to
make love to her, if she is pretty, and to some one else, if she
is plain.


Jack.  Oh, that is nonsense.


Algernon.  What about your brother?  What
about the profligate Ernest?


Jack.  Oh, before the end of the week I shall have
got rid of him.  I’ll say he died in Paris of
apoplexy.  Lots of people die of apoplexy, quite suddenly,
don’t they?


Algernon.  Yes, but it’s hereditary, my dear
fellow.  It’s a sort of thing that runs in
families.  You had much better say a severe chill.


Jack.  You are sure a severe chill isn’t
hereditary, or anything of that kind?


Algernon.  Of course it isn’t!


Jack.  Very well, then.  My poor brother
Ernest to carried off suddenly, in Paris, by a severe
chill.  That gets rid of him.


Algernon.  But I thought you said that . . . Miss
Cardew was a little too much interested in your poor brother
Ernest?  Won’t she feel his loss a good deal?


Jack.  Oh, that is all right.  Cecily is not
a silly romantic girl, I am glad to say.  She has got a
capital appetite, goes long walks, and pays no attention at all
to her lessons.


Algernon.  I would rather like to see Cecily.


Jack.  I will take very good care you never
do.  She is excessively pretty, and she is only just
eighteen.


Algernon.  Have you told Gwendolen yet that you
have an excessively pretty ward who is only just eighteen?


Jack.  Oh! one doesn’t blurt these things
out to people.  Cecily and Gwendolen are perfectly certain
to be extremely great friends.  I’ll bet you anything
you like that half an hour after they have met, they will be
calling each other sister.


Algernon.  Women only do that when they have
called each other a lot of other things first.  Now, my dear
boy, if we want to get a good table at Willis’s, we really
must go and dress.  Do you know it is nearly seven?


Jack.  [Irritably.]  Oh!  It always is
nearly seven.


Algernon.  Well, I’m hungry.


Jack.  I never knew you when you weren’t . .
.


Algernon.  What shall we do after dinner?  Go
to a theatre?


Jack.  Oh no!  I loathe listening.


Algernon.  Well, let us go to the Club?


Jack.  Oh, no!  I hate talking.


Algernon.  Well, we might trot round to the Empire
at ten?


Jack.  Oh, no!  I can’t bear looking at
things.  It is so silly.


Algernon.  Well, what shall we do?


Jack.  Nothing!


Algernon.  It is awfully hard work doing
nothing.  However, I don’t mind hard work where there
is no definite object of any kind.


[Enter Lane.]


Lane.  Miss Fairfax.


[Enter GwendolenLane goes out.]


Algernon.  Gwendolen, upon my word!


Gwendolen.  Algy, kindly turn your back.  I
have something very particular to say to Mr. Worthing.


Algernon.  Really, Gwendolen, I don’t think
I can allow this at all.


Gwendolen.  Algy, you always adopt a strictly
immoral attitude towards life.  You are not quite old enough
to do that.  [Algernon retires to the fireplace.]


Jack.  My own darling!


Gwendolen.  Ernest, we may never be married. 
From the expression on mamma’s face I fear we never
shall.  Few parents nowadays pay any regard to what their
children say to them.  The old-fashioned respect for the
young is fast dying out.  Whatever influence I ever had over
mamma, I lost at the age of three.  But although she may
prevent us from becoming man and wife, and I may marry some one
else, and marry often, nothing that she can possibly do can alter
my eternal devotion to you.


Jack.  Dear Gwendolen!


Gwendolen.  The story of your romantic origin, as
related to me by mamma, with unpleasing comments, has naturally
stirred the deeper fibres of my nature.  Your Christian name
has an irresistible fascination.  The simplicity of your
character makes you exquisitely incomprehensible to me. 
Your town address at the Albany I have.  What is your
address in the country?


Jack.  The Manor House, Woolton,
Hertfordshire.


[Algernon, who has been carefully listening, smiles to
himself, and writes the address on his shirt-cuff.  Then
picks up the Railway Guide.]


Gwendolen.  There is a good postal service, I
suppose?  It may be necessary to do something
desperate.  That of course will require serious
consideration.  I will communicate with you daily.


Jack.  My own one!


Gwendolen.  How long do you remain in town?


Jack.  Till Monday.


Gwendolen.  Good!  Algy, you may turn round
now.


Algernon.  Thanks, I’ve turned round
already.


Gwendolen.  You may also ring the bell.


Jack.  You will let me see you to your carriage,
my own darling?


Gwendolen.  Certainly.


Jack.  [To Lane, who now enters.]  I
will see Miss Fairfax out.


Lane.  Yes, sir.  [Jack and
Gwendolen go off.]


[Lane presents several letters on a salver to
Algernon.  It is to be surmised that they are bills,
as Algernon, after looking at the envelopes, tears them
up.]


Algernon.  A glass of sherry, Lane.


Lane.  Yes, sir.


Algernon.  To-morrow, Lane, I’m going
Bunburying.


Lane.  Yes, sir.


Algernon.  I shall probably not be back till
Monday.  You can put up my dress clothes, my smoking jacket,
and all the Bunbury suits . . .


Lane.  Yes, sir.  [Handing sherry.]


Algernon.  I hope to-morrow will be a fine day,
Lane.


Lane.  It never is, sir.


Algernon.  Lane, you’re a perfect
pessimist.


Lane.  I do my best to give satisfaction, sir.


[Enter JackLane goes off.]


Jack.  There’s a sensible, intellectual
girl! the only girl I ever cared for in my life. 
[Algernon is laughing immoderately.]  What on earth
are you so amused at?


Algernon.  Oh, I’m a little anxious about
poor Bunbury, that is all.


Jack.  If you don’t take care, your friend
Bunbury will get you into a serious scrape some day.


Algernon.  I love scrapes.  They are the only
things that are never serious.


Jack.  Oh, that’s nonsense, Algy.  You
never talk anything but nonsense.


Algernon.  Nobody ever does.


[Jack looks indignantly at him, and leaves the
room.  Algernon lights a cigarette, reads his
shirt-cuff, and smiles.]


ACT DROP


SECOND ACT


SCENE


Garden at the Manor House.  A flight of grey stone steps
leads up to the house.  The garden, an old-fashioned one,
full of roses.  Time of year, July.  Basket chairs, and
a table covered with books, are set under a large yew-tree.


[Miss Prism discovered seated at the table. 
Cecily is at the back watering flowers.]


Miss Prism.  [Calling.]  Cecily,
Cecily!  Surely such a utilitarian occupation as the
watering of flowers is rather Moulton’s duty than
yours?  Especially at a moment when intellectual pleasures
await you.  Your German grammar is on the table.  Pray
open it at page fifteen.  We will repeat yesterday’s
lesson.


Cecily.  [Coming over very slowly.]  But I
don’t like German.  It isn’t at all a becoming
language.  I know perfectly well that I look quite plain
after my German lesson.


Miss Prism.  Child, you know how anxious your
guardian is that you should improve yourself in every way. 
He laid particular stress on your German, as he was leaving for
town yesterday.  Indeed, he always lays stress on your
German when he is leaving for town.


Cecily.  Dear Uncle Jack is so very serious! 
Sometimes he is so serious that I think he cannot be quite
well.


Miss Prism.  [Drawing herself up.]  Your
guardian enjoys the best of health, and his gravity of demeanour
is especially to be commended in one so comparatively young as he
is.  I know no one who has a higher sense of duty and
responsibility.


Cecily.  I suppose that is why he often looks a
little bored when we three are together.


Miss Prism.  Cecily!  I am surprised at
you.  Mr. Worthing has many troubles in his life.  Idle
merriment and triviality would be out of place in his
conversation.  You must remember his constant anxiety about
that unfortunate young man his brother.


Cecily.  I wish Uncle Jack would allow that
unfortunate young man, his brother, to come down here
sometimes.  We might have a good influence over him, Miss
Prism.  I am sure you certainly would.  You know
German, and geology, and things of that kind influence a man very
much.  [Cecily begins to write in her diary.]


Miss Prism.  [Shaking her head.]  I do not
think that even I could produce any effect on a character that
according to his own brother’s admission is irretrievably
weak and vacillating.  Indeed I am not sure that I would
desire to reclaim him.  I am not in favour of this modern
mania for turning bad people into good people at a moment’s
notice.  As a man sows so let him reap.  You must put
away your diary, Cecily.  I really don’t see why you
should keep a diary at all.


Cecily.  I keep a diary in order to enter the
wonderful secrets of my life.  If I didn’t write them
down, I should probably forget all about them.


Miss Prism.  Memory, my dear Cecily, is the diary
that we all carry about with us.


Cecily.  Yes, but it usually chronicles the things
that have never happened, and couldn’t possibly have
happened.  I believe that Memory is responsible for nearly
all the three-volume novels that Mudie sends us.


Miss Prism.  Do not speak slightingly of the
three-volume novel, Cecily.  I wrote one myself in earlier
days.


Cecily.  Did you really, Miss Prism?  How
wonderfully clever you are!  I hope it did not end
happily?  I don’t like novels that end happily. 
They depress me so much.


Miss Prism.  The good ended happily, and the bad
unhappily.  That is what Fiction means.


Cecily.  I suppose so.  But it seems very
unfair.  And was your novel ever published?


Miss Prism.  Alas! no.  The manuscript
unfortunately was abandoned.  [Cecily starts.] 
I use the word in the sense of lost or mislaid.  To your
work, child, these speculations are profitless.


Cecily.  [Smiling.]  But I see dear Dr.
Chasuble coming up through the garden.


Miss Prism.  [Rising and advancing.]  Dr.
Chasuble!  This is indeed a pleasure.


[Enter Canon Chasuble.]


Chasuble.  And how are we this morning?  Miss
Prism, you are, I trust, well?


Cecily.  Miss Prism has just been complaining of a
slight headache.  I think it would do her so much good to
have a short stroll with you in the Park, Dr. Chasuble.


Miss Prism.  Cecily, I have not mentioned anything
about a headache.


Cecily.  No, dear Miss Prism, I know that, but I
felt instinctively that you had a headache.  Indeed I was
thinking about that, and not about my German lesson, when the
Rector came in.


Chasuble.  I hope, Cecily, you are not
inattentive.


Cecily.  Oh, I am afraid I am.


