THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST A Trivial Comedyfor Serious People
A Trivial Comedyfor Serious People
THEPERSONS IN THE PLAY
THESCENES OF THE PLAY
LONDON:ST. JAMES'S THEATRE
Lessee andManager: Mr. George AlexanderFebruary14th1895
JohnWorthingJ.P.: Mr. George Alexander
AlgernonMoncrieff: Mr. Allen Aynesworth
Rev. CanonChasubleD.D.: Mr. H. H. Vincent
Merriman:Mr. Frank Dyall
Lane: Mr.F. Kinsey Peile
LadyBracknell: Miss Rose Leclercq
Hon.Gwendolen Fairfax: Miss Irene Vanbrugh
CecilyCardew: Miss Evelyn Millard
MissPrism: Mrs. George Canninge.
SCENE -Morning-room in Algernon's flat in Half-Moon Street. Theroom is luxuriously and artistically furnished. The sound of apiano is heard in the adjoining room. [LANEis arranging afternoon tea on the tableand after the musichasceasedALGERNON enters.]
ALGERNON. Did you hear what I was playingLane?
LANE. I didn't think it polite to listensir.
ALGERNON. I'm sorry for thatfor your sake. I don't playaccurately- any one can play accurately - but I play withwonderfulexpression. As far as the piano is concernedsentimentis myforte. I keep science for Life.
ALGERNON. Andspeaking of the science of Lifehave you got thecucumbersandwiches cut for Lady Bracknell?
LANE. Yessir. [Hands them on a salver.]
ALGERNON. [Inspects themtakes twoand sits down on the sofa.]Oh! . . .by the wayLaneI see from your book that on Thursdaynightwhen Lord Shoreman and Mr. Worthing were dining with meeightbottles of champagne are entered as having been consumed.
LANE. Yessir; eight bottles and a pint.
ALGERNON. Why is it that at a bachelor's establishment theservantsinvariably drink the champagne? I ask merely forinformation.
LANE. I attribute it to the superior quality of the winesir. Ihave oftenobserved that in married households the champagne israrely ofa first-rate brand.
ALGERNON. Good heavens! Is marriage so demoralising as that?
LANE. I believe it IS a very pleasant statesir. I have had verylittleexperience of it myself up to the present. I have only beenmarriedonce. That was in consequence of a misunderstandingbetweenmyself and a young person.
ALGERNON. [Languidly.] I don't know that I am much interested inyourfamily lifeLane.
LANE. Nosir; it is not a very interesting subject. I neverthink ofit myself.
ALGERNON. Very naturalI am sure. That will doLanethank you.
LANE. Thank yousir. [LANE goes out.]
ALGERNON. Lanes views on marriage seem somewhat lax. Reallyifthe lowerorders don't set us a good examplewhat on earth is theuse ofthem? They seemas a classto have absolutely no sense ofmoralresponsibility.
LANE. Mr. Ernest Worthing.
ALGERNON. How are youmy dear Ernest? What brings you up totown?
JACK. Ohpleasurepleasure! What else should bring oneanywhere? Eating as usualI seeAlgy!
ALGERNON. [Stiffly.] I believe it is customary in good society totake someslight refreshment at five o'clock. Where have you beensince lastThursday?
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 amusesoneself. When one is in the country one amuses other people. Itisexcessively boring.
ALGERNON. And who are the people you amuse?
JACK. [Airily.] Ohneighboursneighbours.
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 takessandwich.] By the wayShropshire is your countyis it not?
JACK. Eh? Shropshire? Yesof course. Hallo! Whyall thesecups? Why cucumber sandwiches? Why such reckless extravagance inone soyoung? Who is coming to tea?
ALGERNON. Oh! merely Aunt Augusta and Gwendolen.
JACK. How perfectly delightful!
ALGERNON. Yesthat is all very well; but I am afraid Aunt Augustawon'tquite approve of your being here.
JACK. May I ask why?
ALGERNON. My dear fellowthe way you flirt with Gwendolen isperfectlydisgraceful. It is almost as bad as the way Gwendolenflirtswith you.
JACK. I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to townexpresslyto propose to her.
ALGERNON. I thought you had come up for pleasure? . . . I callthatbusiness.
JACK. How utterly unromantic you are!
ALGERNON. I really don't see anything romantic in proposing. Itis veryromantic to be in love. But there is nothing romanticabout adefinite proposal. Whyone may be accepted. One usuallyisIbelieve. Then the excitement is all over. The veryessenceof romanceis uncertainty. If ever I get marriedI'll certainlytry toforget the fact.
JACK. I have no doubt about thatdear Algy. The Divorce Courtwasspecially invented for people whose memories are so curiouslyconstituted.
ALGERNON. Oh! there is no use speculating on that subject.Divorcesare made in Heaven - [JACK puts out his hand to take asandwich. ALGERNON at once interferes.] Please don't touch thecucumbersandwiches. They are ordered specially for Aunt Augusta.[Takesone and eats it.]
JACK. Wellyou have been eating them all the time.
ALGERNON. That is quite a different matter. She is my aunt.[Takesplate from below.] Have some bread and butter. Thebreadand butteris for Gwendolen. Gwendolen is devoted to bread andbutter.
JACK. [Advancing to table and helping himself.] And very goodbread andbutter it is too.
ALGERNON. Wellmy dear fellowyou need not eat as if you weregoing toeat it all. You behave as if you were married to heralready. You are not married to her alreadyand I don't think youever willbe.
JACK. Why on earth do you say that?
ALGERNON. Wellin the first place girls never marry the men theyflirtwith. Girls don't think it right.
JACK. Ohthat is nonsense!
ALGERNON. It isn't. It is a great truth. It accounts for theextraordinarynumber of bachelors that one sees all over the place.In thesecond placeI don't give my consent.
JACK. Your consent!
ALGERNON. My dear fellowGwendolen is my first cousin. Andbefore Iallow you to marry heryou will have to clear up thewholequestion of Cecily. [Rings bell.]
JACK. Cecily! What on earth do you mean? What do you meanAlgybyCecily! I don't know any one of the name of Cecily.
ALGERNON. Bring me that cigarette case Mr. Worthing left in thesmoking-roomthe last time he dined here.
LANE. Yessir. [LANE goes out.]
JACK. Do you mean to say you have had my cigarette case all thistime? I wish to goodness you had let me know. I have been writingfranticletters to Scotland Yard about it. I was very nearlyoffering alarge reward.
ALGERNON. WellI wish you would offer one. I happen to be morethanusually hard up.
JACK. There is no good offering a large reward now that the thingis found.
[EnterLANE with the cigarette case on a salver. ALGERNON takes itatonce. LANE goes out.]
ALGERNON. I think that is rather mean of youErnestI must say.[Openscase and examines it.] Howeverit makes no matterfornow that Ilook at the inscription insideI find that the thingisn'tyours after all.
JACK. Of course it's mine. [Moving to him.] You haveseen mewith it ahundred timesand you have no right whatsoever to readwhat iswritten inside. It is a very ungentlemanly thing to read aprivatecigarette case.
ALGERNON. Oh! it is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about whatone shouldread and what one shouldn't. More than half of modernculturedepends on what one shouldn't read.
JACK. I am quite aware of the factand I don't propose to discussmodernculture. It isn't the sort of thing one should talk of inprivate. I simply want my cigarette case back.
ALGERNON. Yes; but this isn't your cigarette case. This cigarettecase is apresent from some one of the name of Cecilyand you saidyou didn'tknow any one of that name.
JACK. Wellif you want to knowCecily happens to be my aunt.
ALGERNON. Your aunt!
JACK. Yes. Charming old lady she istoo. Lives at TunbridgeWells. Just give it back to meAlgy.
ALGERNON. [Retreating to back of sofa.] But why does she callherselflittle Cecily if she is your aunt and lives at TunbridgeWells? [Reading.] 'From little Cecily with her fondest love.'
JACK. [Moving to sofa and kneeling upon it.] My dear fellowwhaton earthis there in that? Some aunts are tallsome aunts are nottall. That is a matter that surely an aunt may be allowed todecide forherself. You seem to think that every aunt should beexactlylike your aunt! That is absurd! For Heaven's sake give meback mycigarette case. [Follows ALGERNON round the room.]
ALGERNON. Yes. But why does your aunt call you her uncle? 'FromlittleCecilywith her fondest love to her dear Uncle Jack.'There isno objectionI admitto an aunt being a small auntbutwhy anauntno matter what her size may beshould call her ownnephew heruncleI can't quite make out. Besidesyour name isn'tJack atall; it is Ernest.
JACK. It isn't Ernest; it's Jack.
