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    SUBJECTS — World/England; Drama/England;
    SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Romantic Relationships;
    MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness.
    Age:12+; No MPAA Rating; Comedy; 1952; 95 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com.

    Description:     This is the classic screen adaptation of Oscar Wilde's delightful drawing room comedy about the English upper class in the late nineteenth century.

    Benefits of the Movie:     This film is lots of fun and will acquaint children with the best known play written by Oscar Wilde. The play ridicules the foibles of upper class English society of the late 19th century. The salutary effect of this is to demonstrate that fashion and fashionable ways of behaving that are often thought by young people to be very important are, in reality, fads which will have their day and then fade away.

    Possible Problems:    None.

    Parenting Points:     Ask and help your child to answer Quick Discussion Question #1. If your child is very interested in the film, go through some of the other discussion questions.

    Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

      Selected Awards:  None.

      Featured Actors:  Michael Redgrave, Michael Denison, Edith Evans, Joan Greenwood, Dorothy Tutin.

      Director:  Anthony Asquith.


Benefits of the Movie
Possible Problems
Parenting Points
Selected Awards & Cast
Helpful Background
Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)
Bridges to Reading
Links to the Internet
Assignments, Projects & Activities

WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Movies as Literature Homework Project.

    Helpful Background:

    Oscar Wilde (1854 to 1900) was born in Dublin. He was a poet, novelist, essayist and playwright. His plays are renowned for their witty exchanges and adroitly contrived plots. Wilde's ability with language extended to the spoken word. George Bernard Shaw called him "[T]he finest talker of his time--perhaps all time." The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) is his most frequently performed work.

    Oscar Wilde was an early homosexual martyr. In 1895, at the height of his career, he was sentenced to two years hard labor for a homosexual love affair which violated Victorian anti-sodomy laws. The conviction ruined his career. The imprisonment took a heavy toll on him both physically and emotionally. However, in jail he was able to write The Ballad of Reading Goal. After eighteen months he was released and left England. He lived in Paris under an assumed name and died within three years of his release at the age of 46. His only work after he left prison was De Profundis ("From The Depths").

    Some of Wilde's best epigrams are set out below.

    An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all. The Critic as Artist

    Only the shallow know themselves. Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young

    The clever people never listen, and the stupid people never talk. A Woman of No Importance

    Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.

    What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing. The Critic as Artist

    To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up. An Ideal Husband

    We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Lady Windermere's Fan, Act III

    Industry is the root of all ugliness. Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young

    In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. Lady Windermere's Fan

    Whenever people agree with me, I always feel I must be wrong. The Critic as Artist

    Never speak disrespectfully of society. Only people who can't get into it do that. In Conversation

    Society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer. The Critic as Artist

    What people call insincerity is simply a method by which we can multiply our own personalities. The Critic as Artist

    It is a much cleverer thing to talk nonsense than to listen to it.

    What a pity that in life we only get our lessons when they are of no use to us.

    Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art. Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art. From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft is the type. All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. / Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors. Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray

    To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim. Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray

    There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all. Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray

    "The Importance of Being Ernest" is a classic comedy of manners. The comedy of manners is a literary genre which humorously examines the customs and foibles of the privileged classes. The stories often concern the romantic entanglements and courtships of fashionable young adults and frequently conclude with an engagement. The characters are often types rather than individualized personalities. Plots are artificially elaborate and very clever but the predominating elements of the genre are satire, dialog and atmosphere. The language is witty, polished and, in plays by Oscar Wilde, brilliant. Comedies of manners are concerned with the gap between reality and the outward conventional appearance of good order which people strive to maintain. This discrepancy can be used to compare society's code of conduct with how people actually behave. Comedies of manners are usually popular during periods of prosperity and moral latitude.

QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION #1:   Describe two customs of the upper classes that Oscar Wilde ridiculed in this play.

Suggested Response: (1) The importance placed upon pedigree (being born to a family of quality); (2) the stranglehold that the parents (or guardians) had over the choice of a spouse for their children; (3) having houses in the country and in the city; (4) having to live at a good address; (5) snobbery; (6) leading double lives; (7) the importance of social engagements; (8) the importance of social ranking.

QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION #2: Put a list of Oscar Wilde's epigrams from this play on the board or display them on a screen. Ask the class which is the most profound. Have each person justify their answer and then have the class vote on which they prefer.

Suggested Response: There is no one right answer to this question, but the debates will be fabulous.

For English Language Arts classes, distribute TWM's Film Study Worksheet. Teachers can modify the worksheet to fit the needs of each class. Ask students to fill out the worksheet as they watch the film or at the film's end.

Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more  .  .  .   Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.

Click here for TWM's lesson plans to introduce cinematic and theatrical technique.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.


    Discussion Questions:

    1.  See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

    2.  There were several ways of behaving and many fashions that the characters of this play thought were important that we recognize now as unimportant. Examples are the importance of pedigree, or of living at a good address, or of having two houses, one in the city and another in the country. What are some of the customs or fashions that you feel to be important? Do you think they'll be important to people in 50 years? Suggested Response: The answer is that fashions and customs change over time.

Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

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    Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:


    1.  Was there anything realistic about the romantic relationships shown in this play? What was it?


Teachwithmovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner" and uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.

Character Counts and the Six Pillars of Character are marks of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.

    Bridges to Reading: Books recommended for middle school and junior high readers include: The Picture of Dorian Gray (by Oscar Wilde, available on the Internet at Bibliomania).

MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: For another delightful Wilde play see An Ideal Husband.
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