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Topic 2 Plot and

Character
LEARNING OUTCOMES
By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
1. Define and describe the three different types of plot used in drama;
2. Describe the plot and characters in The Importance of Being Earnest;
and
3. Explain what characters are and the different kinds of characters.

INTRODUCTION
The full impact of drama is experienced when its plot is well acted out by the
characters. If the plot is not fully fleshed out, or if the characters are not properly
developed, the audience may experience a ÂvoidÊ or gaps in their apprehension of
the big picture.

Imagine if you were to watch a movie in which the characters are not fully
explained or developed. How would you feel? Would it not give you a sense of
emptiness or dissatisfaction that you are not able to know a character deeper?
Similarly, if you were to watch a movie where the plot is not fully developed,
you would feel a sense of loss and bewilderment (and probably upset that you
wasted your time watching the show in the first place!).

Topic 2 explores plot and character in drama with the reference to and The
Importance of Being Earnest, a famous play by Oscar Wilde, which forms the text
for this module.
TOPIC 2 PLOT AND CHARACTER ! 21

You are strongly advised to read the full text of The Importance of Being Earnest
before proceeding. The text is easily available in good bookstores. Alternatively,
you may wish to access it online. Download and print it out from the following
website: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/844.

You may also read the full script of Importance of Being Earnest and other plays,
published by Random House, 2004 from the OUM ebrary.

2.1 OSCAR WILDE

Figure 2.1: Oscar Wilde

Before we review the different types of plot and character, let us look at Oscar
Wilde, the writer of The Importance of Being Earnest, the drama text that is used
in this module.

Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854 (see Figure 2.1). He probably learned to
appreciate intellectual and witty conversations from his early contacts with
intellectuals because his parents (his father was a doctor and his mother
established a literary salon) allowed him and his sibling to mingle and eat with
the familyÊs guests (who were often artists, intellectuals and internationally
known doctors).

Oscar Wilde wrote poems and published a collection of fairy-stories, The Happy
Prince and other stories (1888) and A House of Pomegranates (1891). He wrote
“imaginative” and “witty plays” (Christopher, 1999) such as Vera (1883) and The
Duchess of Padua (1891). The Importance of Being Earnest, published in 1895 is
considered as his most important and popular work.
22 TOPIC 2 PLOT AND CHARACTER

In the late 19th century, Wilde was sentenced to two years of prison for a sexual
infraction. During his imprisonment, he wrote a dramatic monologue and
autobiography, De Profundis. He was released in 1897, after which he wrote The
Ballad of Reading Gaol which addresses his concern for poor and inhumane
prison conditions.

Oscar Wilde died penniless at the age of 46 in a cheap hotel in Paris.


Unfortunately, most of his friends and acquaintances destroyed all his letters for
fear of being found in association with his life. Much later in the early 20th
century, his play The Importance of Being Earnest, returned to stage production.

Oscar Wilde is often described as a “literary figure whose sensibilities, witticisms,


and theatrical staging reflected the social commentary of the nineteenth century
and influenced the theatre of the twentieth century” (Van Kirk, 2004). He will
always be remembered “for his brilliant wit and his supreme command of
language” (Clarke, 1976).

2.2 WHAT IS PLOT?


Plot can be defined as the coherent structure of events that occur in a literary text.
Plot describes how one particular event affects or results in another. As Barnet
and Cain (2000) define it, plot is the “arrangement of a story” (2000:197).

For Aristotle, drama is a representation of a complete and/or whole action which


comprises the beginning, middle and the end. According to Aristotle, the
structure of events underlying this representation is plot.

E. M. Forster, in his book Aspects of the Novel (1927) defines plot as the causal
and logical structure of the events in a text. These events, according to Forster,
constitute the story. He gave the following examples to illustrate the difference
between story and plot:

The king died and then the queen died. (Story)


The king died and then the queen died of grief. (Plot)

In other words, plot does not only tell what event happened, it tells why the
event happened. There are many different ways of structuring the plot. Let us
look at three different types of plot.