ALGERNON. You have always told me it was Ernest. I haveintroducedyou to every one as Ernest. You answer to the name ofErnest. You look as if your name was Ernest. You are the mostearnest-lookingperson I ever saw in my life. It is perfectlyabsurdyour saying that your name isn't Ernest. It's on yourcards. Here is one of them. [Taking it from case.] 'Mr.ErnestWorthingB. 4The Albany.' I'll keep this as a proof that yourname isErnest if ever you attempt to deny it to meor toGwendolenor to any one else. [Puts the card in his pocket.]
JACK. Wellmy name is Ernest in town and Jack in the countryandthecigarette case was given to me in the country.
ALGERNON. Yesbut that does not account for the fact that yoursmall AuntCecilywho lives at Tunbridge Wellscalls you her dearuncle. Comeold boyyou had much better have the thing out atonce.
JACK. My dear Algyyou talk exactly as if you were a dentist. Itis veryvulgar to talk like a dentist when one isn't a dentist. Itproduces afalse impression
ALGERNON. Wellthat is exactly what dentists always do. Nowgoon! Tell me the whole thing. I may mention that I have alwayssuspectedyou of being a confirmed and secret Bunburyist; and I amquite sureof it now.
JACK. Bunburyist? What on earth do you mean by a Bunburyist?
ALGERNON. I'll reveal to you the meaning of that incomparableexpressionas soon as you are kind enough to inform me why you areErnest intown and Jack in the country.
JACK. Wellproduce my cigarette case first.
ALGERNON. Here it is. [Hands cigarette case.] Now produceyourexplanationand pray make it improbable. [Sits on sofa.]
JACK. My dear fellowthere is nothing improbable about myexplanationat all. In fact it's perfectly ordinary. Old Mr.ThomasCardewwho adopted me when I was a little boymade me inhis willguardian to his grand-daughterMiss Cecily Cardew.Cecilywho addresses me as her uncle from motives of respect thatyou couldnot possibly appreciatelives at my place in the countryunder thecharge of her admirable governessMiss Prism.
ALGERNON. Where in that place in the countryby the way?
JACK. That is nothing to youdear boy. You are not going to beinvited .. . I may tell you candidly that the place is not inShropshire.
ALGERNON. I suspected thatmy dear fellow! I have Bunburyed alloverShropshire on two separate occasions. Nowgo on. Why areyou Ernestin town and Jack in the country?
JACK. My dear AlgyI don't know whether you will be able tounderstandmy real motives. You are hardly serious enough. Whenone isplaced in the position of guardianone has to adopt a veryhigh moraltone on all subjects. It's one's duty to do so. And asa highmoral tone can hardly be said to conduce very much to eitherone'shealth or one's happinessin order to get up to town I havealwayspretended to have a younger brother of the name of Ernestwho livesin the Albanyand gets into the most dreadful scrapes.Thatmydear Algyis the whole truth pure and simple.
ALGERNON. The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern lifewould bevery tedious if it were eitherand modern literature acompleteimpossibility!
JACK. That wouldn't be at all a bad thing.
ALGERNON. Literary criticism is not your fortemy dear fellow.Don't tryit. You should leave that to people who haven't been ataUniversity. They do it so well in the daily papers. Whatyoureally areis a Bunburyist. I was quite right in saying you were aBunburyist. 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 calledErnestinorder that you may be able to come up to town as oftenas youlike. I have invented an invaluable permanent invalidcalledBunburyin order that I may be able to go down into thecountrywhenever I choose. Bunbury is perfectly invaluable. If itwasn't forBunbury's extraordinary bad healthfor instanceIwouldn'tbe able to dine with you at Willis's to-nightfor I havebeenreally 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 outinvitations. It is very foolish of you. Nothing annoys people somuch asnot receiving invitations.
JACK. You had much better dine with your Aunt Augusta.
ALGERNON. I haven't the smallest intention of doing anything ofthe kind. To begin withI dined there on Mondayand once a weekis quiteenough to dine with one's own relations. In the secondplacewhenever I do dine there I am always treated as a member ofthefamilyand sent down with either no woman at allor two. Inthe thirdplaceI know perfectly well whom she will place me nexttoto-night. She will place me next Mary Farquharwho alwaysflirtswith her own husband across the dinner-table. That is notverypleasant. Indeedit is not even decent . . . and that sortof thingis enormously on the increase. The amount of women inLondon whoflirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous.It looksso bad. It in simply washing one's clean linen in public.Besidesnow that I know you to be a confirmed Bunburyist Inaturallywant to talk to you about Bunburying. I want to tell youthe rules.
JACK. I'm not a Bunburyist at all. If Gwendolen accepts meI amgoing tokill my brotherindeed I think I'll kill him in any case.Cecily isa little too much interested in him. It is rather abore. So I am going to get rid of Ernest. And I strongly adviseyou to dothe same with Mr . . . with your invalid friend who hasthe absurdname.
ALGERNON. Nothing will induce me to part with Bunburyand if youever getmarriedwhich seems to me extremely problematicyou willbe veryglad to know Bunbury. A man who marries without knowingBunburyhas a very tedious time of it.
JACK. That is nonsense. If I marry a charming girl likeGwendolenand she is the only girl I ever saw in my life that IwouldmarryI certainly won't want to know Bunbury.
ALGERNON. Then your wife will. You don't seem to realisethat inmarriedlife three is company and two is none.
JACK. [Sententiously.] Thatmy dear young friendis thetheorythat thecorrupt French Drama has been propounding for the lastfiftyyears.
ALGERNON. Yes; and that the happy English home has proved in halfthe time.
JACK. For heaven's sakedon't try to be cynical. It's perfectlyeasy to becynical.
ALGERNON. My dear fellowit isn't easy to be anything nowadays.There'ssuch a lot of beastly competition about. [The sound of anelectricbell is heard.] Ah! that must be Aunt Augusta. Onlyrelativesor creditorsever ring in that Wagnerian manner. Nowif I gether out of the way for ten minutesso that you can haveanopportunity for proposing to Gwendolenmay I dine with you to-night atWillis's?
JACK. I suppose soif you want to.
ALGERNON. Yesbut you must be serious about it. I hate peoplewho arenot serious about meals. It is so shallow of them.
LadyBracknell and Miss Fairfax.
[ALGERNONgoes forward to meet them. Enter LADY BRACKNELL andGWENDOLEN.] GWENDOLEN]
LADYBRACKNELL. Good afternoondear AlgernonI hope you arebehavingvery well.
ALGERNON. I'm feeling very wellAunt Augusta.
LADYBRACKNELL. That's not quite the same thing. In fact thetwothingsrarely go together. [Sees JACK and bows to him with icycoldness.]
ALGERNON. [To GWENDOLEN.] Dear meyou are smart!
GWENDOLEN. I am always smart! Am I notMr. Worthing?
JACK. You're quite perfectMiss Fairfax.
GWENDOLEN. Oh! I hope I am not that. It would leave no room fordevelopmentsand I intend to develop in many directions.[GWENDOLENand JACK sit down together in the corner.]
LADYBRACKNELL. I'm sorry if we are a little lateAlgernonbut Iwasobliged to call on dear Lady Harbury. I hadn't been theresince herpoor husband's death. I never saw a woman so altered;she looksquite twenty years younger. And now I'll have a cup ofteaandone of those nice cucumber sandwiches you promised me.
ALGERNON. CertainlyAunt Augusta. [Goes over to tea-table.]
LADYBRACKNELL. Won't you come and sit hereGwendolen?
GWENDOLEN. ThanksmammaI'm quite comfortable where I am.
ALGERNON. [Picking up empty plate in horror.] Good heavens!Lane! Why are there no cucumber sandwiches? I ordered themspecially.
LANE. [Gravely.] There were no cucumbers in the market thismorningsir. I went down twice.
ALGERNON. No cucumbers!
LANE. Nosir. Not even for ready money.
ALGERNON. That will doLanethank you.
LANE. Thank yousir. [Goes out.]
ALGERNON. I am greatly distressedAunt Augustaabout there beingnocucumbersnot even for ready money.
LADYBRACKNELL. It really makes no matterAlgernon. I hadsomecrumpetswith Lady Harburywho seems to me to be living entirelyforpleasure now.
ALGERNON. I hear her hair has turned quite gold from grief.
LADYBRACKNELL. It certainly has changed its colour. From whatcause Iof coursecannot say. [ALGERNON crosses and hands tea.]Thankyou. I've quite a treat for you to-nightAlgernon. I amgoing tosend you down with Mary Farquhar. She is such a nicewomanandso attentive to her husband. It's delightful to watchthem.
ALGERNON. I am afraidAunt AugustaI shall have to give up thepleasureof dining with you to-night after all.
LADYBRACKNELL. [Frowning.] I hope notAlgernon. It would putmy tablecompletely out. Your uncle would have to dine upstairs.Fortunatelyhe is accustomed to that.