Chasuble.  That is strange.  Were I fortunate
enough to be Miss Prism’s pupil, I would hang upon her
lips.  [Miss Prism glares.]  I spoke
metaphorically.—My metaphor was drawn from bees. 
Ahem!  Mr. Worthing, I suppose, has not returned from town
yet?


Miss Prism.  We do not expect him till Monday
afternoon.


Chasuble.  Ah yes, he usually likes to spend his
Sunday in London.  He is not one of those whose sole aim is
enjoyment, as, by all accounts, that unfortunate young man his
brother seems to be.  But I must not disturb Egeria and her
pupil any longer.


Miss Prism.  Egeria?  My name is
Lætitia, Doctor.


Chasuble.  [Bowing.]  A classical allusion
merely, drawn from the Pagan authors.  I shall see you both
no doubt at Evensong?


Miss Prism.  I think, dear Doctor, I will have a
stroll with you.  I find I have a headache after all, and a
walk might do it good.


Chasuble.  With pleasure, Miss Prism, with
pleasure.  We might go as far as the schools and back.


Miss Prism.  That would be delightful. 
Cecily, you will read your Political Economy in my absence. 
The chapter on the Fall of the Rupee you may omit.  It is
somewhat too sensational.  Even these metallic problems have
their melodramatic side.


[Goes down the garden with Dr. Chasuble.]


Cecily.  [Picks up books and throws them back on
table.]  Horrid Political Economy!  Horrid
Geography!  Horrid, horrid German!


[Enter Merriman with a card on a salver.]


Merriman.  Mr. Ernest Worthing has just driven
over from the station.  He has brought his luggage with
him.


Cecily.  [Takes the card and reads it.] 
‘Mr. Ernest Worthing, B. 4, The Albany, W.’ 
Uncle Jack’s brother!  Did you tell him Mr. Worthing
was in town?


Merriman.  Yes, Miss.  He seemed very much
disappointed.  I mentioned that you and Miss Prism were in
the garden.  He said he was anxious to speak to you
privately for a moment.


Cecily.  Ask Mr. Ernest Worthing to come
here.  I suppose you had better talk to the housekeeper
about a room for him.


Merriman.  Yes, Miss.


[Merriman goes off.]


Cecily.  I have never met any really wicked person
before.  I feel rather frightened.  I am so afraid he
will look just like every one else.


[Enter Algernon, very gay and debonnair.]  He
does!


Algernon.  [Raising his hat.]  You are my
little cousin Cecily, I’m sure.


Cecily.  You are under some strange mistake. 
I am not little.  In fact, I believe I am more than usually
tall for my age.  [Algernon is rather taken
aback.]  But I am your cousin Cecily.  You, I see from
your card, are Uncle Jack’s brother, my cousin Ernest, my
wicked cousin Ernest.


Algernon.  Oh! I am not really wicked at all,
cousin Cecily.  You mustn’t think that I am
wicked.


Cecily.  If you are not, then you have certainly
been deceiving us all in a very inexcusable manner.  I hope
you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked
and being really good all the time.  That would be
hypocrisy.


Algernon.  [Looks at her in amazement.] 
Oh!  Of course I have been rather reckless.


Cecily.  I am glad to hear it.


Algernon.  In fact, now you mention the subject, I
have been very bad in my own small way.


Cecily.  I don’t think you should be so
proud of that, though I am sure it must have been very
pleasant.


Algernon.  It is much pleasanter being here with
you.


Cecily.  I can’t understand how you are here
at all.  Uncle Jack won’t be back till Monday
afternoon.


Algernon.  That is a great disappointment.  I
am obliged to go up by the first train on Monday morning.  I
have a business appointment that I am anxious . . . to miss?


Cecily.  Couldn’t you miss it anywhere but
in London?


Algernon.  No: the appointment is in London.


Cecily.  Well, I know, of course, how important it
is not to keep a business engagement, if one wants to retain any
sense of the beauty of life, but still I think you had better
wait till Uncle Jack arrives.  I know he wants to speak to
you about your emigrating.


Algernon.  About my what?


Cecily.  Your emigrating.  He has gone up to
buy your outfit.


Algernon.  I certainly wouldn’t let Jack buy
my outfit.  He has no taste in neckties at all.


Cecily.  I don’t think you will require
neckties.  Uncle Jack is sending you to Australia.


Algernon.  Australia!  I’d sooner
die.


Cecily.  Well, he said at dinner on Wednesday
night, that you would have to choose between this world, the next
world, and Australia.


Algernon.  Oh, well!  The accounts I have
received of Australia and the next world, are not particularly
encouraging.  This world is good enough for me, cousin
Cecily.


Cecily.  Yes, but are you good enough for it?


Algernon.  I’m afraid I’m not
that.  That is why I want you to reform me.  You might
make that your mission, if you don’t mind, cousin
Cecily.


Cecily.  I’m afraid I’ve no time, this
afternoon.


Algernon.  Well, would you mind my reforming
myself this afternoon?


Cecily.  It is rather Quixotic of you.  But I
think you should try.


Algernon.  I will.  I feel better
already.


Cecily.  You are looking a little worse.


Algernon.  That is because I am hungry.


Cecily.  How thoughtless of me.  I should
have remembered that when one is going to lead an entirely new
life, one requires regular and wholesome meals.  Won’t
you come in?


Algernon.  Thank you.  Might I have a
buttonhole first?  I never have any appetite unless I have a
buttonhole first.


Cecily.  A Marechal Niel?  [Picks up
scissors.]


Algernon.  No, I’d sooner have a pink
rose.


Cecily.  Why?  [Cuts a flower.]


Algernon.  Because you are like a pink rose,
Cousin Cecily.


Cecily.  I don’t think it can be right for
you to talk to me like that.  Miss Prism never says such
things to me.


Algernon.  Then Miss Prism is a short-sighted old
lady.  [Cecily puts the rose in his
buttonhole.]  You are the prettiest girl I ever saw.


Cecily.  Miss Prism says that all good looks are a
snare.


Algernon.  They are a snare that every sensible
man would like to be caught in.


Cecily.  Oh, I don’t think I would care to
catch a sensible man.  I shouldn’t know what to talk
to him about.


[They pass into the house.  Miss Prism and Dr.
Chasuble
return.]


Miss Prism.  You are too much alone, dear Dr.
Chasuble.  You should get married.  A misanthrope I can
understand—a womanthrope, never!


Chasuble.  [With a scholar’s shudder.] 
Believe me, I do not deserve so neologistic a phrase.  The
precept as well as the practice of the Primitive Church was
distinctly against matrimony.


Miss Prism.  [Sententiously.]  That is
obviously the reason why the Primitive Church has not lasted up
to the present day.  And you do not seem to realise, dear
Doctor, that by persistently remaining single, a man converts
himself into a permanent public temptation.  Men should be
more careful; this very celibacy leads weaker vessels astray.


Chasuble.  But is a man not equally attractive
when married?


Miss Prism.  No married man is ever attractive
except to his wife.


Chasuble.  And often, I’ve been told, not
even to her.


Miss Prism.  That depends on the intellectual
sympathies of the woman.  Maturity can always be depended
on.  Ripeness can be trusted.  Young women are
green.  [Dr. Chasuble starts.]  I spoke
horticulturally.  My metaphor was drawn from fruits. 
But where is Cecily?


Chasuble.  Perhaps she followed us to the
schools.


[Enter Jack slowly from the back of the garden. 
He is dressed in the deepest mourning, with crape hatband and
black gloves.]


Miss Prism.  Mr. Worthing!


Chasuble.  Mr. Worthing?


Miss Prism.  This is indeed a surprise.  We
did not look for you till Monday afternoon.


Jack.  [Shakes Miss Prism’s hand in a
tragic manner.]  I have returned sooner than I
expected.  Dr. Chasuble, I hope you are well?


Chasuble.  Dear Mr. Worthing, I trust this garb of
woe does not betoken some terrible calamity?


Jack.  My brother.


Miss Prism.  More shameful debts and
extravagance?


Chasuble.  Still leading his life of pleasure?


Jack.  [Shaking his head.]  Dead!


Chasuble.  Your brother Ernest dead?


Jack.  Quite dead.


Miss Prism.  What a lesson for him!  I trust
he will profit by it.


Chasuble.  Mr. Worthing, I offer you my sincere
condolence.  You have at least the consolation of knowing
that you were always the most generous and forgiving of
brothers.


Jack.  Poor Ernest!  He had many faults, but
it is a sad, sad blow.


Chasuble.  Very sad indeed.  Were you with
him at the end?


Jack.  No.  He died abroad; in Paris, in
fact.  I had a telegram last night from the manager of the
Grand Hotel.


Chasuble.  Was the cause of death mentioned?


Jack.  A severe chill, it seems.


Miss Prism.  As a man sows, so shall he reap.


Chasuble.  [Raising his hand.]  Charity, dear
Miss Prism, charity!  None of us are perfect.  I myself
am peculiarly susceptible to draughts.  Will the interment
take place here?


Jack.  No.  He seems to have expressed a
desire to be buried in Paris.


Chasuble.  In Paris!  [Shakes his
head.]  I fear that hardly points to any very serious state
of mind at the last.  You would no doubt wish me to make
some slight allusion to this tragic domestic affliction next
Sunday.  [Jack presses his hand convulsively.] 
My sermon on the meaning of the manna in the wilderness can be
adapted to almost any occasion, joyful, or, as in the present
case, distressing.  [All sigh.]  I have preached it at
harvest celebrations, christenings, confirmations, on days of
humiliation and festal days.  The last time I delivered it
was in the Cathedral, as a charity sermon on behalf of the
Society for the Prevention of Discontent among the Upper
Orders.  The Bishop, who was present, was much struck by
some of the analogies I drew.


Jack.  Ah! that reminds me, you mentioned
christenings I think, Dr. Chasuble?  I suppose you know how
to christen all right?  [Dr. Chasuble looks
astounded.]  I mean, of course, you are continually
christening, aren’t you?


Miss Prism.  It is, I regret to say, one of the
Rector’s most constant duties in this parish.  I have
often spoken to the poorer classes on the subject.  But they
don’t seem to know what thrift is.


Chasuble.  But is there any particular infant in
whom you are interested, Mr. Worthing?  Your brother was, I
believe, unmarried, was he not?