The plot may consist of a series of disconnected events. Such a plot is called
episodic plot. There is usually an extensive period of time in an episodic plot
which may also involve a lot of characters. There is also a series of “ups and
TOPIC 2 PLOT AND CHARACTER ! 23

downs” in the life of the main character. The episodic plot may move from one
incident to another incident without necessary or probable cause or which are
not interconnected or interrelated.

In the heroÊs journey or monomyth, the plot is graphically illustrated as circular.


It starts off with the heroÊs call to adventure. The hero embarks on a journey
through unfamiliar environments and he is tested during this journey and finally
encounters a supreme ordeal. The hero overcomes the ordeal and is rewarded.
He then returns and reintegrates into society.

Figure 2.2: Star Wars Episode VI Return of the Jedi

Do you remember Star Wars? (see Figure 2.2). The episodes in this movie are
examples of the monomyth type of plot. There is Luke Skywalker who is called
to become a Jedi knight so as to overcome the evil Emperor and his right hand
man, Darth Vader. Do you remember the supreme ordeal he had to go through
fighting with Darth Vader, who turned out to be his father? Luke manages to
overcome the Dark Force and returns to society, as played out in Episode VI.

Another type of plot is in medias res (in the middle of things), in which the
beginning of the story starts from the verge of some important action (or
beginning the story from the middle of the action). An example of this type of
plot is HomerÊs Odyssey in which one first learns about the hero who is held
captive in an island, even though one learns later that before being held captive,
he had already gone through a greater part of his journey.

Do note that some critics have argued that the distinction between plot and story
is artificial and has no practical use in the study of literature. Nonetheless, for the
purpose of this module, just be aware that plot refers to how one event affects
another. It explains “why” certain events happen in a story.
24 TOPIC 2 PLOT AND CHARACTER

2.3 ANALYSING PLOT


We will look at two ways of analysing plot. The first follows AristotleÊs analysis
of plot (which is based on his understanding of Greek Drama). The second way
of analyzing plot, by Gustav Freytag, is commonly called the FreytagÊs Pyramid.

2.3.1 The Structure of Plot by Aristotle


Using AristotleÊs definition, plot is seen as consisting of several elements; this
structure is based on the Greek tragedy and popular during AristotleÊs time.

Table 2.1: Structure of Plot Using AristotleÊs Analysis

Elements of plot Explanation


Exposition This is the part where events before the beginning of the drama are
revealed.
Recognition There is an understanding or self-understanding which the plot
brings about through the main character. Without this
understanding, the characters in the play would appear to be blind
victims of chance.
Reversal Sudden change for the worse in the main characterÊs circumstances.
Climax The main event or situation in the life of the main character towards
which other events in the plot can be said to be heading.
Anti-climax Refers to the events after the climax, which seems to be
overshadowed in importance or significance by the climax.
Sub-plot Refers to the events that happen to the secondary characters but
related to the main characters.
Parallel plot Refers to the set of actions that run parallel to the main plot without
these two plots interacting in any significant way. The parallel plot,
however, may reinforce or contrast with the effects of the main plot.
Hamartia This is the “tragic flaw” in a character which if the drama is a tragedy,
will result in the downfall of the main character.
TOPIC 2 PLOT AND CHARACTER ! 25

ACTIVITY 2.1

Have you finished reading The Importance of Being Earnest? Read


through it once and see if you can match parts of the play with the
elements of plot as described by Aristotle.

For example:
For the exposition, what does the reader know before the start of the
play? (Read Act 1)

We know it is set in a room in AlgernonÊs flat that is “luxuriously and


artistically furnished.” Try to answers the following questions.
(a) What does this tell you about the character (Algernon) that
emerges in this act?
(b) What else do you know, apart from the furnishing of the room?
Who are the other characters? How are they related?

2.3.2 Freytag’s Pyramid


Another way of looking at the structure of plot is by using FreytagÊs Pyramid.
According to Gustav Freytag (see Figure 2.3), there are five parts in a plot.

