There are so many memorable lines in The Importance of Being Earnest that it’s been described as the second most quoted play in English after Hamlet. Every character is wonderfully ridiculous and they often try to share their inaccurate wisdom with one another. Here’s a rundown of our top 10 The Importance of Being Earnest quotes, do you agree with them or have we missed off your favourite? (Lady Bracknell has far too many gems so she’s got her very own page. Only the best for Lady B).1. Algernon – ‘The truth is rarely pure and never simple’. 2. Gwendolen – ‘I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train’. 3. Gwendolen – ‘My ideal has always been to love someone 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.’ 4. Algernon – ‘All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does, and that is his.’ 5. Cecily – ‘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.’ 6. Jack – ‘How you can 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.’ 7. Jack – ‘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!’ 8. Miss Prism – “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.” 9. 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 still had a few fools left.’ 10. Algernon – ‘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.’
Lady Bracknell may be one of Wilde’s, and indeed modern literature’s, most preposterous creations. Her ignorant and often absurd comments are a satire of Victorian aristocracy, making her the most quotable of the play’s characters. From Edith Evans’ notorious delivery to Judi Dench’s terrifying dominance, we all have our favourite Lady Bracknell lines. Here are our top 10 Lady Bracknell quotes from The Importance of Being Earnest; most of them come from the interview scene with Jack but there are many beautifully crafted one-liners dotted throughout the play.
1. ‘A handbag?’
2. ‘To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.’
3. ‘To be born, or at any rate bred, in a handbag, whether it has 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.’
4. ‘Indeed, no woman should ever be quite accurate about her age. It looks so calculating.’
5. ‘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 cloakroom, and form an alliance with a parcel?’
6. ‘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.’
7. ‘When you do become engaged to someone, 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.’
8. ‘35 is a very attractive age. London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained 35 for years.’
9. ‘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.’
10. ‘Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that.’
What’s your favourite Lady Bracknell quote?
Many directors have conquered stage versions of the play, but there have also been several film adaptations of The Importance of Being Earnest. Here we have a brief look at the 1952 and 2002 films.
The 1952 film directed by Anthony Asquith
This star studded production is mostly recognised for Edith Evan’s performance as Lady Bracknell. Many actors, including Ian McKellen, have noted the legacy of ‘a handbag?’, saying it has hindered performers even years later. Actors are often criticised for mimicking her barking tones and yet condemned if they don’t; it can be one of modern drama’s elephants in the room.
The rest of the cast were as follows:
Michael Redgrave as John Worthing
Michael Denison as Algernon Moncrieff
Edith Evans as Lady Bracknell
Joan Greenwood as Gwendolen Fairfax
Dorothy Tutin as Cecily Cardew
Margaret Rutherford as Miss Prism
Miles Malleson as Canon Chasuble
Aubrey Mather as Merriman
Walter Hudd as Lane
Richard Wattis as Seton
The 2002 film, directed by Oliver Parker
It would be foolish to discuss The Importance of Being Earnest without mentioning the 2002 film, which introduced a whole new audience to the staged play despite splitting the critics. The film was relatively true to the script with few embellishments, proving that Wilde’s writing is as humorous today as it was in the 19th Century. Judi Dench and Anna Massey returned from the 1982 stage version in their original roles as part of a star studded cast:
Colin Firth as John Worthing
Rupert Everett as Algernon Moncrieff
Frances O’Connor as Gwendolen
Reese Witherspoons as Cecily Cardew
Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell
Anna Massey as Miss Prism
Tom Wilkinson as Canon Chasuble
Patrick Godfrey as Merriman
Edward Fox as Lane
Charles Kay as Gribsby
What do you think of Dench’s delivery of ‘a handbag?’ in this clip from the interview scene?