Jack.  Oh yes.


Miss Prism.  [Bitterly.]  People who live
entirely for pleasure usually are.


Jack.  But it is not for any child, dear
Doctor.  I am very fond of children.  No! the fact is,
I would like to be christened myself, this afternoon, if you have
nothing better to do.


Chasuble.  But surely, Mr. Worthing, you have been
christened already?


Jack.  I don’t remember anything about
it.


Chasuble.  But have you any grave doubts on the
subject?


Jack.  I certainly intend to have.  Of course
I don’t know if the thing would bother you in any way, or
if you think I am a little too old now.


Chasuble.  Not at all.  The sprinkling, and,
indeed, the immersion of adults is a perfectly canonical
practice.


Jack.  Immersion!


Chasuble.  You need have no apprehensions. 
Sprinkling is all that is necessary, or indeed I think
advisable.  Our weather is so changeable.  At what hour
would you wish the ceremony performed?


Jack.  Oh, I might trot round about five if that
would suit you.


Chasuble.  Perfectly, perfectly!  In fact I
have two similar ceremonies to perform at that time.  A case
of twins that occurred recently in one of the outlying cottages
on your own estate.  Poor Jenkins the carter, a most
hard-working man.


Jack.  Oh!  I don’t see much fun in
being christened along with other babies.  It would be
childish.  Would half-past five do?


Chasuble.  Admirably!  Admirably! 
[Takes out watch.]  And now, dear Mr. Worthing, I will not
intrude any longer into a house of sorrow.  I would merely
beg you not to be too much bowed down by grief.  What seem
to us bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.


Miss Prism.  This seems to me a blessing of an
extremely obvious kind.


[Enter Cecily from the house.]


Cecily.  Uncle Jack!  Oh, I am pleased to see
you back.  But what horrid clothes you have got on!  Do
go and change them.


Miss Prism.  Cecily!


Chasuble.  My child! my child! 
[Cecily goes towards Jack; he kisses her brow in a
melancholy manner.]


Cecily.  What is the matter, Uncle Jack?  Do
look happy!  You look as if you had toothache, and I have
got such a surprise for you.  Who do you think is in the
dining-room?  Your brother!


Jack.  Who?


Cecily.  Your brother Ernest.  He arrived
about half an hour ago.


Jack.  What nonsense!  I haven’t got a
brother.


Cecily.  Oh, don’t say that.  However
badly he may have behaved to you in the past he is still your
brother.  You couldn’t be so heartless as to disown
him.  I’ll tell him to come out.  And you will
shake hands with him, won’t you, Uncle Jack?  [Runs
back into the house.]


Chasuble.  These are very joyful tidings.


Miss Prism.  After we had all been resigned to his
loss, his sudden return seems to me peculiarly distressing.


Jack.  My brother is in the dining-room?  I
don’t know what it all means.  I think it is perfectly
absurd.


[Enter Algernon and Cecily hand in hand. 
They come slowly up to Jack.]


Jack.  Good heavens!  [Motions
Algernon away.]


Algernon.  Brother John, I have come down from
town to tell you that I am very sorry for all the trouble I have
given you, and that I intend to lead a better life in the
future.  [Jack glares at him and does not take his
hand.]


Cecily.  Uncle Jack, you are not going to refuse
your own brother’s hand?


Jack.  Nothing will induce me to take his
hand.  I think his coming down here disgraceful.  He
knows perfectly well why.


Cecily.  Uncle Jack, do be nice.  There is
some good in every one.  Ernest has just been telling me
about his poor invalid friend Mr. Bunbury whom he goes to visit
so often.  And surely there must be much good in one who is
kind to an invalid, and leaves the pleasures of London to sit by
a bed of pain.


Jack.  Oh! he has been talking about Bunbury, has
he?


Cecily.  Yes, he has told me all about poor Mr.
Bunbury, and his terrible state of health.


Jack.  Bunbury!  Well, I won’t have him
talk to you about Bunbury or about anything else.  It is
enough to drive one perfectly frantic.


Algernon.  Of course I admit that the faults were
all on my side.  But I must say that I think that Brother
John’s coldness to me is peculiarly painful.  I
expected a more enthusiastic welcome, especially considering it
is the first time I have come here.


Cecily.  Uncle Jack, if you don’t shake
hands with Ernest I will never forgive you.


Jack.  Never forgive me?


Cecily.  Never, never, never!


Jack.  Well, this is the last time I shall ever do
it.  [Shakes with Algernon and glares.]


Chasuble.  It’s pleasant, is it not, to see
so perfect a reconciliation?  I think we might leave the two
brothers together.


Miss Prism.  Cecily, you will come with us.


Cecily.  Certainly, Miss Prism.  My little
task of reconciliation is over.


Chasuble.  You have done a beautiful action
to-day, dear child.


Miss Prism.  We must not be premature in our
judgments.


Cecily.  I feel very happy.  [They all go off
except Jack and Algernon.]


Jack.  You young scoundrel, Algy, you must get out
of this place as soon as possible.  I don’t allow any
Bunburying here.


[Enter Merriman.]


Merriman.  I have put Mr. Ernest’s things in
the room next to yours, sir.  I suppose that is all
right?


Jack.  What?


Merriman.  Mr. Ernest’s luggage, sir. 
I have unpacked it and put it in the room next to your own.


Jack.  His luggage?


Merriman.  Yes, sir.  Three portmanteaus, a
dressing-case, two hat-boxes, and a large luncheon-basket.


Algernon.  I am afraid I can’t stay more
than a week this time.


Jack.  Merriman, order the dog-cart at once. 
Mr. Ernest has been suddenly called back to town.


Merriman.  Yes, sir.  [Goes back into the
house.]


Algernon.  What a fearful liar you are,
Jack.  I have not been called back to town at all.


Jack.  Yes, you have.


Algernon.  I haven’t heard any one call
me.


Jack.  Your duty as a gentleman calls you
back.


Algernon.  My duty as a gentleman has never
interfered with my pleasures in the smallest degree.


Jack.  I can quite understand that.


Algernon.  Well, Cecily is a darling.


Jack.  You are not to talk of Miss Cardew like
that.  I don’t like it.


Algernon.  Well, I don’t like your
clothes.  You look perfectly ridiculous in them.  Why
on earth don’t you go up and change?  It is perfectly
childish to be in deep mourning for a man who is actually staying
for a whole week with you in your house as a guest.  I call
it grotesque.


Jack.  You are certainly not staying with me for a
whole week as a guest or anything else.  You have got to
leave . . . by the four-five train.


Algernon.  I certainly won’t leave you so
long as you are in mourning.  It would be most
unfriendly.  If I were in mourning you would stay with me, I
suppose.  I should think it very unkind if you
didn’t.


Jack.  Well, will you go if I change my
clothes?


Algernon.  Yes, if you are not too long.  I
never saw anybody take so long to dress, and with such little
result.


Jack.  Well, at any rate, that is better than
being always over-dressed as you are.


Algernon.  If I am occasionally a little
over-dressed, I make up for it by being always immensely
over-educated.


Jack.  Your vanity is ridiculous, your conduct an
outrage, and your presence in my garden utterly absurd. 
However, you have got to catch the four-five, and I hope you will
have a pleasant journey back to town.  This Bunburying, as
you call it, has not been a great success for you.


[Goes into the house.]


Algernon.  I think it has been a great
success.  I’m in love with Cecily, and that is
everything.


[Enter Cecily at the back of the garden.  She
picks up the can and begins to water the flowers.]  But I
must see her before I go, and make arrangements for another
Bunbury.  Ah, there she is.


Cecily.  Oh, I merely came back to water the
roses.  I thought you were with Uncle Jack.


Algernon.  He’s gone to order the dog-cart
for me.


Cecily.  Oh, is he going to take you for a nice
drive?


Algernon.  He’s going to send me away.


Cecily.  Then have we got to part?


Algernon.  I am afraid so.  It’s a very
painful parting.


Cecily.  It is always painful to part from people
whom one has known for a very brief space of time.  The
absence of old friends one can endure with equanimity.  But
even a momentary separation from anyone to whom one has just been
introduced is almost unbearable.


Algernon.  Thank you.


[Enter Merriman.]


Merriman.  The dog-cart is at the door, sir. 
[Algernon looks appealingly at Cecily.]


Cecily.  It can wait, Merriman for . . . five
minutes.


Merriman.  Yes, Miss.  [Exit
Merriman.]


Algernon.  I hope, Cecily, I shall not offend you
if I state quite frankly and openly that you seem to me to be in
every way the visible personification of absolute perfection.


Cecily.  I think your frankness does you great
credit, Ernest.  If you will allow me, I will copy your
remarks into my diary.  [Goes over to table and begins
writing in diary.]


Algernon.  Do you really keep a diary? 
I’d give anything to look at it.  May I?


Cecily.  Oh no.  [Puts her hand over
it.]  You see, it is simply a very young girl’s record
of her own thoughts and impressions, and consequently meant for
publication.  When it appears in volume form I hope you will
order a copy.  But pray, Ernest, don’t stop.  I
delight in taking down from dictation.  I have reached
‘absolute perfection’.  You can go on.  I
am quite ready for more.


Algernon.  [Somewhat taken aback.] 
Ahem!  Ahem!


Cecily.  Oh, don’t cough, Ernest.  When
one is dictating one should speak fluently and not cough. 
Besides, I don’t know how to spell a cough.  [Writes
as Algernon speaks.]


Algernon.  [Speaking very rapidly.]  Cecily,
ever since I first looked upon your wonderful and incomparable
beauty, I have dared to love you wildly, passionately, devotedly,
hopelessly.


Cecily.  I don’t think that you should tell
me that you love me wildly, passionately, devotedly,
hopelessly.  Hopelessly doesn’t seem to make much
sense, does it?


Algernon.  Cecily!


[Enter Merriman.]


Merriman.  The dog-cart is waiting, sir.


Algernon.  Tell it to come round next week, at the
same hour.


Merriman.  [Looks at Cecily, who makes no
sign.]  Yes, sir.


[Merriman retires.]


Cecily.  Uncle Jack would be very much annoyed if
he knew you were staying on till next week, at the same hour.