Figure 2.3: Gustav Freytag was a German dramatist and novelist in the 19th century

Exposition is when the characters are introduced. For a plot to be good, the
characters are usually involved in some form of conflict or problem. Then,
further issues are introduced to further complicate the conflict or problem. This
part is called complicating action. Tension from the complicating action rises
until it reaches a climax. The subsequent events after this climax form the falling
action. The resolution (or denouement) occurs when the complex situations are
resolved.
26 TOPIC 2 PLOT AND CHARACTER

2.4 PLOT IN THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING


EARNEST
The Importance of Being Earnest is considered an example of high comedy or
comedy of manners. Do you remember what this means? Refer to Topic 1 if you
have forgotten. Let us first look at the action in the three acts of The Importance
of Being Earnest.

Synopsis of The Importance of Being Earnest:

Act 1
In the first act, Algernon Moncrieff or Algy, a rich young man is introduced. His
aunt (Lady Bracknell) and her daughter (Gwendolen) are coming for a visit.
However, AlgyÊs friend, Jack, arrives first. Algy is curious that Jack announces
himself as “Ernest”. Jack reveals that he plans to propose marriage to
Gwendolen. Jack explains that in the countryside he is known as Jack but when
he goes to the city for fun, he uses the name “Ernest”.

Algy also comes to know of JackÊs ward, Cecily. Algy confesses that he too uses
deception such as giving the excuse that he is going to visit an imaginary invalid
friend when he leaves the city.

Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen arrive. Algy apologises to his aunt that he cannot
attend her reception party as he has to visit his (imaginary) invalid friend. When
Algy distracts Lady Bracknell in another room, Jack proposes to Gwendolen.
Gwendolen accepts but confesses that she prefers to marry a man by the name of
Earnest as it sounds aristocratic (“Jack” it seems to her sounds too common).

Lady Bracknell enters and does not accept the proposal as she finds Jack lacking
in social status. They leave. But later Gwendolen returns and asks for JackÊs
address in the country. Algy overhears and writes the address. He is curious
about Cecily (JackÊs ward) and intends to find out more about her.

Act 2
In the second act, Miss Prism is introduced. She is Cecily CardewÊs governess.
Miss Prism is teaching Cecily. Miss Prism praises Jack as a sensible man but
condemns his brother Ernest as wicked. Reverend Canon Chasuble arrives and
takes the opportunity to walk with Miss Prism in the garden as the reverend is
interested in her.
TOPIC 2 PLOT AND CHARACTER ! 27

While they are gone, Algy arrives and pretends to be JackÊs wicked brother,
“Ernest”. Algy is attracted to CecilyÊs beauty and plans to know more of her
during the weekend before Jack arrives on a Monday. However, Jack returns
early in mourning clothes, pretending that his brother has died. He is shocked

when he learns that Algy is there, posing as his brother (who is supposed to have
died). He wants to send Algy back to London, but Algy plans to stay as he is in
love with Cecily. Algy proposes to Cecily. Cecily says that she has always
wanted to marry someone by the name of ÂErnestÊ.

To complicate matters, Gwendolen arrives. She meets Cecily and in conversation


with her, discovers that both are engaged to Ernest Worthing.

This results in a tense situation. Both the men arrive and attempt to straighten
out the complex situation. Even more complex, it turns out that Jack is truly
AlgernonÊs older brother. It seems that when Jack was a baby, he was taken for a
walk by his governess, Miss Prism, during which, she lost him.

Now that you have read a short synopsis of the story, let us trace the plot of The
Importance of Being Earnest based on FreytagÊs Pyramid.

In the exposition stage, who are the characters that are introduced? How do the
characters get into a complicated situation? What further activities or actions
contribute to this complicating situation?

ACTIVITY 2.2

The major conflict that arises in the play is related to John Worthing
(“Ernest”) who wants to marry an aristocratic lady, Gwendolen but this is
not approved by Lady Bracknell. How does John try to resolve this issue?

Do you know which part of the play is the climatic situation? It is when the
women confront the men when they realise that both go by the name of Ernest
Worthing. The men confess and the women retreat.
28 TOPIC 2 PLOT AND CHARACTER

EXERCISE 2.1
Read the following excerpt from Act 2 of The Importance of Being
Earnest and answer the question below:
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!
[Ú]
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.
Question: How do you think Cecily reacts to JackÊs explanation?