ALGERNON. It is a great boreandI need hardly saya terribledisappointmentto mebut the fact is I have just had a telegram tosay thatmy poor friend Bunbury is very ill again. [Exchangesglanceswith JACK.] They seem to think I should be with him.
LADYBRACKNELL. It is very strange. This Mr. Bunbury seems tosufferfrom curiously bad health.
ALGERNON. Yes; poor Bunbury is a dreadful invalid.
LADYBRACKNELL. WellI must sayAlgernonthat I think it ishigh timethat Mr. Bunbury made up his mind whether he was going tolive or todie. This shilly-shallying with the question is absurd.Nor do Iin any way approve of the modern sympathy with invalids.I considerit morbid. Illness of any kind is hardly a thing to beencouragedin others. Health is the primary duty of life. I amalwaystelling that to your poor unclebut he never seems to takemuchnotice . . . as far as any improvement in his ailment goes. Ishould bemuch obliged if you would ask Mr. Bunburyfrom meto bekindenough not to have a relapse on Saturdayfor I rely on you toarrange mymusic for me. It is my last receptionand one wantssomethingthat will encourage conversationparticularly at the endof theseason when every one has practically said whatever they hadto saywhichin most caseswas probably not much.
ALGERNON. I'll speak to BunburyAunt Augustaif he is stillconsciousand I think I can promise you he'll be all right bySaturday. Of course the music is a great difficulty. You seeifone playsgood musicpeople don't listenand if one plays badmusicpeople don't talk. But I'll ran over the programme I'vedrawn outif you will kindly come into the next room for a moment.
LADYBRACKNELL. Thank youAlgernon. It is very thoughtful ofyou. [Risingand following ALGERNON.] I'm sure the programmewill bedelightfulafter a few expurgations. French songs Icannotpossibly allow. People always seem to think that they areimproperand either look shockedwhich is vulgaror laughwhichis worse. But German sounds a thoroughly respectable languageandindeedIbelieve is so. Gwendolenyou will accompany me.
[LADYBRACKNELL and ALGERNON go into the music-roomGWENDOLENremainsbehind.]
JACK. Charming day it has beenMiss Fairfax.
GWENDOLEN. Pray don't talk to me about the weatherMr. Worthing.Wheneverpeople talk to me about the weatherI always feel quitecertainthat they mean something else. And that makes me sonervous.
JACK. I do mean something else.
GWENDOLEN. I thought so. In factI am never wrong.
JACK. And I would like to be allowed to take advantage of LadyBracknell'stemporary absence . . .
GWENDOLEN. I would certainly advise you to do so. Mamma has a wayof comingback suddenly into a room that I have often had to speakto herabout.
JACK. [Nervously.] Miss Fairfaxever since I met you I haveadmiredyou more than any girl . . . I have ever met since . . . Imet you.
GWENDOLEN. YesI am quite well aware of the fact. And I oftenwish thatin publicat any rateyou had been more demonstrative.For me youhave always had an irresistible fascination. Evenbefore Imet you I was far from indifferent to you. [JACK looks ather inamazement.] We liveas I hope you knowMr Worthingin anage ofideals. The fact is constantly mentioned in the moreexpensivemonthly magazinesand has reached the provincialpulpitsIam told; and my ideal has always been to love some oneof thename of Ernest. There is something in that name thatinspiresabsolute confidence. The moment Algernon first mentionedto me thathe had a friend called ErnestI knew I was destined tolove you.
JACK. You really love meGwendolen?
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 meif my namewasn't Ernest?
GWENDOLEN. But your name is Ernest.
JACK. YesI know it is. But supposing it was something else? Doyou meanto say you couldn't love me then?
GWENDOLEN. [Glibly.] Ah! that is clearly a metaphysicalspeculationand like most metaphysical speculations has verylittlereference at all to the actual facts of real lifeas weknow them.
JACK. Personallydarlingto speak quite candidlyI don't muchcare aboutthe name of Ernest . . . I don't think the name suits meat all.
GWENDOLEN. It suits you perfectly. It is a divine name. It has a
music ofits own. It produces vibrations.
JACK. WellreallyGwendolenI must say that I think there arelots ofother much nicer names. I think Jackfor instanceacharmingname.
GWENDOLEN. Jack? . . . Nothere is very little music in the nameJackifany at allindeed. It does not thrill. It producesabsolutelyno vibrations . . . I have known several Jacksand theyallwithout exceptionwere more than usually plain. BesidesJack is anotorious domesticity for John! And I pity any woman whois marriedto a man called John. She would probably never beallowed toknow the entrancing pleasure of a single moment'ssolitude. The only really safe name is Ernest
JACK. GwendolenI must get christened at once - I mean we mustgetmarried at once. There is no time to be lost.
GWENDOLEN. MarriedMr. Worthing?
JACK. [Astounded.] Well . . . surely. You knowthat I love youand youled me to believeMiss Fairfaxthat you were notabsolutelyindifferent to me.
GWENDOLEN. I adore you. But you haven't proposed to me yet.Nothinghas been said at all about marriage. The subject has noteven beentouched on.
JACK. Well . . . may I propose to you now?
GWENDOLEN. I think it would be an admirable opportunity. And tospare youany possible disappointmentMr. WorthingI think itonly fairto tell you quite frankly before-hand that I am fullydeterminedto accept you.
GWENDOLEN. YesMr. Worthingwhat have you got to say to me?
JACK. You know what I have got to say to you.
GWENDOLEN. Yesbut you don't say it.
JACK. Gwendolenwill you marry me? [Goes on his knees.]
GWENDOLEN. Of course I willdarling. How long you have beenabout it! I am afraid you have had very little experience in howtopropose.
JACK. My own oneI have never loved any one in the world but you.
GWENDOLEN. Yesbut men often propose for practice. I know mybrotherGerald does. All my girl-friends tell me so. Whatwonderfullyblue eyes you haveErnest! They are quitequiteblue. I hope you will always look at me just like thatespeciallywhen thereare other people present. [Enter LADY BRACKNELL.]
LADYBRACKNELL. Mr. Worthing! Risesirfrom thissemi-recumbent
posture. It is most indecorous.
GWENDOLEN. Mamma! [He tries to rise; she restrains him.] Imustbeg you toretire. This is no place for you. BesidesMr.Worthinghas not quite finished yet.
LADYBRACKNELL. Finished whatmay I ask?
GWENDOLEN. I am engaged to Mr. Worthingmamma. [They risetogether.]
LADYBRACKNELL. Pardon meyou are not engaged to any one. Whenyou dobecome engaged to some oneIor your fathershould hishealthpermit himwill inform you of the fact. An engagementshouldcome on a young girl as a surprisepleasant or unpleasantas thecase may be. It is hardly a matter that she could beallowed toarrange for herself . . . And now I have a few questionsto put toyouMr. Worthing. While I am making these inquiriesyouGwendolenwill wait for me below in the carriage.
GWENDOLEN. [Reproachfully.] Mamma!
LADYBRACKNELL. In the carriageGwendolen! [GWENDOLEN goestothedoor. She and JACK blow kisses to each other behind LADYBRACKNELL'Sback. LADY BRACKNELL looks vaguely about as if shecouldnot understand what the noise was. Finally turns round.]Gwendolenthe carriage!
GWENDOLEN. Yesmamma. [Goes outlooking back at JACK.]
LADYBRACKNELL. [Sitting down.] You can take a seatMr.Worthing.
[Looksin her pocket for note-book and pencil.]
JACK. Thank youLady BracknellI prefer standing.
LADYBRACKNELL. [Pencil and note-book in hand.] I feelbound totell youthat you are not down on my list of eligible young menalthough Ihave the same list as the dear Duchess of Bolton has.We worktogetherin fact. HoweverI am quite ready to enter yournameshould your answers be what a really affectionate motherrequires. Do you smoke?
JACK. WellyesI must admit I smoke.
LADYBRACKNELL. I am glad to hear it. A man should always haveanoccupationof some kind. There are far too many idle men in Londonas it is. How old are you?
LADYBRACKNELL. A very good age to be married at. I havealwaysbeen ofopinion that a man who desires to get married should knoweithereverything or nothing. Which do you know?
JACK. [After some hesitation.] I know nothingLady Bracknell.
LADYBRACKNELL. I am pleased to hear it. I do not approve ofanythingthat tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like adelicateexotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The wholetheory ofmodern education is radically unsound. Fortunately inEnglandat any rateeducation produces no effect whatsoever. Ifit diditwould prove a serious danger to the upper classesandprobablylead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square. What isyourincome?
JACK. Between seven and eight thousand a year.
LADYBRACKNELL. [Makes a note in her book.] In landorininvestments?
JACK. In investmentschiefly.
LADYBRACKNELL. That is satisfactory. What between the dutiesexpectedof one during one's lifetimeand the duties exacted fromone afterone's deathland has ceased to be either a profit or apleasure. It gives one positionand prevents one from keeping itup. That's all that can be said about land.