Algernon.  Oh, I don’t care about
Jack.  I don’t care for anybody in the whole world but
you.  I love you, Cecily.  You will marry me,
won’t you?


Cecily.  You silly boy!  Of course. 
Why, we have been engaged for the last three months.


Algernon.  For the last three months?


Cecily.  Yes, it will be exactly three months on
Thursday.


Algernon.  But how did we become engaged?


Cecily.  Well, ever since dear Uncle Jack first
confessed to us that he had a younger brother who was very wicked
and bad, you of course have formed the chief topic of
conversation between myself and Miss Prism.  And of course a
man who is much talked about is always very attractive.  One
feels there must be something in him, after all.  I daresay
it was foolish of me, but I fell in love with you, Ernest.


Algernon.  Darling!  And when was the
engagement actually settled?


Cecily.  On the 14th of February last.  Worn
out by your entire ignorance of my existence, I determined to end
the matter one way or the other, and after a long struggle with
myself I accepted you under this dear old tree here.  The
next day I bought this little ring in your name, and this is the
little bangle with the true lover’s knot I promised you
always to wear.


Algernon.  Did I give you this?  It’s
very pretty, isn’t it?


Cecily.  Yes, you’ve wonderfully good taste,
Ernest.  It’s the excuse I’ve always given for
your leading such a bad life.  And this is the box in which
I keep all your dear letters.  [Kneels at table, opens box,
and produces letters tied up with blue ribbon.]


Algernon.  My letters!  But, my own sweet
Cecily, I have never written you any letters.


Cecily.  You need hardly remind me of that,
Ernest.  I remember only too well that I was forced to write
your letters for you.  I wrote always three times a week,
and sometimes oftener.


Algernon.  Oh, do let me read them, Cecily?


Cecily.  Oh, I couldn’t possibly.  They
would make you far too conceited.  [Replaces box.]  The
three you wrote me after I had broken off the engagement are so
beautiful, and so badly spelled, that even now I can hardly read
them without crying a little.


Algernon.  But was our engagement ever broken
off?


Cecily.  Of course it was.  On the 22nd of
last March.  You can see the entry if you like. [Shows
diary.]  ‘To-day I broke off my engagement with
Ernest.  I feel it is better to do so.  The weather
still continues charming.’


Algernon.  But why on earth did you break it
off?  What had I done?  I had done nothing at
all.  Cecily, I am very much hurt indeed to hear you broke
it off.  Particularly when the weather was so charming.


Cecily.  It would hardly have been a really
serious engagement if it hadn’t been broken off at least
once.  But I forgave you before the week was out.


Algernon.  [Crossing to her, and kneeling.] 
What a perfect angel you are, Cecily.


Cecily.  You dear romantic boy.  [He kisses
her, she puts her fingers through his hair.]  I hope your
hair curls naturally, does it?


Algernon.  Yes, darling, with a little help from
others.


Cecily.  I am so glad.


Algernon.  You’ll never break off our
engagement again, Cecily?


Cecily.  I don’t think I could break it off
now that I have actually met you.  Besides, of course, there
is the question of your name.


Algernon.  Yes, of course.  [Nervously.]


Cecily.  You must not laugh at me, darling, but it
had always been a girlish dream of mine to love some one whose
name was Ernest.  [Algernon rises, Cecily
also.]  There is something in that name that seems to
inspire absolute confidence.  I pity any poor married woman
whose husband is not called Ernest.


Algernon.  But, my dear child, do you mean to say
you could not love me if I had some other name?


Cecily.  But what name?


Algernon.  Oh, any name you
like—Algernon—for instance . . .


Cecily.  But I don’t like the name of
Algernon.


Algernon.  Well, my own dear, sweet, loving little
darling, I really can’t see why you should object to the
name of Algernon.  It is not at all a bad name.  In
fact, it is rather an aristocratic name.  Half of the chaps
who get into the Bankruptcy Court are called Algernon.  But
seriously, Cecily . . . [Moving to her] . . . if my name was
Algy, couldn’t you love me?


Cecily.  [Rising.]  I might respect you,
Ernest, I might admire your character, but I fear that I should
not be able to give you my undivided attention.


Algernon.  Ahem!  Cecily!  [Picking up
hat.]  Your Rector here is, I suppose, thoroughly
experienced in the practice of all the rites and ceremonials of
the Church?


Cecily.  Oh, yes.  Dr. Chasuble is a most
learned man.  He has never written a single book, so you can
imagine how much he knows.


Algernon.  I must see him at once on a most
important christening—I mean on most important
business.


Cecily.  Oh!


Algernon.  I shan’t be away more than half
an hour.


Cecily.  Considering that we have been engaged
since February the 14th, and that I only met you to-day for the
first time, I think it is rather hard that you should leave me
for so long a period as half an hour.  Couldn’t you
make it twenty minutes?


Algernon.  I’ll be back in no time.


[Kisses her and rushes down the garden.]


Cecily.  What an impetuous boy he is!  I like
his hair so much.  I must enter his proposal in my
diary.


[Enter Merriman.]


Merriman.  A Miss Fairfax has just called to see
Mr. Worthing.  On very important business, Miss Fairfax
states.


Cecily.  Isn’t Mr. Worthing in his
library?


Merriman.  Mr. Worthing went over in the direction
of the Rectory some time ago.


Cecily.  Pray ask the lady to come out here; Mr.
Worthing is sure to be back soon.  And you can bring
tea.


Merriman.  Yes, Miss.  [Goes out.]


Cecily.  Miss Fairfax!  I suppose one of the
many good elderly women who are associated with Uncle Jack in
some of his philanthropic work in London.  I don’t
quite like women who are interested in philanthropic work. 
I think it is so forward of them.


[Enter Merriman.]


Merriman.  Miss Fairfax.


[Enter Gwendolen.]


[Exit Merriman.]


Cecily.  [Advancing to meet her.]  Pray let
me introduce myself to you.  My name is Cecily Cardew.


Gwendolen.  Cecily Cardew?  [Moving to her
and shaking hands.]  What a very sweet name!  Something
tells me that we are going to be great friends.  I like you
already more than I can say.  My first impressions of people
are never wrong.


Cecily.  How nice of you to like me so much after
we have known each other such a comparatively short time. 
Pray sit down.


Gwendolen.  [Still standing up.]  I may call
you Cecily, may I not?


Cecily.  With pleasure!


Gwendolen.  And you will always call me Gwendolen,
won’t you?


Cecily.  If you wish.


Gwendolen.  Then that is all quite settled, is it
not?


Cecily.  I hope so.  [A pause.  They
both sit down together.]


Gwendolen.  Perhaps this might be a favourable
opportunity for my mentioning who I am.  My father is Lord
Bracknell.  You have never heard of papa, I suppose?


Cecily.  I don’t think so.


Gwendolen.  Outside the family circle, papa, I am
glad to say, is entirely unknown.  I think that is quite as
it should be.  The home seems to me to be the proper sphere
for the man.  And certainly once a man begins to neglect his
domestic duties he becomes painfully effeminate, does he
not?  And I don’t like that.  It makes men so
very attractive.  Cecily, mamma, whose views on education
are remarkably strict, has brought me up to be extremely
short-sighted; it is part of her system; so do you mind my
looking at you through my glasses?


Cecily.  Oh! not at all, Gwendolen.  I am
very fond of being looked at.


Gwendolen.  [After examining Cecily
carefully through a lorgnette.]  You are here on a short
visit, I suppose.


Cecily.  Oh no!  I live here.


Gwendolen.  [Severely.]  Really?  Your
mother, no doubt, or some female relative of advanced years,
resides here also?


Cecily.  Oh no!  I have no mother, nor, in
fact, any relations.


Gwendolen.  Indeed?


Cecily.  My dear guardian, with the assistance of
Miss Prism, has the arduous task of looking after me.


Gwendolen.  Your guardian?


Cecily.  Yes, I am Mr. Worthing’s ward.


Gwendolen.  Oh!  It is strange he never
mentioned to me that he had a ward.  How secretive of
him!  He grows more interesting hourly.  I am not sure,
however, that the news inspires me with feelings of unmixed
delight.  [Rising and going to her.]  I am very fond of
you, Cecily; I have liked you ever since I met you!  But I
am bound to state that now that I know that you are Mr.
Worthing’s ward, I cannot help expressing a wish you
were—well, just a little older than you seem to
be—and not quite so very alluring in appearance.  In
fact, if I may speak candidly—


Cecily.  Pray do!  I think that whenever one
has anything unpleasant to say, one should always be quite
candid.


Gwendolen.  Well, to speak with perfect candour,
Cecily, I wish that you were fully forty-two, and more than
usually plain for your age.  Ernest has a strong upright
nature.  He is the very soul of truth and honour. 
Disloyalty would be as impossible to him as deception.  But
even men of the noblest possible moral character are extremely
susceptible to the influence of the physical charms of
others.  Modern, no less than Ancient History, supplies us
with many most painful examples of what I refer to.  If it
were not so, indeed, History would be quite unreadable.


Cecily.  I beg your pardon, Gwendolen, did you say
Ernest?


Gwendolen.  Yes.


Cecily.  Oh, but it is not Mr. Ernest Worthing who
is my guardian.  It is his brother—his elder
brother.


Gwendolen.  [Sitting down again.]  Ernest
never mentioned to me that he had a brother.


Cecily.  I am sorry to say they have not been on
good terms for a long time.


Gwendolen.  Ah! that accounts for it.  And
now that I think of it I have never heard any man mention his
brother.  The subject seems distasteful to most men. 
Cecily, you have lifted a load from my mind.  I was growing
almost anxious.  It would have been terrible if any cloud
had come across a friendship like ours, would it not?  Of
course you are quite, quite sure that it is not Mr. Ernest
Worthing who is your guardian?


Cecily.  Quite sure.  [A pause.]  In
fact, I am going to be his.


Gwendolen.  [Inquiringly.]  I beg your
pardon?


Cecily.  [Rather shy and confidingly.] 
Dearest Gwendolen, there is no reason why I should make a secret
of it to you.  Our little county newspaper is sure to
chronicle the fact next week.  Mr. Ernest Worthing and I are
engaged to be married.


Gwendolen.  [Quite politely, rising.]  My
darling Cecily, I think there must be some slight error. 
Mr. Ernest Worthing is engaged to me.  The announcement will
appear in the Morning Post on Saturday at the latest.