The falling action follows. Miss Prism, who took care of Jack when he was a
baby, had mistakenly abandoned Jack. He is later discovered to be AlgernonÊs
elder brother. This is where the resolution occurs. Jack can now marry
Gwendolen since he is by birth, a member of the aristocrat. Moreover, he has
more or less been telling the truth: that he has a brother after all (remember that
earlier on, Jack pretended that he had a brother).

2.5 CHARACTERISATION
The best plot in the world is useless if you donÊt populate them with characters
that audience can care about.

Jeffrey Deaver
TOPIC 2 PLOT AND CHARACTER ! 29

Plot is put into action by the characters. Without good characterisation, the plot
may fall flat or leave the audience bewildered. In other words, characters give life
and soul to the plot. They are in a sense the medium through which the audience
sees the thoughts, ideas and issues that emerge in the play.

Characterisation refers to the means by which the playwright or the writer


present and reveal the characters. Characters are known not just by what they
say, but by what they do (or donÊt do), how they dress, and how they react or
respond to circumstances that are portrayed in the play. So a reader does not
only know JackÊs character (in The Importance of Being Earnest) from the
dialogue, but also by what he does.

The takeaway lesson here is:


Learning more about the characters will give you deeper insight of the theme
and its intended message.

Characterisation is tied closely to the theme or issues that emerge in the play.
For example, if the play is about patience and humility, the characters are set or
placed in circumstances that compel them to act accordingly action that will
portray patience and humility (or the lack of them).

There are various kinds of characters in drama. Characters can be major or


minor, static or dynamic (unchanging or capable of change), flat or round.
Characters can also be differentiated as protagonists or antagonists (and various
other distinctions which will be discussed later). The next section discusses these
various types of characters.

The major character is the principal character in a play. Generally, the audience
hears and sees more of the major character than a minor character. The major
character also has great influence on the plot of the story, i.e. the outcome of the
story hinges on the major character. On the other hand, if the character has very
little influence on the plot, the character is considered a minor character.

ACTIVITY 2.3

Who do you think are the main characters in The Importance of Being
Earnest? Why?

A dynamic character is a character that goes through changes in personality


throughout the play, unlike the static character who shows little or no change. If
the audience sees different traits in a character, then that character is considered
30 TOPIC 2 PLOT AND CHARACTER

as a round character. However, if the audience sees only a limited number of


traits (the characterisation is shallow, there is only one side to the person's
character), then the character is considered flat.

Usually, minor characters are flat as they serve a single purpose in the drama.
Flat characters may also become stock characters in which stereotypical
characteristics are portrayed such as “the dumb blonde”, “the mean stepfather”
or “the brave handsome hero”.

The protagonist is the principal character of a play. He may be referred to as the


“hero”. In contrast, the antagonist deceives, frustrates or works against the
protagonist.

ACTIVITY 2.4

Jack Worthing is seemingly a responsible and respectable young man, but


we see another aspect of his life, or more precisely, his double life, posing
as “Ernest”. He portrays himself as someone who extols the Victorian
virtues of duty, honour and respectability, but goes against these values
through his double life in London.
What kind of character do you think he is flat or round? Explain and
provide examples to your answers.

Characters can also be categorised as stock or foil characters. Stock characters are
recognisable stereotypes such as the mad scientist, the straight-shooting law
officer or the psychopathic criminal genius. They appear in several stories so they
become familiar to the reader or the audience. For example, if you have seen the
character of the mad scientist in one drama, you probably would be able to guess
the role of the mad scientist in another drama.

When a character brings the contrast or similarities of the main character, that
character is called a foil character. A foil character is usually a minor character
but he or she can also be the major character. The foil characterÊs role is to
highlight or make clearer and visible the characterisation of the main character.