JACK. I have a country house with some landof courseattachedto itabout fifteen hundred acresI believe; but I don't dependon thatfor my real income. In factas far as I can make outthepoachersare the only people who make anything out of it.
LADYBRACKNELL. A country house! How many bedrooms? Wellthatpoint canbe cleared up afterwards. You have a town houseI hope?A girlwith a simpleunspoiled naturelike Gwendolencouldhardly beexpected to reside in the country.
JACK. WellI own a house in Belgrave Squarebut it is let by theyear toLady Bloxham. Of courseI can get it back whenever Ilikeatsix months' notice.
LADYBRACKNELL. Lady Bloxham? I don't know her.
JACK. Ohshe goes about very little. She is a lady considerablyadvancedin years.
LADYBRACKNELL. Ahnowadays that is no guarantee ofrespectabilityof character. What number in Belgrave Square?
LADYBRACKNELL. [Shaking her head.] The unfashionableside. Ithoughtthere was something. Howeverthat could easily bealtered.
JACK. Do you mean the fashionor the side?
LADYBRACKNELL. [Sternly.] Bothif necessaryIpresume. Whatare yourpolities?
JACK. WellI am afraid I really have none. I am a LiberalUnionist.
LADYBRACKNELL. Ohthey count as Tories. They dine with us. Orcome inthe eveningat any rate. Now to minor matters. Are yourparentsliving?
JACK. I have lost both my parents.
LADYBRACKNELL. To lose one parentMr. Worthingmay be regardedas amisfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. Who wasyourfather? He was evidently a man of some wealth. Was hebornin whatthe Radical papers call the purple of commerceor did herise fromthe ranks of the aristocracy?
JACK. I am afraid I really don't know. The fact isLadyBracknellI said I had lost my parents. It would be nearer thetruth tosay that my parents seem to have lost me . . . I don'tactuallyknow who I am by birth. I was . . . wellI was found.
JACK. The late Mr. Thomas Cardewan old gentleman of a verycharitableand kindly dispositionfound meand gave me the nameofWorthingbecause he happened to have a first-class ticket forWorthingin his pocket at the time. Worthing is a place in Sussex.It is aseaside resort.
LADYBRACKNELL. Where did the charitable gentleman who had afirst-classticket for this seaside resort find you?
JACK. [Gravely.] In a hand-bag.
LADYBRACKNELL. A hand-bag?
JACK. [Very seriously.] YesLady Bracknell. I was in ahand-bag- asomewhat largeblack leather hand-bagwith handles to it - anordinaryhand-bag in fact.
LADYBRACKNELL. In what locality did this Mr. Jamesor ThomasCardewcome across this ordinary hand-bag?
JACK. In the cloak-room at Victoria Station. It was given to himin mistakefor his own.
LADYBRACKNELL. The cloak-room at Victoria Station?
JACK. Yes. The Brighton line.
LADYBRACKNELL. The line is immaterial. Mr. WorthingIconfess Ifeelsomewhat bewildered by what you have just told me. To bebornorat any rate bredin a hand-bagwhether it had handles ornotseemsto me to display a contempt for the ordinary decenciesof familylife that reminds one of the worst excesses of the FrenchRevolution. And I presume you know what that unfortunate movementled to? As for the particular locality in which the hand-bag wasfoundacloak-room at a railway station might serve to conceal asocialindiscretion - has probablyindeedbeen used for thatpurposebefore now-but it could hardly be regarded as an assuredbasis fora recognised position in good society.
JACK. May I ask you then what you would advise me to do? I needhardly sayI would do anything in the world to ensure Gwendolen'shappiness.
LADYBRACKNELL. I would strongly advise youMr. Worthingto tryandacquire some relations as soon as possibleand to make adefiniteeffort to produce at any rate one parentof either sexbefore theseason is quite over.
JACK. WellI don't see how I could possibly manage to do that. Icanproduce the hand-bag at any moment. It is in my dressing-roomat home. I really think that should satisfy youLady Bracknell.
LADYBRACKNELL. Mesir! What has it to do with me? Youcanhardlyimagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dream of allowingour onlydaughter - a girl brought up with the utmost care - tomarry intoa cloak-roomand form an alliance with a parcel? GoodmorningMr. Worthing!
[LADYBRACKNELL sweeps out in majestic indignation.]
JACK. Good morning! [ALGERNONfrom the other roomstrikes uptheWedding March. Jack looks perfectly furiousand goes to thedoor.] For goodness' sake don't play that ghastly tuneAlgy. Howidioticyou are!
[Themusic stops and ALGERNON enters cheerily.]
ALGERNON. Didn't it go off all rightold boy? You don't mean tosayGwendolen refused you? I know it is a way she has. She isalwaysrefusing people. I think it is most ill-natured of her.
JACK. OhGwendolen is as right as a trivet. As far as she isconcernedwe are engaged. Her mother is perfectly unbearable.Never metsuch a Gorgon . . . I don't really know what a Gorgon islikebutI am quite sure that Lady Bracknell is one. In any caseshe is amonsterwithout being a mythwhich is rather unfair . .. I begyour pardonAlgyI suppose I shouldn't talk about yourown auntin that way before you.
ALGERNON. My dear boyI love hearing my relations abused. It isthe onlything that makes me put up with them at all. Relationsare simplya tedious pack of peoplewho haven't got the remotestknowledgeof how to livenor the smallest instinct about when todie.
JACK. Ohthat is nonsense!
ALGERNON. It isn't!
JACK. WellI won't argue about the matter. You always want toargueabout things.
ALGERNON. That is exactly what things were originally made for.
JACK. Upon my wordif I thought thatI'd shoot myself . . . [Apause.] You don't think there is any chance of Gwendolen becominglike hermother in about a hundred and fifty yearsdo youAlgy?
ALGERNON. All women become like their mothers. That is theirtragedy. No man does. That's his.
JACK. Is that clever?
ALGERNON. It is perfectly phrased! and quite as true as anyobservationin civilised life should be.
JACK. I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clevernowadays. You can't go anywhere without meeting clever people.The thinghas become an absolute public nuisance. I wish togoodnesswe had a few fools left.
ALGERNON. We have.
JACK. I should extremely like to meet them. What do they talkabout?
ALGERNON. The fools? Oh! about the clever peopleof course.
JACK. What fools!
ALGERNON. By the waydid you tell Gwendolen the truth about yourbeingErnest in townand Jack in the country?
JACK. [Ina very patronising manner.] My dear fellowthe truthisn'tquite the sort of thing one tells to a nicesweetrefinedgirl. What extraordinary ideas you have about the way to behave toa woman!
ALGERNON. The only way to behave to a woman is to make love toherifshe is prettyand to some one elseif she is plain.
JACK. Ohthat is nonsense.
ALGERNON. What about your brother? What about the profligateErnest?
JACK. Ohbefore the end of the week I shall have got rid of him.I'll sayhe died in Paris of apoplexy. Lots of people die ofapoplexyquite suddenlydon't they?
ALGERNON. Yesbut it's hereditarymy dear fellow. It's a sortof thingthat runs in families. You had much better say a severechill.
JACK. You are sure a severe chill isn't hereditaryor anything ofthat kind?
ALGERNON. Of course it isn't!
JACK. Very wellthen. My poor brother Ernest to carried offsuddenlyin Parisby a severe chill. That gets rid of him.
ALGERNON. But I thought you said that . . . Miss Cardew was alittle toomuch interested in your poor brother Ernest? Won't shefeel hisloss a good deal?
JACK. Ohthat is all right. Cecily is not a silly romantic girlI am gladto say. She has got a capital appetitegoes long walksand paysno 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 excessivelyprettyand she is only just eighteen.
ALGERNON. Have you told Gwendolen yet that you have an excessivelyprettyward who is only just eighteen?
JACK. Oh! one doesn't blurt these things out to people. CecilyandGwendolen are perfectly certain to be extremely great friends.I'll betyou anything you like that half an hour after they havemettheywill be calling each other sister.
ALGERNON. Women only do that when they have called each other alot ofother things first. Nowmy dear boyif we want to get agood tableat Willis'swe really must go and dress. Do you knowit isnearly seven?
JACK. [Irritably.] Oh! It always is nearly seven.
ALGERNON. WellI'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. Welllet us go to the Club?
JACK. Ohno! I hate talking.
ALGERNON. Wellwe might trot round to the Empire at ten?
JACK. Ohno! I can't bear looking at things. It is so silly.
ALGERNON. Wellwhat shall we do?
ALGERNON. It is awfully hard work doing nothing. HoweverI don'tmind hardwork where there is no definite object of any kind.
LANE. Miss Fairfax.
[EnterGWENDOLEN. LANE goes out.]