Cecily.  [Very politely, rising.]  I am
afraid you must be under some misconception.  Ernest
proposed to me exactly ten minutes ago.  [Shows diary.]


Gwendolen.  [Examines diary through her lorgnettte
carefully.]  It is certainly very curious, for he asked me
to be his wife yesterday afternoon at 5.30.  If you would
care to verify the incident, pray do so.  [Produces diary of
her own.]  I never travel without my diary.  One should
always have something sensational to read in the train.  I
am so sorry, dear Cecily, if it is any disappointment to you, but
I am afraid I have the prior claim.


Cecily.  It would distress me more than I can tell
you, dear Gwendolen, if it caused you any mental or physical
anguish, but I feel bound to point out that since Ernest proposed
to you he clearly has changed his mind.


Gwendolen.  [Meditatively.]  If the poor
fellow has been entrapped into any foolish promise I shall
consider it my duty to rescue him at once, and with a firm
hand.


Cecily.  [Thoughtfully and sadly.]  Whatever
unfortunate entanglement my dear boy may have got into, I will
never reproach him with it after we are married.


Gwendolen.  Do you allude to me, Miss Cardew, as
an entanglement?  You are presumptuous.  On an occasion
of this kind it becomes more than a moral duty to speak
one’s mind.  It becomes a pleasure.


Cecily.  Do you suggest, Miss Fairfax, that I
entrapped Ernest into an engagement?  How dare you? 
This is no time for wearing the shallow mask of manners. 
When I see a spade I call it a spade.


Gwendolen.  [Satirically.]  I am glad to say
that I have never seen a spade.  It is obvious that our
social spheres have been widely different.


[Enter Merriman, followed by the footman.  He
carries a salver, table cloth, and plate stand. 
Cecily is about to retort.  The presence of the
servants exercises a restraining influence, under which both
girls chafe.]


Merriman.  Shall I lay tea here as usual,
Miss?


Cecily.  [Sternly, in a calm voice.]  Yes, as
usual.  [Merriman begins to clear table and lay
cloth.  A long pause.  Cecily and
Gwendolen glare at each other.]


Gwendolen.  Are there many interesting walks in
the vicinity, Miss Cardew?


Cecily.  Oh! yes! a great many.  From the top
of one of the hills quite close one can see five counties.


Gwendolen.  Five counties!  I don’t
think I should like that; I hate crowds.


Cecily.  [Sweetly.]  I suppose that is why
you live in town?  [Gwendolen bites her lip, and
beats her foot nervously with her parasol.]


Gwendolen.  [Looking round.]  Quite a
well-kept garden this is, Miss Cardew.


Cecily.  So glad you like it, Miss Fairfax.


Gwendolen.  I had no idea there were any flowers
in the country.


Cecily.  Oh, flowers are as common here, Miss
Fairfax, as people are in London.


Gwendolen.  Personally I cannot understand how
anybody manages to exist in the country, if anybody who is
anybody does.  The country always bores me to death.


Cecily.  Ah!  This is what the newspapers
call agricultural depression, is it not?  I believe the
aristocracy are suffering very much from it just at
present.  It is almost an epidemic amongst them, I have been
told.  May I offer you some tea, Miss Fairfax?


Gwendolen.  [With elaborate politeness.] 
Thank you.  [Aside.]  Detestable girl!  But I
require tea!


Cecily.  [Sweetly.]  Sugar?


Gwendolen.  [Superciliously.]  No, thank
you.  Sugar is not fashionable any more. [Cecily
looks angrily at her, takes up the tongs and puts four lumps of
sugar into the cup.]


Cecily.  [Severely.]  Cake or bread and
butter?


Gwendolen.  [In a bored manner.]  Bread and
butter, please.  Cake is rarely seen at the best houses
nowadays.


Cecily.  [Cuts a very large slice of cake, and
puts it on the tray.]  Hand that to Miss Fairfax.


[Merriman does so, and goes out with footman. 
Gwendolen drinks the tea and makes a grimace.  Puts
down cup at once, reaches out her hand to the bread and butter,
looks at it, and finds it is cake.  Rises in
indignation.]


Gwendolen.  You have filled my tea with lumps of
sugar, and though I asked most distinctly for bread and butter,
you have given me cake.  I am known for the gentleness of my
disposition, and the extraordinary sweetness of my nature, but I
warn you, Miss Cardew, you may go too far.


Cecily.  [Rising.]  To save my poor,
innocent, trusting boy from the machinations of any other girl
there are no lengths to which I would not go.


Gwendolen.  From the moment I saw you I distrusted
you.  I felt that you were false and deceitful.  I am
never deceived in such matters.  My first impressions of
people are invariably right.


Cecily.  It seems to me, Miss Fairfax, that I am
trespassing on your valuable time.  No doubt you have many
other calls of a similar character to make in the
neighbourhood.


[Enter Jack.]


Gwendolen.  [Catching sight of him.] 
Ernest!  My own Ernest!


Jack.  Gwendolen!  Darling!  [Offers to
kiss her.]


Gwendolen.  [Draws back.]  A moment! 
May I ask if you are engaged to be married to this young
lady?  [Points to Cecily.]


Jack.  [Laughing.]  To dear little
Cecily!  Of course not!  What could have put such an
idea into your pretty little head?


Gwendolen.  Thank you.  You may! 
[Offers her cheek.]


Cecily.  [Very sweetly.]  I knew there must
be some misunderstanding, Miss Fairfax.  The gentleman whose
arm is at present round your waist is my guardian, Mr. John
Worthing.


Gwendolen.  I beg your pardon?


Cecily.  This is Uncle Jack.


Gwendolen.  [Receding.]  Jack!  Oh!


[Enter Algernon.]


Cecily.  Here is Ernest.


Algernon.  [Goes straight over to Cecily
without noticing any one else.]  My own love!  [Offers
to kiss her.]


Cecily.  [Drawing back.]  A moment,
Ernest!  May I ask you—are you engaged to be married
to this young lady?


Algernon.  [Looking round.]  To what young
lady?  Good heavens!  Gwendolen!


Cecily.  Yes! to good heavens, Gwendolen, I mean
to Gwendolen.


Algernon.  [Laughing.]  Of course not! 
What could have put such an idea into your pretty little
head?


Cecily.  Thank you.  [Presenting her cheek to
be kissed.]  You may.  [Algernon kisses
her.]


Gwendolen.  I felt there was some slight error,
Miss Cardew.  The gentleman who is now embracing you is my
cousin, Mr. Algernon Moncrieff.


Cecily.  [Breaking away from
Algernon.]  Algernon Moncrieff!  Oh!  [The
two girls move towards each other and put their arms round each
other’s waists as if for protection.]


Cecily.  Are you called Algernon?


Algernon.  I cannot deny it.


Cecily.  Oh!


Gwendolen.  Is your name really John?


Jack.  [Standing rather proudly.]  I could
deny it if I liked.  I could deny anything if I liked. 
But my name certainly is John.  It has been John for
years.


Cecily.  [To Gwendolen.]  A gross
deception has been practised on both of us.


Gwendolen.  My poor wounded Cecily!


Cecily.  My sweet wronged Gwendolen!


Gwendolen.  [Slowly and seriously.]  You will
call me sister, will you not?  [They embrace. 
Jack and Algernon groan and walk up and down.]


Cecily.  [Rather brightly.]  There is just
one question I would like to be allowed to ask my guardian.


Gwendolen.  An admirable idea!  Mr. Worthing,
there is just one question I would like to be permitted to put to
you.  Where is your brother Ernest?  We are both
engaged to be married to your brother Ernest, so it is a matter
of some importance to us to know where your brother Ernest is at
present.


Jack.  [Slowly and hesitatingly.] 
Gwendolen—Cecily—it is very painful for me to be
forced to speak the truth.  It is the first time in my life
that I have ever been reduced to such a painful position, and I
am really quite inexperienced in doing anything of the
kind.  However, I will tell you quite frankly that I have no
brother Ernest.  I have no brother at all.  I never had
a brother in my life, and I certainly have not the smallest
intention of ever having one in the future.


Cecily.  [Surprised.]  No brother at all?


Jack.  [Cheerily.]  None!


Gwendolen.  [Severely.]  Had you never a
brother of any kind?


Jack.  [Pleasantly.]  Never.  Not even
of any kind.


Gwendolen.  I am afraid it is quite clear, Cecily,
that neither of us is engaged to be married to any one.


Cecily.  It is not a very pleasant position for a
young girl suddenly to find herself in.  Is it?


Gwendolen.  Let us go into the house.  They
will hardly venture to come after us there.


Cecily.  No, men are so cowardly, aren’t
they?


[They retire into the house with scornful looks.]


Jack.  This ghastly state of things is what you
call Bunburying, I suppose?


Algernon.  Yes, and a perfectly wonderful Bunbury
it is.  The most wonderful Bunbury I have ever had in my
life.


Jack.  Well, you’ve no right whatsoever to
Bunbury here.


Algernon.  That is absurd.  One has a right
to Bunbury anywhere one chooses.  Every serious Bunburyist
knows that.


Jack.  Serious Bunburyist!  Good heavens!


Algernon.  Well, one must be serious about
something, if one wants to have any amusement in life.  I
happen to be serious about Bunburying.  What on earth you
are serious about I haven’t got the remotest idea. 
About everything, I should fancy.  You have such an
absolutely trivial nature.


Jack.  Well, the only small satisfaction I have in
the whole of this wretched business is that your friend Bunbury
is quite exploded.  You won’t be able to run down to
the country quite so often as you used to do, dear Algy. 
And a very good thing too.


Algernon.  Your brother is a little off colour,
isn’t he, dear Jack?  You won’t be able to
disappear to London quite so frequently as your wicked custom
was.  And not a bad thing either.


Jack.  As for your conduct towards Miss Cardew, I
must say that your taking in a sweet, simple, innocent girl like
that is quite inexcusable.  To say nothing of the fact that
she is my ward.


Algernon.  I can see no possible defence at all
for your deceiving a brilliant, clever, thoroughly experienced
young lady like Miss Fairfax.  To say nothing of the fact
that she is my cousin.


Jack.  I wanted to be engaged to Gwendolen, that
is all.  I love her.