2.6 THE CHARACTERS IN THE IMPORTANCE


OF BEING EARNEST
In the previous section, we looked at various types of characters. In this section
we shall look at specific characters in The Importance of Being Earnest.
TOPIC 2 PLOT AND CHARACTER ! 31

To study characters in a drama text, you must first read through the text. Then,
1. Keep an eye out for the characters that appear. Determine who the central
characters are.
2. Find out what the characters say about each other in the play (for example,
what does Jack say about Lady Bracknell?).
3. Find out how the characters are related to each other. How do they interact
and motivate each other to do something?
4. Look out for the charactersÊ style, dressing and gestures.

2.6.1 Jack Worthing


Jack signifies the upper-class individual of the Victorian era. It is through Jack
that one sees the Victorian way of courtship and marriage. Jack also represents
the hypocrisy of the aristocrats, a seemingly respectable life that is seen by
everyone (in the country) and a life of deception for pleasure (in the city).
Read the following excerpt from Act 1 and reflect on the question that follows.
Below, Jack explains why he goes by the name Ernest when his real name is Jack.
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 donÊt 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. ItÊs oneÊs duty
to do so. And as a high moral tone can hardly be said to conduce very much to
either oneÊs health or oneÊs 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.
What does JackÊs explanation tell you about his relation with Algy? There is a
sense of trust and honesty. Yet, his explanation opens to us a realm that is unseen
by the other characters in the play, i.e. JackÊs double life in order to pursue fun
and excitement.

It is through JackÊs dialogues that the reader sees Oscar WildeÊs literary
creativity. Jack gives witty lines and says “the opposite of what is known to be
true” (Van Kirk, 2004). It is also through his dressing of the funeral garb for his
fake, imaginary brother and the story about the French maid that show JackÊs
“wit and rebelliousness to recognise the ridiculous nature of trivial Victorian
concerns” (Van Kirk, 2004).
Do you agree with this statement?
32 TOPIC 2 PLOT AND CHARACTER

ACTIVITY 2.5

Read the following excerpt taken from Act 2 (about Jack and his imaginary
brother who died) and share your responses with your tutorial group.
Excerpt taken from Act 2
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.
TOPIC 2 PLOT AND CHARACTER ! 33

2.6.2 Algernon Moncrieff


Algernon Moncrieff or Algy is from a wealthy family. Younger than Jack, he
takes less responsibility and is frivolous and irreverent. He also leads a double
life, and is known by another name when he goes to the city for leisure. Unlike
Jack, he is not serious and is generally looking to satisfy himself. Thus, Algernon
can be regarded as a foil to Jack. He also poses as JackÊs younger brother, Ernest,
when he falls in love with Cecily (JackÊs ward).

Algy constantly refers to eating. His actions of eating cucumber sandwiches,


muffins and whatever food that comes along symbolises his total self-absorption,
lust and the physical pleasure that is denied by a stiff Victorian society.

EXERCISE 2.2
Read the following extract and answer the questions that follow:
Lady Bracknell: WonÊt you come and sit here, Gwendolen?
Gwendolen: Thanks, mamma, IÊm 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
(a) Do you think Algernon or Algy was genuinely shocked that there
was no cucumber sandwiches on the plate? Who do you think
finished the sandwiches?
(b) Read Act 2. What reason did Algy give for his compulsive eating?
(c) Read Act 3. What does Jack accuse Algy of eating too much of?

2.6.3 Lady Augusta Bracknell


Lady Bracknell is AlgernonÊs aunt. She is strongly opinionated and tyrannical.
However, she was not born in an aristocratic family. She became an aristocrat by
marriage. Now that she is Lady Bracknell, she has opinions on every issue and
exudes power over the other characters, especially her daughter. For example in
Act 1, Lady Bracknell was explicit in determining and deciding the life of her
daughter.
34 TOPIC 2 PLOT AND CHARACTER

In the quotation given, we see that Lady Bracknell is direct in her opinion. She
tells her daughter that only she (and her husband) can decide who she is to be
engaged to. Continue reading this part from your script. What other indications
can you pick out to exemplify Lady BracknellÊs authoritarian character?

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 BRACKNELLÊS back. LADY
BRACKNELL looks vaguely about as if she could not understand what the noise
was. Finally turns round.] Gwendolen, the carriage!

In short, Lady Bracknell is a representation of the Victorian upper-class


negativity, conservatism and repressive values and power.