ALGERNON. Gwendolenupon my word!
GWENDOLEN.Algykindly turn your back. I have something veryparticularto say to Mr. Worthing.
ALGERNON. ReallyGwendolenI don't think I can allow this atall.
GWENDOLEN. Algyyou always adopt a strictly immoral attitudetowardslife. You are not quite old enough to do that. [ALGERNONretiresto the fireplace.]
JACK. My own darling!
GWENDOLEN. Ernestwe may never be married. From the expressionon mamma'sface I fear we never shall. Few parents nowadays payany regardto what their children say to them. The old-fashionedrespectfor the young is fast dying out. Whatever influence I everhad overmammaI lost at the age of three. But although she mayprevent usfrom becoming man and wifeand I may marry some oneelseandmarry oftennothing that she can possibly do can altermy eternaldevotion to you.
JACK. Dear Gwendolen!
GWENDOLEN. The story of your romantic originas related to me bymammawith unpleasing commentshas naturally stirred the deeperfibres ofmy nature. Your Christian name has an irresistiblefascination. The simplicity of your character makes youexquisitelyincomprehensible to me. Your town address at theAlbany Ihave. What is your address in the country?
JACK. The Manor HouseWooltonHertfordshire.
[ALGERNONwho has been carefully listeningsmiles to himselfandwritesthe address on his shirt-cuff. Then picks up the RailwayGuide.]
GWENDOLEN. There is a good postal serviceI suppose? It may benecessaryto do something desperate. That of course will requireseriousconsideration. I will communicate with you daily.
JACK. My own one!
GWENDOLEN. How long do you remain in town?
JACK. Till Monday.
GWENDOLEN. Good! Algyyou may turn round now.
ALGERNON. ThanksI've turned round already.
GWENDOLEN. You may also ring the bell.
JACK. You will let me see you to your carriagemy own darling?
JACK. [To LANEwho now enters.] I will see Miss Fairfax out.
LANE. Yessir. [JACK and GWENDOLEN go off.]
[LANEpresents several letters on a salver to ALGERNON. It is tobesurmised that they are billsas ALGERNONafter looking at theenvelopestears them up.]
ALGERNON. A glass of sherryLane.
ALGERNON. To-morrowLaneI'm going Bunburying.
ALGERNON. I shall probably not be back till Monday. You can putup mydress clothesmy smoking jacketand all the Bunbury suits .. .
LANE. Yessir. [Handing sherry.]
ALGERNON. I hope to-morrow will be a fine dayLane.
LANE. It never issir.
ALGERNON. Laneyou're a perfect pessimist.
LANE. I do my best to give satisfactionsir.
[EnterJACK. LANE goes off.]
JACK. There's a sensibleintellectual girl! the only girl I evercared forin my life. [ALGERNON is laughing immoderately.] Whaton earthare you so amused at?
ALGERNON. OhI'm a little anxious about poor Bunburythat inall.
JACK. If you don't take careyour friend Bunbury will get youinto aserious scrape some day.
ALGERNON. I love scrapes. They are the only things that are neverserious.
JACK. Ohthat's nonsenseAlgy. You never talk anything butnonsense.
ALGERNON. Nobody ever does.
[JACKlooks indignantly at himand leaves the room. ALGERNONlightsa cigarettereads his shirt-cuffand smiles.]
SCENE -Garden at the Manor House. A flight of grey stone steps leadsupto thehouse. The gardenan old-fashioned onefull of roses.Time ofyearJuly. Basket chairsand a table covered with booksare setunder a large yew-tree.
[MISSPRISM discovered seated at the table. CECILY is at the backwateringflowers.]
MISSPRISM. [Calling.] CecilyCecily! Surelysuch a utilitarianoccupationas the watering of flowers is rather Moulton's duty thanyours? Especially at a moment when intellectual pleasures awaityou. Your German grammar is on the table. Pray open it at pagefifteen. We will repeat yesterday's lesson.
CECILY. [Coming over very slowly.] But I don't like German. Itisn't atall a becoming language. I know perfectly well that Ilook quiteplain after my German lesson.
MISSPRISM. Childyou know how anxious your guardian is that youshouldimprove yourself in every way. He laid particular stress onyourGermanas he was leaving for town yesterday. Indeedhealwayslays stress on your German when he is leaving for town.
CECILY. Dear Uncle Jack is so very serious! Sometimes he is soseriousthat I think he cannot be quite well
MISSPRISM. [Drawing herself up.] Your guardian enjoysthe bestof healthand his gravity of demeanour is especially to becommandedin one so comparatively young as he is. I know no onewho has ahigher sense of duty and responsibility.
CECILY. I suppose that is why he often looks a little bored whenwe threeare together.
MISSPRISM. Cecily! I am surprised at you. Mr. Worthinghas manytroublesin his life. Idle merriment and triviality would be outof placein his conversation. You must remember his constantanxietyabout that unfortunate young man his brother.
CECILY. I wish Uncle Jack would allow that unfortunate young manhisbrotherto come down here sometimes. We might have a goodinfluenceover himMiss Prism. I am sure you certainly would.You knowGermanand geologyand things of that kind influence aman verymuch. [CECILY begins to write in her diary.]
MISSPRISM. [Shaking her head.] I do not think thateven I couldproduceany effect on a character that according to his ownbrother'sadmission is irretrievably weak and vacillating. IndeedI am notsure that I would desire to reclaim him. I am not infavour ofthis modern mania for turning bad people into good peopleat amoment's notice. As a man sows so let him reap. You mustputaway yourdiaryCecily. I really don't see why you should keep adiary atall.
CECILY. I keep a diary in order to enter the wonderful secrets ofmy life. If I didn't write them downI should probably forget allaboutthem.
MISSPRISM. Memorymy dear Cecilyis the diary that we all carryabout withus.
CECILY. Yesbut it usually chronicles the things that have neverhappenedand couldn't possibly have happened. I believe thatMemory isresponsible for nearly all the three-volume novels thatMudiesends us.
MISSPRISM. Do not speak slightingly of the three-volume novelCecily. I wrote one myself in earlier days.
CECILY. Did you reallyMiss Prism? How wonderfully clever youare! I hope it did not end happily? I don't like novels that endhappily. They depress me so much.
MISSPRISM. The good ended happilyand the bad unhappily. Thatis whatFiction means.
CECILY. I suppose so. But it seems very unfair. And was yournovel everpublished?
MISSPRISM. Alas! no. The manuscript unfortunately wasabandoned.[CECILYstarts.] I use the word in the sense of lost or mislaid.To yourworkchildthese speculations are profitless.
CECILY. [Smiling.] But I see dear Dr. Chasuble coming up throughthegarden.
MISSPRISM. [Rising and advancing.] Dr. Chasuble! This is indeedapleasure.
CHASUBLE. And how are we this morning? Miss Prismyou areItrustwell?
CECILY. Miss Prism has just been complaining of a slight headache.I think itwould do her so much good to have a short stroll withyou in theParkDr. Chasuble.
MISSPRISM. CecilyI have not mentioned anything about aheadache.
CECILY. Nodear Miss PrismI know thatbut I felt instinctivelythat youhad a headache. Indeed I was thinking about thatand notabout myGerman lessonwhen the Rector came in.
CHASUBLE. I hopeCecilyyou are not inattentive.
CECILY. OhI am afraid I am.
CHASUBLE. That is strange. Were I fortunate enough to be MissPrism'spupilI would hang upon her lips. [MISS PRISM glares.] Ispokemetaphorically. - My metaphor was drawn from bees. Ahem!Mr.WorthingI supposehas not returned from town yet?
MISSPRISM. We do not expect him till Monday afternoon.
CHASUBLE. Ah yeshe usually likes to spend his Sunday in London.He is notone of those whose sole aim is enjoymentasby allaccountsthat unfortunate young man his brother seems to be. ButI must notdisturb Egeria and her pupil any longer.
MISSPRISM. Egeria? My name is LaetitiaDoctor.
CHASUBLE. [Bowing.] A classical allusion merelydrawn fromthePaganauthors. I shall see you both no doubt at Evensong?
MISSPRISM. I thinkdear DoctorI will have a stroll with you.I find Ihave a headache after alland a walk might do it good.
CHASUBLE. With pleasureMiss Prismwith pleasure. We might goas far asthe schools and back.
MISSPRISM. That would be delightful. Cecilyyou will readyourPoliticalEconomy in my absence. The chapter on the Fall of theRupee youmay omit. It is somewhat too sensational. Even thesemetallicproblems have their melodramatic side.
[Goesdown the garden with DR. CHASUBLE.]
CECILY. [Picks up books and throws them back on table.] HorridPoliticalEconomy! Horrid Geography! Horridhorrid German!
[EnterMERRIMAN with a card on a salver.]
MERRIMAN. Mr. Ernest Worthing has just driven over from thestation. He has brought his luggage with him.