Algernon.  Well, I simply wanted to be engaged to
Cecily.  I adore her.


Jack.  There is certainly no chance of your
marrying Miss Cardew.


Algernon.  I don’t think there is much
likelihood, Jack, of you and Miss Fairfax being united.


Jack.  Well, that is no business of yours.


Algernon.  If it was my business, I wouldn’t
talk about it.  [Begins to eat muffins.]  It is very
vulgar to talk about one’s business.  Only people like
stock-brokers do that, and then merely at dinner parties.


Jack.  How can you sit there, calmly eating
muffins when we are in this horrible trouble, I can’t make
out.  You seem to me to be perfectly heartless.


Algernon.  Well, I can’t eat muffins in an
agitated manner.  The butter would probably get on my
cuffs.  One should always eat muffins quite calmly.  It
is the only way to eat them.


Jack.  I say it’s perfectly heartless your
eating muffins at all, under the circumstances.


Algernon.  When I am in trouble, eating is the
only thing that consoles me.  Indeed, when I am in really
great trouble, as any one who knows me intimately will tell you,
I refuse everything except food and drink.  At the present
moment I am eating muffins because I am unhappy.  Besides, I
am particularly fond of muffins.  [Rising.]


Jack.  [Rising.]  Well, that is no reason why
you should eat them all in that greedy way. [Takes muffins from
Algernon.]


Algernon.  [Offering tea-cake.]  I wish you
would have tea-cake instead.  I don’t like
tea-cake.


Jack.  Good heavens!  I suppose a man may eat
his own muffins in his own garden.


Algernon.  But you have just said it was perfectly
heartless to eat muffins.


Jack.  I said it was perfectly heartless of you,
under the circumstances.  That is a very different
thing.


Algernon.  That may be.  But the muffins are
the same.  [He seizes the muffin-dish from Jack.]


Jack.  Algy, I wish to goodness you would go.


Algernon.  You can’t possibly ask me to go
without having some dinner.  It’s absurd.  I
never go without my dinner.  No one ever does, except
vegetarians and people like that.  Besides I have just made
arrangements with Dr. Chasuble to be christened at a quarter to
six under the name of Ernest.


Jack.  My dear fellow, the sooner you give up that
nonsense the better.  I made arrangements this morning with
Dr. Chasuble to be christened myself at 5.30, and I naturally
will take the name of Ernest.  Gwendolen would wish
it.  We can’t both be christened Ernest. 
It’s absurd.  Besides, I have a perfect right to be
christened if I like.  There is no evidence at all that I
have ever been christened by anybody.  I should think it
extremely probable I never was, and so does Dr. Chasuble. 
It is entirely different in your case.  You have been
christened already.


Algernon.  Yes, but I have not been christened for
years.


Jack.  Yes, but you have been christened. 
That is the important thing.


Algernon.  Quite so.  So I know my
constitution can stand it.  If you are not quite sure about
your ever having been christened, I must say I think it rather
dangerous your venturing on it now.  It might make you very
unwell.  You can hardly have forgotten that some one very
closely connected with you was very nearly carried off this week
in Paris by a severe chill.


Jack.  Yes, but you said yourself that a severe
chill was not hereditary.


Algernon.  It usen’t to be, I know—but
I daresay it is now.  Science is always making wonderful
improvements in things.


Jack.  [Picking up the muffin-dish.]  Oh,
that is nonsense; you are always talking nonsense.


Algernon.  Jack, you are at the muffins
again!  I wish you wouldn’t.  There are only two
left.  [Takes them.]  I told you I was particularly
fond of muffins.


Jack.  But I hate tea-cake.


Algernon.  Why on earth then do you allow tea-cake
to be served up for your guests?  What ideas you have of
hospitality!


Jack.  Algernon!  I have already told you to
go.  I don’t want you here.  Why don’t you
go!


Algernon.  I haven’t quite finished my tea
yet! and there is still one muffin left.  [Jack
groans, and sinks into a chair.  Algernon still
continues eating.]


ACT DROP


THIRD ACT


SCENE


Morning-room at the Manor House.


[Gwendolen and Cecily are at the window, looking
out into the garden.]


Gwendolen.  The fact that they did not follow us
at once into the house, as any one else would have done, seems to
me to show that they have some sense of shame left.


Cecily.  They have been eating muffins.  That
looks like repentance.


Gwendolen.  [After a pause.]  They
don’t seem to notice us at all.  Couldn’t you
cough?


Cecily.  But I haven’t got a cough.


Gwendolen.  They’re looking at us. 
What effrontery!


Cecily.  They’re approaching. 
That’s very forward of them.


Gwendolen.  Let us preserve a dignified
silence.


Cecily.  Certainly.  It’s the only
thing to do now.  [Enter Jack followed by
Algernon.  They whistle some dreadful popular air
from a British Opera.]


Gwendolen.  This dignified silence seems to
produce an unpleasant effect.


Cecily.  A most distasteful one.


Gwendolen.  But we will not be the first to
speak.


Cecily.  Certainly not.


Gwendolen.  Mr. Worthing, I have something very
particular to ask you.  Much depends on your reply.


Cecily.  Gwendolen, your common sense is
invaluable.  Mr. Moncrieff, kindly answer me the following
question.  Why did you pretend to be my guardian’s
brother?


Algernon.  In order that I might have an
opportunity of meeting you.


Cecily.  [To Gwendolen.]  That
certainly seems a satisfactory explanation, does it not?


Gwendolen.  Yes, dear, if you can believe him.


Cecily.  I don’t.  But that does not
affect the wonderful beauty of his answer.


Gwendolen.  True.  In matters of grave
importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing.  Mr.
Worthing, what explanation can you offer to me for pretending to
have a brother?  Was it in order that you might have an
opportunity of coming up to town to see me as often as
possible?


Jack.  Can you doubt it, Miss Fairfax?


Gwendolen.  I have the gravest doubts upon the
subject.  But I intend to crush them.  This is not the
moment for German scepticism.  [Moving to
Cecily.]  Their explanations appear to be quite
satisfactory, especially Mr. Worthing’s.  That seems
to me to have the stamp of truth upon it.


Cecily.  I am more than content with what Mr.
Moncrieff said.  His voice alone inspires one with absolute
credulity.


Gwendolen.  Then you think we should forgive
them?


Cecily.  Yes.  I mean no.


Gwendolen.  True!  I had forgotten. 
There are principles at stake that one cannot surrender. 
Which of us should tell them?  The task is not a pleasant
one.


Cecily.  Could we not both speak at the same
time?


Gwendolen.  An excellent idea!  I nearly
always speak at the same time as other people.  Will you
take the time from me?


Cecily.  Certainly.  [Gwendolen beats
time with uplifted finger.]


Gwendolen and Cecily [Speaking together.] 
Your Christian names are still an insuperable barrier.  That
is all!


Jack and Algernon [Speaking together.]  Our
Christian names!  Is that all?  But we are going to be
christened this afternoon.


Gwendolen.  [To Jack.]  For my sake
you are prepared to do this terrible thing?


Jack.  I am.


Cecily.  [To Algernon.]  To please me
you are ready to face this fearful ordeal?


Algernon.  I am!


Gwendolen.  How absurd to talk of the equality of
the sexes!  Where questions of self-sacrifice are concerned,
men are infinitely beyond us.


Jack.  We are.  [Clasps hands with
Algernon.]


Cecily.  They have moments of physical courage of
which we women know absolutely nothing.


Gwendolen.  [To Jack.]  Darling!


Algernon.  [To Cecily.] 
Darling!  [They fall into each other’s arms.]


[Enter Merriman.  When he enters he coughs loudly,
seeing the situation.]


Merriman.  Ahem!  Ahem!  Lady
Bracknell!


Jack.  Good heavens!


[Enter Lady Bracknell.  The couples separate in
alarm.  Exit Merriman.]


Lady Bracknell.  Gwendolen!  What does this
mean?


Gwendolen.  Merely that I am engaged to be married
to Mr. Worthing, mamma.


Lady Bracknell.  Come here.  Sit down. 
Sit down immediately.  Hesitation of any kind is a sign of
mental decay in the young, of physical weakness in the old. 
[Turns to Jack.]  Apprised, sir, of my
daughter’s sudden flight by her trusty maid, whose
confidence I purchased by means of a small coin, I followed her
at once by a luggage train.  Her unhappy father is, I am
glad to say, under the impression that she is attending a more
than usually lengthy lecture by the University Extension Scheme
on the Influence of a permanent income on Thought.  I do not
propose to undeceive him.  Indeed I have never undeceived
him on any question.  I would consider it wrong.  But
of course, you will clearly understand that all communication
between yourself and my daughter must cease immediately from this
moment.  On this point, as indeed on all points, I am
firm.


Jack.  I am engaged to be married to Gwendolen,
Lady Bracknell!


Lady Bracknell.  You are nothing of the kind,
sir.  And now, as regards Algernon! . . . Algernon!


Algernon.  Yes, Aunt Augusta.


Lady Bracknell.  May I ask if it is in this house
that your invalid friend Mr. Bunbury resides?


Algernon.  [Stammering.]  Oh!  No! 
Bunbury doesn’t live here.  Bunbury is somewhere else
at present.  In fact, Bunbury is dead.


Lady Bracknell.  Dead!  When did Mr. Bunbury
die?  His death must have been extremely sudden.


Algernon.  [Airily.]  Oh!  I killed
Bunbury this afternoon.  I mean poor Bunbury died this
afternoon.


Lady Bracknell.  What did he die of?


Algernon.  Bunbury?  Oh, he was quite
exploded.


Lady Bracknell.  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.


Algernon.  My dear Aunt Augusta, I mean he was
found out!  The doctors found out that Bunbury could not
live, that is what I mean—so Bunbury died.


Lady Bracknell.  He seems to have had great
confidence in the opinion of his physicians.  I am glad,
however, that he made up his mind at the last to some definite
course of action, and acted under proper medical advice. 
And now that we have finally got rid of this Mr. Bunbury, may I
ask, Mr. Worthing, who is that young person whose hand my nephew
Algernon is now holding in what seems to me a peculiarly
unnecessary manner?


Jack.  That lady is Miss Cecily Cardew, my
ward.  [Lady Bracknell bows coldly to
Cecily.]