ACTIVITY 2.6
Read the following taken from Act 1 of The Importance of Being Earnest
and reflect on the questions that follow:
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
GorgonÚI donÊt 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 unfairÚI beg your pardon, Algy, I suppose I
shouldnÊt talk about your own aunt I that way before you.
(a) What is JackÊs opinion of Lady BracknellÊs character?
(b) Why do you think Jack has a negative opinion of Lady Bracknell?
(c) What happened before this that caused Jack to feel this way?
TOPIC 2 PLOT AND CHARACTER ! 35

2.6.4 Gwendolen Fairfax


Gwendolen is Lady BracknellÊs daughter. Publicly, she is submissive to her
mother but privately, she rebels against her. She agrees to marry Jack despite her
motherÊs disapproval of it. Lady Bracknell felt that JackÊs heritage was not
aristocratic enough for her daughterÊs social standing.

Gwendolen seems to be meticulous in her ways. For her, there must be the
perfect proposal performed in the correct manner. The man she would get
married to should be someone named “Ernest”. In short, Gwendolen is portrayed
as a woman who places importance on appearances and style, as shown by the
following excerpt from Act 1:

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.

EXERCISE 2.3

Before we continue with the analysis of the characters in The Importance


of Being Earnest, do your own analysis of Cecily Cardew, Miss Prism
and Reverend Chasuble. The following points may be of help to you:
(a) Read the whole text first.
(b) Underline or take note of the times when the character speaks
What is the content of the utterances? What do they tell you about
the person?
(c) What do the other characters say, if any, about the character in
question?
(d) What are the events that surround the character?
(e) What is the characterÊs role in the drama? Are the other characters
motivated to do something as a result of this particular character?
36 TOPIC 2 PLOT AND CHARACTER

2.6.5 Cecily Cardew


Unlike Gwendolen, Cecily is a child of nature. Algernon compares her to a pink
rose, meaning that she is innocent and unspoiled: “Because you are like a pink
rose, Cousin Cecily” (Act 2). Nonetheless, she is intrigued by wickedness and it
is because of this that moves her to love “Uncle JackÊs brother” whose wayward
reputation is enough to attract her. She also creates in her a world of fantasy,
imagining her romance with “Ernest” and elaborating it with much artistry and
enthusiasm.

2.6.6 Miss Prism


Miss Prism is CecilyÊs governess. She has high respect for JackÊs assumed identity
but has harsh opinions about his “brother”. She also has romantic feelings for the
Reverend Chasuble.

ACTIVITY 2.7

Read the text and find the quotations that support the statement that
Miss Prism is harshly critical of JackÊs “brother”.

2.6.7 Rev. Chasuble


Rev. Chasuble is the priest in JackÊs estate. Like Miss Prism, Chasuble also has
romantic feelings for Miss Prism and entertains these feelings secretively.

ACTIVITY 2.8
Go through the character list again. Which two characters are not
mentioned in the above section? Are these characters major or minor
characters? Which part of the drama do they appear in?” What are their
roles in the drama? Would the drama go on smoothly without these two
characters?
Look through the list of characters of this play. Who do you think are the
flat characters and the round characters?
TOPIC 2 PLOT AND CHARACTER ! 37

! Plot refers to how one event in the drama causes another event to happen.
! There are different types of plot such as monomyth, in medias res and
episodic plot.
! There are different types of characters in drama. Some characters are either
round or flat. They could also be stock or foil characters. Usually they are the
antagonists and the protagonists.

Character
Monologue
Plot

1. What is plot and what are the five stages in FreytagÊs structure of plot?

2. Give two examples of major characters from The Importance of Being


Earnest and explain why they are considered major characters?

Barnet, S. & Cain W. F. (2000). A short guide to writing about literature (8th ed.).
New York: Longman.

Christopher, D. (1999). British culture Introduction. London: Routledge.

Clarke, W. (1976). A short history of english literature. London: Evans Brothers


Ltd.

Van Kirk, S. (2004). Cliffs notes: WildeÊs the importance of being earnest. New
Jersey: Wiley.