CECILY. [Takes the card and reads it.] 'Mr. Ernest WorthingB.4TheAlbanyW.' Uncle Jack's brother! Did you tell him Mr.Worthingwas in town?
MERRIMAN. YesMiss. He seemed very much disappointed. Imentionedthat you and Miss Prism were in the garden. He said hewasanxious to speak to you privately for a moment.
CECILY. Ask Mr. Ernest Worthing to come here. I suppose you hadbettertalk to the housekeeper about a room for him.
CECILY. I have never met any really wicked person before. I feelratherfrightened. I am so afraid he will look just like every oneelse.
[EnterALGERNONvery gay and debonnair.] He does!
ALGERNON. [Raising his hat.] You are my little cousin CecilyI'msure.
CECILY. You are under some strange mistake. I am not little. InfactIbelieve I am more than usually tall for my age. [ALGERNONisrather taken aback.] But I am your cousin Cecily. YouI seefrom yourcardare Uncle Jack's brothermy cousin Ernestmywickedcousin Ernest.
ALGERNON. Oh! I am not really wicked at allcousin Cecily. Youmustn'tthink that I am wicked.
CECILY. If you are notthen you have certainly been deceiving usall in avery inexcusable manner. I hope you have not been leadinga doublelifepretending to be wicked and being really good allthe time. That would be hypocrisy.
ALGERNON. [Looks at her in amazement.] Oh! Of course Ihave beenratherreckless.
CECILY. I am glad to hear it.
ALGERNON. In factnow you mention the subjectI have been verybad in myown small way.
CECILY. I don't think you should be so proud of thatthough I amsure itmust 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 Jackwon't beback till Monday afternoon.
ALGERNON. That is a great disappointment. I am obliged to go upby thefirst train on Monday morning. I have a businessappointmentthat I am anxious . . . to miss?
CECILY. Couldn't you miss it anywhere but in London?
ALGERNON. No: the appointment is in London.
CECILY. WellI knowof coursehow important it is not to keep abusinessengagementif one wants to retain any sense of the beautyof lifebut still I think you had better wait till Uncle Jackarrives. 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 notaste inneckties at all.
CECILY. I don't think you will require neckties. Uncle Jack issendingyou to Australia.
ALGERNON. Australia! I'd sooner die.
CECILY. Wellhe said at dinner on Wednesday nightthat you wouldhave tochoose between this worldthe next worldand Australia.
ALGERNON. Ohwell! The accounts I have received of Australia andthe nextworldare not particularly encouraging. This world isgoodenough for mecousin Cecily.
CECILY. Yesbut are you good enough for it?
ALGERNON. I'm afraid I'm not that. That is why I want you toreformme. You might make that your missionif you don't mindcousinCecily.
CECILY. I'm afraid I've no timethis afternoon.
ALGERNON. Wellwould 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 whenone isgoing to lead an entirely new lifeone requires regular andwholesomemeals. Won't you come in?
ALGERNON. Thank you. Might I have a buttonhole first? I neverhave anyappetite unless I have a buttonhole first.
CECILY. A Marechal Niel? [Picks up scissors.]
ALGERNON. NoI'd sooner have a pink rose.
CECILY. Why? [Cuts a flower.]
ALGERNON. Because you are like a pink roseCousin Cecily.
CECILY. I don't think it can be right for you to talk to me likethat. Miss Prism never says such things to me.
ALGERNON. Then Miss Prism is a short-sighted old lady. [CECILYputsthe rose in his buttonhole.] You are the prettiest girl Iever saw.
CECILY. Miss Prism says that all good looks are a snare.
ALGERNON. They are a snare that every sensible man would like tobe caughtin.
CECILY. OhI don't think I would care to catch a sensible man. Ishouldn'tknow what to talk to him about.
[Theypass into the house. MISS PRISM and DR. CHASUBLE return.]
MISSPRISM. You are too much alonedear Dr. Chasuble. Youshouldgetmarried. A misanthrope I can understand - a womanthropenever!
CHASUBLE. [With a scholar's shudder.] Believe meI do notdeserve soneologistic a phrase. The precept as well as thepracticeof the Primitive Church was distinctly against matrimony.
MISSPRISM. [Sententiously.] That is obviously thereason why thePrimitiveChurch has not lasted up to the present day. And you donot seemto realisedear Doctorthat by persistently remainingsingleaman converts himself into a permanent public temptation.Men shouldbe more careful; this very celibacy leads weaker vesselsastray.
CHASUBLE. But is a man not equally attractive when married?
MISSPRISM. No married man is ever attractive except to his wife.
CHASUBLE. And oftenI've been toldnot even to her.
MISSPRISM. That depends on the intellectual sympathies of thewoman. Maturity can always be depended on. Ripeness can betrusted. Young women are green. [DR. CHASUBLE starts.] Ispokehorticulturally. My metaphor was drawn from fruits. But where isCecily?
CHASUBLE. Perhaps she followed us to the schools.
[EnterJACK slowly from the back of the garden. He is dressed inthedeepest mourningwith crape hatband and black gloves.]
MISSPRISM. Mr. Worthing!
CHASUBLE. Mr. Worthing?
MISSPRISM. This is indeed a surprise. We did not look for youtillMonday afternoon.
JACK. [Shakes MISS PRISM'S hand in a tragic manner.] I havereturnedsooner than I expected. Dr. ChasubleI hope you arewell?
CHASUBLE. Dear Mr. WorthingI trust this garb of woe does notbetokensome terrible calamity?
JACK. My brother.
MISSPRISM. 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.
MISSPRISM. What a lesson for him! I trust he will profit byit.
CHASUBLE. Mr. WorthingI offer you my sincere condolence. Youhave atleast the consolation of knowing that you were always themostgenerous and forgiving of brothers.
JACK. Poor Ernest! He had many faultsbut it is a sadsad blow.
CHASUBLE. Very sad indeed. Were you with him at the end?
JACK. No. He died abroad; in Parisin fact. I had a telegramlast nightfrom the manager of the Grand Hotel.
CHASUBLE. Was the cause of death mentioned?
JACK. A severe chillit seems.
MISSPRISM. As a man sowsso shall he reap.
CHASUBLE. [Raising his hand.] Charitydear Miss Prismcharity!None of usare perfect. I myself am peculiarly susceptible todraughts. Will the interment take place here?
JACK. No. He seems to have expressed a desire to be buried inParis.
CHASUBLE. In Paris! [Shakes his head.] I fear that hardlypointsto anyvery serious state of mind at the last. You would no doubtwish me tomake some slight allusion to this tragic domesticafflictionnext Sunday. [JACK presses his hand convulsively.] Mysermon onthe meaning of the manna in the wilderness can be adaptedto almostany occasionjoyfuloras in the present casedistressing. [All sigh.] I have preached it at harvestcelebrationschristeningsconfirmationson days of humiliationand festaldays. The last time I delivered it was in theCathedralas a charity sermon on behalf of the Society for thePreventionof Discontent among the Upper Orders. The Bishopwhowaspresentwas much struck by some of the analogies I drew.
JACK. Ah! that reminds meyou mentioned christenings I thinkDr.Chasuble? I suppose you know how to christen all right? [DR.CHASUBLElooks astounded.] I meanof courseyou are continuallychristeningaren't you?
MISSPRISM. It isI regret to sayone of the Rector's mostconstantduties in this parish. I have often spoken to the poorerclasses onthe subject. But they don't seem to know what thriftis.
CHASUBLE. But is there any particular infant in whom you areinterestedMr. Worthing? Your brother wasI believeunmarriedwas henot?
JACK. Oh yes.
MISSPRISM. [Bitterly.] People who live entirely forpleasureusuallyare.
JACK. But it is not for any childdear Doctor. I am very fond ofchildren. No! the fact isI would like to be christened myselfthisafternoonif you have nothing better to do.
CHASUBLE. But surelyMr. Worthingyou have been christenedalready?
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 thethingwould bother you in any wayor if you think I am a littletoo oldnow.
CHASUBLE. Not at all. The sprinklingandindeedthe immersionof adultsis a perfectly canonical practice.
CHASUBLE. You need have no apprehensions. Sprinkling is all thatisnecessaryor indeed I think advisable. Our weather is sochangeable. At what hour would you wish the ceremony performed?
JACK. OhI might trot round about five if that would suit you.
CHASUBLE. Perfectlyperfectly! In fact I have two similarceremoniesto perform at that time. A case of twins that occurredrecentlyin one of the outlying cottages on your own estate. PoorJenkinsthe cartera most hard-working man.
JACK. Oh! I don't see much fun in being christened along withotherbabies. It would be childish. Would half-past five do?