Algernon.  I am engaged to be married to Cecily,
Aunt Augusta.


Lady Bracknell.  I beg your pardon?


Cecily.  Mr. Moncrieff and I are engaged to be
married, Lady Bracknell.


Lady Bracknell.  [With a shiver, crossing to the
sofa and sitting down.]  I do not know whether there is
anything peculiarly exciting in the air of this particular part
of Hertfordshire, but the number of engagements that go on seems
to me considerably above the proper average that statistics have
laid down for our guidance.  I think some preliminary
inquiry on my part would not be out of place.  Mr. Worthing,
is Miss Cardew at all connected with any of the larger railway
stations in London?  I merely desire information. 
Until yesterday I had no idea that there were any families or
persons whose origin was a Terminus.  [Jack looks
perfectly furious, but restrains himself.]


Jack.  [In a clear, cold voice.]  Miss Cardew
is the grand-daughter of the late Mr. Thomas Cardew of 149
Belgrave Square, S.W.; Gervase Park, Dorking, Surrey; and the
Sporran, Fifeshire, N.B.


Lady Bracknell.  That sounds not
unsatisfactory.  Three addresses always inspire confidence,
even in tradesmen.  But what proof have I of their
authenticity?


Jack.  I have carefully preserved the Court Guides
of the period.  They are open to your inspection, Lady
Bracknell.


Lady Bracknell.  [Grimly.]  I have known
strange errors in that publication.


Jack.  Miss Cardew’s family solicitors are
Messrs. Markby, Markby, and Markby.


Lady Bracknell.  Markby, Markby, and Markby? 
A firm of the very highest position in their profession. 
Indeed I am told that one of the Mr. Markby’s is
occasionally to be seen at dinner parties.  So far I am
satisfied.


Jack.  [Very irritably.]  How extremely kind
of you, Lady Bracknell!  I have also in my possession, you
will be pleased to hear, certificates of Miss Cardew’s
birth, baptism, whooping cough, registration, vaccination,
confirmation, and the measles; both the German and the English
variety.


Lady Bracknell.  Ah! A life crowded with incident,
I see; though perhaps somewhat too exciting for a young
girl.  I am not myself in favour of premature
experiences.  [Rises, looks at her watch.]  Gwendolen!
the time approaches for our departure.  We have not a moment
to lose.  As a matter of form, Mr. Worthing, I had better
ask you if Miss Cardew has any little fortune?


Jack.  Oh! about a hundred and thirty thousand
pounds in the Funds.  That is all.  Goodbye, Lady
Bracknell.  So pleased to have seen you.


Lady Bracknell.  [Sitting down again.]  A
moment, Mr. Worthing.  A hundred and thirty thousand
pounds!  And in the Funds!  Miss Cardew seems to me a
most attractive young lady, now that I look at her.  Few
girls of the present day have any really solid qualities, any of
the qualities that last, and improve with time.  We live, I
regret to say, in an age of surfaces.  [To
Cecily.]  Come over here, dear.  [Cecily
goes across.]  Pretty child! your dress is sadly simple, and
your hair seems almost as Nature might have left it.  But we
can soon alter all that.  A thoroughly experienced French
maid produces a really marvellous result in a very brief space of
time.  I remember recommending one to young Lady Lancing,
and after three months her own husband did not know her.


Jack.  And after six months nobody knew her.


Lady Bracknell.  [Glares at Jack for a few
moments.  Then bends, with a practised smile, to
Cecily.]  Kindly turn round, sweet child. 
[Cecily turns completely round.]  No, the side view
is what I want.  [Cecily presents her profile.] 
Yes, quite as I expected.  There are distinct social
possibilities in your profile.  The two weak points in our
age are its want of principle and its want of profile.  The
chin a little higher, dear.  Style largely depends on the
way the chin is worn.  They are worn very high, just at
present.  Algernon!


Algernon.  Yes, Aunt Augusta!


Lady Bracknell.  There are distinct social
possibilities in Miss Cardew’s profile.


Algernon.  Cecily is the sweetest, dearest,
prettiest girl in the whole world.  And I don’t care
twopence about social possibilities.


Lady Bracknell.  Never speak disrespectfully of
Society, Algernon.  Only people who can’t get into it
do that.  [To Cecily.]  Dear child, of course
you know that Algernon has nothing but his debts to depend
upon.  But I do not approve of mercenary marriages. 
When I married Lord Bracknell I had no fortune of any kind. 
But I never dreamed for a moment of allowing that to stand in my
way.  Well, I suppose I must give my consent.


Algernon.  Thank you, Aunt Augusta.


Lady Bracknell.  Cecily, you may kiss me!


Cecily.  [Kisses her.]  Thank you, Lady
Bracknell.


Lady Bracknell.  You may also address me as Aunt
Augusta for the future.


Cecily.  Thank you, Aunt Augusta.


Lady Bracknell.  The marriage, I think, had better
take place quite soon.


Algernon.  Thank you, Aunt Augusta.


Cecily.  Thank you, Aunt Augusta.


Lady Bracknell.  To speak frankly, I am not in
favour of long engagements.  They give people the
opportunity of finding out each other’s character before
marriage, which I think is never advisable.


Jack.  I beg your pardon for interrupting you,
Lady Bracknell, but this engagement is quite out of the
question.  I am Miss Cardew’s guardian, and she cannot
marry without my consent until she comes of age.  That
consent I absolutely decline to give.


Lady Bracknell.  Upon what grounds may I
ask?  Algernon is an extremely, I may almost say an
ostentatiously, eligible young man.  He has nothing, but he
looks everything.  What more can one desire?


Jack.  It pains me very much to have to speak
frankly to you, Lady Bracknell, about your nephew, but the fact
is that I do not approve at all of his moral character.  I
suspect him of being untruthful.  [Algernon and
Cecily look at him in indignant amazement.]


Lady Bracknell.  Untruthful!  My nephew
Algernon?  Impossible!  He is an Oxonian.


Jack.  I fear there can be no possible doubt about
the matter.  This afternoon during my temporary absence in
London on an important question of romance, he obtained admission
to my house by means of the false pretence of being my
brother.  Under an assumed name he drank, I’ve just
been informed by my butler, an entire pint bottle of my
Perrier-Jouet, Brut, ’89; wine I was specially reserving
for myself.  Continuing his disgraceful deception, he
succeeded in the course of the afternoon in alienating the
affections of my only ward.  He subsequently stayed to tea,
and devoured every single muffin.  And what makes his
conduct all the more heartless is, that he was perfectly well
aware from the first that I have no brother, that I never had a
brother, and that I don’t intend to have a brother, not
even of any kind.  I distinctly told him so myself yesterday
afternoon.


Lady Bracknell.  Ahem!  Mr. Worthing, after
careful consideration I have decided entirely to overlook my
nephew’s conduct to you.


Jack.  That is very generous of you, Lady
Bracknell.  My own decision, however, is unalterable. 
I decline to give my consent.


Lady Bracknell.  [To Cecily.]  Come
here, sweet child.  [Cecily goes over.]  How old
are you, dear?


Cecily.  Well, I am really only eighteen, but I
always admit to twenty when I go to evening parties.


Lady Bracknell.  You are perfectly right in making
some slight alteration.  Indeed, no woman should ever be
quite accurate about her age.  It looks so calculating . . .
[In a meditative manner.]  Eighteen, but admitting to twenty
at evening parties.  Well, it will not be very long before
you are of age and free from the restraints of tutelage.  So
I don’t think your guardian’s consent is, after all,
a matter of any importance.


Jack.  Pray excuse me, Lady Bracknell, for
interrupting you again, but it is only fair to tell you that
according to the terms of her grandfather’s will Miss
Cardew does not come legally of age till she is thirty-five.


Lady Bracknell.  That does not seem to me to be a
grave objection.  Thirty-five is a very attractive
age.  London society is full of women of the very highest
birth who have, of their own free choice, remained thirty-five
for years.  Lady Dumbleton is an instance in point.  To
my own knowledge she has been thirty-five ever since she arrived
at the age of forty, which was many years ago now.  I see no
reason why our dear Cecily should not be even still more
attractive at the age you mention than she is at present. 
There will be a large accumulation of property.


Cecily.  Algy, could you wait for me till I was
thirty-five?


Algernon.  Of course I could, Cecily.  You
know I could.


Cecily.  Yes, I felt it instinctively, but I
couldn’t wait all that time.  I hate waiting even five
minutes for anybody.  It always makes me rather cross. 
I am not punctual myself, I know, but I do like punctuality in
others, and waiting, even to be married, is quite out of the
question.


Algernon.  Then what is to be done, Cecily?


Cecily.  I don’t know, Mr. Moncrieff.


Lady Bracknell.  My dear Mr. Worthing, as Miss
Cardew states positively that she cannot wait till she is
thirty-five—a remark which I am bound to say seems to me to
show a somewhat impatient nature—I would beg of you to
reconsider your decision.


Jack.  But my dear Lady Bracknell, the matter is
entirely in your own hands.  The moment you consent to my
marriage with Gwendolen, I will most gladly allow your nephew to
form an alliance with my ward.


Lady Bracknell.  [Rising and drawing herself
up.]  You must be quite aware that what you propose is out
of the question.


Jack.  Then a passionate celibacy is all that any
of us can look forward to.


Lady Bracknell.  That is not the destiny I propose
for Gwendolen.  Algernon, of course, can choose for
himself.  [Pulls out her watch.]  Come, dear,
[Gwendolen rises] we have already missed five, if not six,
trains.  To miss any more might expose us to comment on the
platform.


[Enter Dr. Chasuble.]


Chasuble.  Everything is quite ready for the
christenings.


Lady Bracknell.  The christenings, sir!  Is
not that somewhat premature?


Chasuble.  [Looking rather puzzled, and pointing
to Jack and Algernon.]  Both these gentlemen
have expressed a desire for immediate baptism.


Lady Bracknell.  At their age?  The idea is
grotesque and irreligious!  Algernon, I forbid you to be
baptized.  I will not hear of such excesses.  Lord
Bracknell would be highly displeased if he learned that that was
the way in which you wasted your time and money.


Chasuble.  Am I to understand then that there are
to be no christenings at all this afternoon?


Jack.  I don’t think that, as things are
now, it would be of much practical value to either of us, Dr.
Chasuble.


