Stills of The Importance of Being Ernest|
The cast of The Importance of Being Ernest
Wendy Hiller seated center, Clive Francis far right
Algernon, a wealthy young Londoner, pretends to have a friend named Bunbury who lives in the country and frequently is in ill health. Whenever Algernon wants to avoid an unwelcome social obligation, or just get away for the weekend, he makes a visit to his "sick friend." In this way Algernon can feign piety and dedication, while having the perfect excuse to get out of town, avoiding his responsibilities. He calls this practice "Bunburying."
Algernon's real-life best friend lives in the country but makes frequent visits to London. This friend's name is Ernest...or so Algernon thinks. When Ernest leaves his silver cigarette case at Algernon's rooms he finds an inscription in it that claims that it is "From little Cecily with her fondest love to her dear Uncle Jack". This forces Ernest to eventually disclose that his visits to the city are also examples of "Bunburying," much to Algernon's delight.
In the country, "Ernest" goes by his real name, Jack Worthing, and pretends that he has a wastrel brother named Ernest, who lives in London. When honest Jack comes to the city, he assumes the name, and behaviour, of the profligate Ernest. In the country Jack assumes a more serious attitude for the benefit of Cecily, who is his ward.
Jack himself wishes to marry Gwendolen, who is Algernon's cousin, but runs into a few problems. First, Gwendolen seems to love him only because she believes his name is Ernest, which she thinks is the most beautiful name in the world. Second, Gwendolen's mother is the terrifying Lady Bracknell. Lady Bracknell is horrified when she learns that Jack was adopted as a toddler when he was discovered in a handbag at a railway station. In her opinion it is absolutely below the standards of her daughter to "marry into a cloakroom and form an alliance with a parcel."
Jack's description of Cecily appeals to Algernon who resolves to meet her. Algernon soon gets the idea to visit Jack in the country, pretending that he is the mysterious brother "Ernest." Unfortunately, Jack has decided to give up his Bunburying, and to do this he has announced the tragic death of Ernest.
A series of comic misunderstandings follows, as Algernon-as-Ernest visits the country (as a dead man, as far as the hosts are aware), and Jack shows up in his mourning clothes. There he encounters Jack's ward, Cecily, who believes herself in love with Ernest - the non-existent brother she has never met. After Lady Bracknell arrives, it is discovered that Jack is a nephew of Lady Bracknell who was lost by Miss Prism, Cecily’s governess, who was then working for Lady Bracknell’s sister. That also makes him Algernon's elder brother. It is also discovered that Jack’s real name is Ernest. It is suggested at the end of the play that Ernest/Jack will marry Gwendolen and Algernon will marry Cecily.
This page last updated October 25, 2006