CHASUBLE. Admirably! Admirably! [Takes out watch.] Andnowdear Mr.WorthingI will not intrude any longer into a house ofsorrow. I would merely beg you not to be too much bowed down bygrief. What seem to us bitter trials are often blessings indisguise.
MISSPRISM. This seems to me a blessing of an extremely obviouskind.
[EnterCECILY from the house.]
CECILY. Uncle Jack! OhI am pleased to see you back. But whathorridclothes you have got on! Do go and change them.
CHASUBLE. My child! my child! [CECILY goes towards JACK; hekissesher brow in a melancholy manner.]
CECILY. What is the matterUncle Jack? Do look happy! You lookas if youhad toothacheand I have got such a surprise for you.Who do youthink is in the dining-room? Your brother!
CECILY. Your brother Ernest. He arrived about half an hour ago.
JACK. What nonsense! I haven't got a brother.
CECILY. Ohdon't say that. However badly he may have behaved toyou in thepast he is still your brother. You couldn't be soheartlessas to disown him. I'll tell him to come out. And youwill shakehands with himwon't youUncle Jack? [Runs back intothehouse.]
CHASUBLE. These are very joyful tidings.
MISSPRISM. After we had all been resigned to his losshis suddenreturnseems to me peculiarly distressing.
JACK. My brother is in the dining-room? I don't know what it allmeans. I think it is perfectly absurd.
[EnterALGERNON and CECILY hand in hand. They come slowly up toJACK.]
JACK. Good heavens! [Motions ALGERNON away.]
ALGERNON. Brother JohnI have come down from town to tell youthat I amvery sorry for all the trouble I have given youand thatI intendto lead a better life in the future. [JACK glares at himanddoes not take his hand.]
CECILY. Uncle Jackyou are not going to refuse your own brother'shand?
JACK. Nothing will induce me to take his hand. I think his comingdown heredisgraceful. He knows perfectly well why.
CECILY. Uncle Jackdo be nice. There is some good in every one.Ernest hasjust been telling me about his poor invalid friend Mr.Bunburywhom he goes to visit so often. And surely there must bemuch goodin one who is kind to an invalidand leaves thepleasuresof London to sit by a bed of pain.
JACK. Oh! he has been talking about Bunburyhas he?
CECILY. Yeshe has told me all about poor Mr. Bunburyand histerriblestate of health.
JACK. Bunbury! WellI won't have him talk to you about Bunburyor aboutanything else. It is enough to drive one perfectlyfrantic.
ALGERNON. Of course I admit that the faults were all on my side.But I mustsay that I think that Brother John's coldness to me ispeculiarlypainful. I expected a more enthusiastic welcomeespeciallyconsidering it is the first time I have come here.
CECILY. Uncle Jackif you don't shake hands with Ernest I willneverforgive you.
JACK. Never forgive me?
JACK. Wellthis is the last time I shall ever do it. [ShakeswithALGERNON and glares.]
CHASUBLE. It's pleasantis it notto see so perfect areconciliation? I think we might leave the two brothers together.
MISSPRISM. Cecilyyou will come with us.
CECILY. CertainlyMiss Prism. My little task of reconciliationis over.
CHASUBLE. You have done a beautiful action to-daydear child.
MISSPRISM. We must not be premature in our judgments.
CECILY. I feel very happy. [They all go off except JACK andALGERNON.]
JACK. You young scoundrelAlgyyou must get out of this place assoon aspossible. I don't allow any Bunburying here.
MERRIMAN. I have put Mr. Ernest's things in the room next toyourssir. I suppose that is all right?
MERRIMAN. Mr. Ernest's luggagesir. I have unpacked it and putit in theroom next to your own.
JACK. His luggage?
MERRIMAN. Yessir. Three portmanteausa dressing-casetwo hat-boxesanda large luncheon-basket.
ALGERNON. I am afraid I can't stay more than a week this time.
JACK. Merrimanorder the dog-cart at once. Mr. Ernest has beensuddenlycalled back to town.
MERRIMAN. Yessir. [Goes back into the house.]
ALGERNON. What a fearful liar you areJack. I have not beencalledback to town at all.
JACK. Yesyou 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 mypleasuresin the smallest degree.
JACK. I can quite understand that.
ALGERNON. WellCecily is a darling.
JACK. You are not to talk of Miss Cardew like that. I don't likeit.
ALGERNON. WellI don't like your clothes. You look perfectlyridiculousin them. Why on earth don't you go up and change? Itisperfectly childish to be in deep mourning for a man who isactuallystaying for a whole week with you in your house as aguest. I call it grotesque.
JACK. You are certainly not staying with me for a whole week as aguest oranything else. You have got to leave . . . by the four-fivetrain.
ALGERNON. I certainly won't leave you so long as you are inmourning. It would be most unfriendly. If I were in mourning youwould staywith meI suppose. I should think it very unkind ifyoudidn't.
JACK. Wellwill you go if I change my clothes?
ALGERNON. Yesif you are not too long. I never saw anybody takeso long todressand with such little result.
JACK. Wellat any ratethat is better than being always over-dressed asyou are.
ALGERNON. If I am occasionally a little over-dressedI make upfor it bybeing always immensely over-educated.
JACK. Your vanity is ridiculousyour conduct an outrageand yourpresencein my garden utterly absurd. Howeveryou have got tocatch thefour-fiveand I hope you will have a pleasant journeyback totown. This Bunburyingas you call ithas not been agreatsuccess for you.
[Goesinto the house.]
ALGERNON. I think it has been a great success. I'm in love withCecilyand that is everything.
[EnterCECILY at the back of the garden. She picks up the can andbeginsto water the flowers.] But I must see her before I goandmakearrangements for another Bunbury. Ahthere she is.
CECILY. OhI merely came back to water the roses. I thought youwere withUncle Jack.
ALGERNON. He's gone to order the dog-cart for me.
CECILY. Ohis 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 hasknown fora very brief space of time. The absence of old friendsone canendure with equanimity. But even a momentary separationfromanyone to whom one has just been introduced is almostunbearable.
ALGERNON. Thank you.
MERRIMAN. The dog-cart is at the doorsir. [ALGERNON looksappealinglyat CECILY.]
CECILY. It can waitMerriman for . . . five minutes.
MERRIMAN. YesMiss. [Exit MERRIMAN.]
ALGERNON. I hopeCecilyI shall not offend you if I state quitefranklyand openly that you seem to me to be in every way thevisiblepersonification of absolute perfection.
CECILY. I think your frankness does you great creditErnest. Ifyou willallow meI will copy your remarks into my diary. [Goesover totable and begins writing in diary.]
ALGERNON. Do you really keep a diary? I'd give anything to lookat it. May I?
CECILY. Oh no. [Puts her hand over it.] You seeit issimply avery younggirl's record of her own thoughts and impressionsandconsequentlymeant for publication. When it appears in volume formI hope youwill order a copy. But prayErnestdon't stop. Idelight intaking down from dictation. I have reached 'absoluteperfection'. You can go on. I am quite ready for more.
ALGERNON. [Somewhat taken aback.] Ahem! Ahem!
CECILY. Ohdon't coughErnest. When one is dictating one shouldspeakfluently and not cough. BesidesI don't know how to spell acough. [Writes as ALGERNON speaks.]
ALGERNON. [Speaking very rapidly.] Cecilyever since I firstlookedupon your wonderful and incomparable beautyI have dared tolove youwildlypassionatelydevotedlyhopelessly.
CECILY. I don't think that you should tell me that you love mewildlypassionatelydevotedlyhopelessly. Hopelessly doesn'tseem tomake much sensedoes it?
MERRIMAN. The dog-cart is waitingsir.
ALGERNON. Tell it to come round next weekat the same hour.
MERRIMAN. [Looks at CECILYwho makes no sign.] Yessir.
CECILY. Uncle Jack would be very much annoyed if he knew you werestaying ontill next weekat the same hour.
ALGERNON. OhI don't care about Jack. I don't care for anybodyin thewhole world but you. I love youCecily. You will marrymewon'tyou?
CECILY. You silly boy! Of course. Whywe have been engaged forthe lastthree months.
ALGERNON. For the last three months?
CECILY. Yesit will be exactly three months on Thursday.
ALGERNON. But how did we become engaged?
CECILY. Wellever since dear Uncle Jack first confessed to usthat hehad a younger brother who was very wicked and badyou ofcoursehave formed the chief topic of conversation between myselfand MissPrism. And of course a man who is much talked about isalwaysvery attractive. One feels there must be something in himafterall. I daresay it was foolish of mebut I fell in love withyouErnest.
ALGERNON. Darling! And when was the engagement actually settled?
CECILY. On the 14th of February last. Worn out by your entireignoranceof my existenceI determined to end the matter one wayor theotherand after a long struggle with myself I accepted youunder thisdear old tree here. The next day I bought this littlering inyour nameand this is the little bangle with the truelover'sknot I promised you always to wear.