Chasuble.  I am grieved to hear such sentiments
from you, Mr. Worthing.  They savour of the heretical views
of the Anabaptists, views that I have completely refuted in four
of my unpublished sermons.  However, as your present mood
seems to be one peculiarly secular, I will return to the church
at once.  Indeed, I have just been informed by the
pew-opener that for the last hour and a half Miss Prism has been
waiting for me in the vestry.


Lady Bracknell.  [Starting.]  Miss
Prism!  Did I hear you mention a Miss Prism?


Chasuble.  Yes, Lady Bracknell.  I am on my
way to join her.


Lady Bracknell.  Pray allow me to detain you for a
moment.  This matter may prove to be one of vital importance
to Lord Bracknell and myself.  Is this Miss Prism a female
of repellent aspect, remotely connected with education?


Chasuble.  [Somewhat indignantly.]  She is
the most cultivated of ladies, and the very picture of
respectability.


Lady Bracknell.  It is obviously the same
person.  May I ask what position she holds in your
household?


Chasuble.  [Severely.]  I am a celibate,
madam.


Jack.  [Interposing.]  Miss Prism, Lady
Bracknell, has been for the last three years Miss Cardew’s
esteemed governess and valued companion.


Lady Bracknell.  In spite of what I hear of her, I
must see her at once.  Let her be sent for.


Chasuble.  [Looking off.]  She approaches;
she is nigh.


[Enter Miss Prism hurriedly.]


Miss Prism.  I was told you expected me in the
vestry, dear Canon.  I have been waiting for you there for
an hour and three-quarters.  [Catches sight of Lady
Bracknell
, who has fixed her with a stony glare. 
Miss Prism grows pale and quails.  She looks
anxiously round as if desirous to escape.]


Lady Bracknell.  [In a severe, judicial
voice.]  Prism!  [Miss Prism bows her head in
shame.]  Come here, Prism!  [Miss Prism
approaches in a humble manner.]  Prism!  Where is that
baby?  [General consternation.  The Canon starts
back in horror.  Algernon and Jack pretend to
be anxious to shield Cecily and Gwendolen from
hearing the details of a terrible public scandal.] 
Twenty-eight years ago, Prism, you left Lord Bracknell’s
house, Number 104, Upper Grosvenor Street, in charge of a
perambulator that contained a baby of the male sex.  You
never returned.  A few weeks later, through the elaborate
investigations of the Metropolitan police, the perambulator was
discovered at midnight, standing by itself in a remote corner of
Bayswater.  It contained the manuscript of a three-volume
novel of more than usually revolting sentimentality. 
[Miss Prism starts in involuntary indignation.]  But
the baby was not there!  [Every one looks at Miss
Prism
.]  Prism!  Where is that baby?  [A
pause.]


Miss Prism.  Lady Bracknell, I admit with shame
that I do not know.  I only wish I did.  The plain
facts of the case are these.  On the morning of the day you
mention, a day that is for ever branded on my memory, I prepared
as usual to take the baby out in its perambulator.  I had
also with me a somewhat old, but capacious hand-bag in which I
had intended to place the manuscript of a work of fiction that I
had written during my few unoccupied hours.  In a moment of
mental abstraction, for which I never can forgive myself, I
deposited the manuscript in the basinette, and placed the baby in
the hand-bag.


Jack.  [Who has been listening attentively.] 
But where did you deposit the hand-bag?


Miss Prism.  Do not ask me, Mr. Worthing.


Jack.  Miss Prism, this is a matter of no small
importance to me.  I insist on knowing where you deposited
the hand-bag that contained that infant.


Miss Prism.  I left it in the cloak-room of one of
the larger railway stations in London.


Jack.  What railway station?


Miss Prism.  [Quite crushed.] 
Victoria.  The Brighton line.  [Sinks into a
chair.]


Jack.  I must retire to my room for a
moment.  Gwendolen, wait here for me.


Gwendolen.  If you are not too long, I will wait
here for you all my life.  [Exit Jack in great
excitement.]


Chasuble.  What do you think this means, Lady
Bracknell?


Lady Bracknell.  I dare not even suspect, Dr.
Chasuble.  I need hardly tell you that in families of high
position strange coincidences are not supposed to occur. 
They are hardly considered the thing.


[Noises heard overhead as if some one was throwing trunks
about.  Every one looks up.]


Cecily.  Uncle Jack seems strangely agitated.


Chasuble.  Your guardian has a very emotional
nature.


Lady Bracknell.  This noise is extremely
unpleasant.  It sounds as if he was having an
argument.  I dislike arguments of any kind.  They are
always vulgar, and often convincing.


Chasuble.  [Looking up.]  It has stopped
now.  [The noise is redoubled.]


Lady Bracknell.  I wish he would arrive at some
conclusion.


Gwendolen.  This suspense is terrible.  I
hope it will last.  [Enter Jack with a hand-bag of
black leather in his hand.]


Jack.  [Rushing over to Miss Prism.] 
Is this the hand-bag, Miss Prism?  Examine it carefully
before you speak.  The happiness of more than one life
depends on your answer.


Miss Prism.  [Calmly.]  It seems to be
mine.  Yes, here is the injury it received through the
upsetting of a Gower Street omnibus in younger and happier
days.  Here is the stain on the lining caused by the
explosion of a temperance beverage, an incident that occurred at
Leamington.  And here, on the lock, are my initials.  I
had forgotten that in an extravagant mood I had had them placed
there.  The bag is undoubtedly mine.  I am delighted to
have it so unexpectedly restored to me.  It has been a great
inconvenience being without it all these years.


Jack.  [In a pathetic voice.]  Miss Prism,
more is restored to you than this hand-bag.  I was the baby
you placed in it.


Miss Prism.  [Amazed.]  You?


Jack.  [Embracing her.]  Yes . . .
mother!


Miss Prism.  [Recoiling in indignant
astonishment.]  Mr. Worthing!  I am unmarried!


Jack.  Unmarried!  I do not deny that is a
serious blow.  But after all, who has the right to cast a
stone against one who has suffered?  Cannot repentance wipe
out an act of folly?  Why should there be one law for men,
and another for women?  Mother, I forgive you.  [Tries
to embrace her again.]


Miss Prism.  [Still more indignant.]  Mr.
Worthing, there is some error.  [Pointing to Lady
Bracknell
.]  There is the lady who can tell you who you
really are.


Jack.  [After a pause.]  Lady Bracknell, I
hate to seem inquisitive, but would you kindly inform me who I
am?


Lady Bracknell.  I am afraid that the news I have
to give you will not altogether please you.  You are the son
of my poor sister, Mrs. Moncrieff, and consequently
Algernon’s elder brother.


Jack.  Algy’s elder brother!  Then I
have a brother after all.  I knew I had a brother!  I
always said I had a brother!  Cecily,—how could you
have ever doubted that I had a brother?  [Seizes hold of
Algernon.]  Dr. Chasuble, my unfortunate
brother.  Miss Prism, my unfortunate brother. 
Gwendolen, my unfortunate brother.  Algy, you young
scoundrel, you will have to treat me with more respect in the
future.  You have never behaved to me like a brother in all
your life.


Algernon.  Well, not till to-day, old boy, I
admit.  I did my best, however, though I was out of
practice.


[Shakes hands.]


Gwendolen.  [To Jack.]  My own! 
But what own are you?  What is your Christian name, now that
you have become some one else?


Jack.  Good heavens! . . . I had quite forgotten
that point.  Your decision on the subject of my name is
irrevocable, I suppose?


Gwendolen.  I never change, except in my
affections.


Cecily.  What a noble nature you have,
Gwendolen!


Jack.  Then the question had better be cleared up
at once.  Aunt Augusta, a moment.  At the time when
Miss Prism left me in the hand-bag, had I been christened
already?


Lady Bracknell.  Every luxury that money could
buy, including christening, had been lavished on you by your fond
and doting parents.


Jack.  Then I was christened!  That is
settled.  Now, what name was I given?  Let me know the
worst.


Lady Bracknell.  Being the eldest son you were
naturally christened after your father.


Jack.  [Irritably.]  Yes, but what was my
father’s Christian name?


Lady Bracknell.  [Meditatively.]  I cannot at
the present moment recall what the General’s Christian name
was.  But I have no doubt he had one.  He was
eccentric, I admit.  But only in later years.  And that
was the result of the Indian climate, and marriage, and
indigestion, and other things of that kind.


Jack.  Algy!  Can’t you recollect what
our father’s Christian name was?


Algernon.  My dear boy, we were never even on
speaking terms.  He died before I was a year old.


Jack.  His name would appear in the Army Lists of
the period, I suppose, Aunt Augusta?


Lady Bracknell.  The General was essentially a man
of peace, except in his domestic life.  But I have no doubt
his name would appear in any military directory.


Jack.  The Army Lists of the last forty years are
here.  These delightful records should have been my constant
study.  [Rushes to bookcase and tears the books out.] 
M. Generals . . . Mallam, Maxbohm, Magley, what ghastly names
they have—Markby, Migsby, Mobbs, Moncrieff! 
Lieutenant 1840, Captain, Lieutenant-Colonel, Colonel, General
1869, Christian names, Ernest John.  [Puts book very quietly
down and speaks quite calmly.]  I always told you,
Gwendolen, my name was Ernest, didn’t I?  Well, it is
Ernest after all.  I mean it naturally is Ernest.


Lady Bracknell.  Yes, I remember now that the
General was called Ernest, I knew I had some particular reason
for disliking the name.


Gwendolen.  Ernest!  My own Ernest!  I
felt from the first that you could have no other name!


Jack.  Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man
to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking
nothing but the truth.  Can you forgive me?


Gwendolen.  I can.  For I feel that you are
sure to change.


Jack.  My own one!


Chasuble.  [To Miss Prism.] 
Lætitia!  [Embraces her]


Miss Prism.  [Enthusiastically.] 
Frederick!  At last!


Algernon.  Cecily!  [Embraces her.]  At
last!


Jack.  Gwendolen!  [Embraces her.]  At
last!


Lady Bracknell.  My nephew, you seem to be
displaying signs of triviality.


Jack.  On the contrary, Aunt Augusta, I’ve
now realised for the first time in my life the vital Importance
of Being Earnest.


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