ALGERNON. Did I give you this? It's very prettyisn't it?
CECILY. Yesyou've wonderfully good tasteErnest. It's theexcuseI've always given for your leading such a bad life. Andthis isthe box in which I keep all your dear letters. [Kneels attableopens boxand produces letters tied up with blue ribbon.]
ALGERNON. My letters! Butmy own sweet CecilyI have neverwrittenyou any letters.
CECILY. You need hardly remind me of thatErnest. I rememberonly toowell that I was forced to write your letters for you. Iwrotealways three times a weekand sometimes oftener.
ALGERNON. Ohdo let me read themCecily?
CECILY. OhI couldn't possibly. They would make you far tooconceited. [Replaces box.] The three you wrote me after I hadbroken ofthe engagement are so beautifuland so badly spelledthat evennow 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 seethe entryif you like. [Shows diary.] 'To-day I broke off myengagementwith Ernest. I feel it is better to do so. The weatherstillcontinues charming.'
ALGERNON. But why on earth did you break it of? What had I done?I had donenothing at all. CecilyI am very much hurt indeed tohear youbroke it off. Particularly when the weather was socharming.
CECILY. It would hardly have been a really serious engagement ifit hadn'tbeen broken off at least once. But I forgave you beforethe weekwas out.
ALGERNON. [Crossing to herand kneeling.] What a perfect angelyou areCecily.
CECILY. You dear romantic boy. [He kisses hershe puts herfingersthrough his hair.] I hope your hair curls naturallydoesit?
ALGERNON. Yesdarlingwith a little help from others.
CECILY. I am so glad.
ALGERNON. You'll never break of our engagement againCecily?
CECILY. I don't think I could break it off now that I haveactuallymet you. Besidesof coursethere is the question ofyour name.
ALGERNON. Yesof course. [Nervously.]
CECILY. You must not laugh at medarlingbut it had always beena girlishdream of mine to love some one whose name was Ernest.[ALGERNONrisesCECILY also.] There is something in that namethat seemsto inspire absolute confidence. I pity any poor marriedwomanwhose husband is not called Ernest.
ALGERNON. Butmy dear childdo you mean to say you could notlove me ifI had some other name?
CECILY. But what name?
ALGERNON. Ohany name you like - Algernon - for instance . . .
CECILY. But I don't like the name of Algernon.
ALGERNON. Wellmy own dearsweetloving little darlingIreallycan't see why you should object to the name of Algernon. Itis not atall a bad name. In factit is rather an aristocraticname. Half of the chaps who get into the Bankruptcy Court arecalledAlgernon. But seriouslyCecily . . . [Moving to her] .. .if my namewas Algycouldn't you love me?
CECILY. [Rising.] I might respect youErnestI might admireyourcharacterbut I fear that I should not be able to give you myundividedattention.
ALGERNON. Ahem! Cecily! [Picking up hat.] Your Rectorhere isI supposethoroughly experienced in the practice of all the ritesandceremonials of the Church?
CECILY. Ohyes. Dr. Chasuble is a most learned man. He hasneverwritten a single bookso you can imagine how much he knows.
ALGERNON. I must see him at once on a most important christening -I mean onmost important business.
ALGERNON. I shan't be away more than half an hour.
CECILY. Considering that we have been engaged since February the14thandthat I only met you to-day for the first timeI think itis ratherhard that you should leave me for so long a period ashalf anhour. Couldn't you make it twenty minutes?
ALGERNON. I'll be back in no time.
[Kissesher and rushes down the garden.]
CECILY. What an impetuous boy he is! I like his hair so much. Imust enterhis proposal in my diary.
MERRIMAN. A Miss Fairfax has just called to see Mr. Worthing. Onveryimportant businessMiss Fairfax states.
CECILY. Isn't Mr. Worthing in his library?
MERRIMAN. Mr. Worthing went over in the direction of the Rectorysome timeago.
CECILY. Pray ask the lady to come out here; Mr. Worthing is sureto be backsoon. And you can bring tea.
MERRIMAN. YesMiss. [Goes out.]
CECILY. Miss Fairfax! I suppose one of the many good elderlywomen whoare associated with Uncle Jack in some of hisphilanthropicwork in London. I don't quite like women who areinterestedin philanthropic work. I think it is so forward ofthem.
MERRIMAN. Miss Fairfax.
CECILY. [Advancing to meet her.] Pray let me introduce myself toyou. My name is Cecily Cardew.
GWENDOLEN. Cecily Cardew? [Moving to her and shaking hands.]What avery sweet name! Something tells me that we are going to begreatfriends. I like you already more than I can say. My firstimpressionsof people are never wrong.
CECILY. How nice of you to like me so much after we have knowneach othersuch a comparatively short time. Pray sit down.
GWENDOLEN. [Still standing up.] I may call you Cecilymay I not?
CECILY. With pleasure!
GWENDOLEN. And you will always call me Gwendolenwon't you?
CECILY. If you wish.
GWENDOLEN. Then that is all quite settledis it not?
CECILY. I hope so. [A pause. They both sit down together.]
GWENDOLEN. Perhaps this might be a favourable opportunity for mymentioningwho I am. My father is Lord Bracknell. You have neverheard ofpapaI suppose?
CECILY. I don't think so.
GWENDOLEN. Outside the family circlepapaI am glad to sayisentirelyunknown. I think that is quite as it should be. The homeseems tome to be the proper sphere for the man. And certainlyonce a manbegins to neglect his domestic duties he becomespainfullyeffeminatedoes he not? And I don't like that. Itmakes menso very attractive. Cecilymammawhose views oneducationare remarkably stricthas brought me up to be extremelyshort-sighted;it is part of her system; so do you mind my lookingat youthrough my glasses?
CECILY. Oh! not at allGwendolen. I am very fond of being lookedat.
GWENDOLEN. [After examining CECILY carefully through a lorgnette.]You arehere on a short visitI suppose.
CECILY. Oh no! I live here.
GWENDOLEN. [Severely.] Really? Your motherno doubtor somefemalerelative of advanced yearsresides here also?
CECILY. Oh no! I have no mothernorin factany relations.
CECILY. My dear guardianwith the assistance of Miss Prismhasthearduous task of looking after me.
GWENDOLEN. Your guardian?
CECILY. YesI am Mr. Worthing's ward.
GWENDOLEN. Oh! It is strange he never mentioned to me that he hada ward. How secretive of him! He grows more interesting hourly.I am notsurehoweverthat the news inspires me with feelings ofunmixeddelight. [Rising and going to her.] I am very fondofyouCecily; I have liked you ever since I met you! But I am boundto statethat now that I know that you are Mr. Worthing's wardIcannothelp expressing a wish you were - welljust a little olderthan youseem to be - and not quite so very alluring in appearance.In factif I may speak candidly -
CECILY. Pray do! I think that whenever one has anythingunpleasantto sayone should always be quite candid.
GWENDOLEN. Wellto speak with perfect candourCecilyI wishthat youwere fully forty-twoand more than usually plain for yourage. Ernest has a strong upright nature. He is the very soul oftruth andhonour. Disloyalty would be as impossible to him asdeception. But even men of the noblest possible moral characterareextremely susceptible to the influence of the physical charmsofothers. Modernno less than Ancient Historysupplies us withmany mostpainful examples of what I refer to. If it were not soindeedHistory would be quite unreadable.
CECILY. I beg your pardonGwendolendid you say Ernest?
CECILY. Ohbut it is not Mr. Ernest Worthing who is my guardian.It is hisbrother - his elder brother.
GWENDOLEN. [Sitting down again.] Ernest never mentioned to methat hehad a brother.
CECILY. I am sorry to say they have not been on good terms for along time.
GWENDOLEN. Ah! that accounts for it. And now that I think of it Ihave neverheard any man mention his brother. The subject seemsdistastefulto most men. Cecilyyou have lifted a load from mymind. I was growing almost anxious. It would have been terribleif anycloud had come across a friendship like ourswould it not?Of courseyou are quitequite sure that it is not Mr. ErnestWorthingwho is your guardian?
CECILY. Quite sure. [A pause.] In factI am going to behis.
GWENDOLEN. [Inquiringly.] I beg your pardon?
CECILY. [Rather shy and confidingly.] Dearest Gwendolenthereisno reasonwhy I should make a secret of it to you. Our littlecountynewspaper is sure to chronicle the fact next week. Mr.ErnestWorthing and I are engaged to be married.
GWENDOLEN. [Quite politelyrising.] My darling CecilyI thinkthere mustbe some slight error. Mr. Ernest Worthing is engaged tome. The announcement will appear in the MORNING POST on Saturdayat thelatest.
CECILY. [Very politelyrising.] I am afraid you must be undersomemisconception. Ernest proposed to me exactly ten minutes ago.[Showsdiary.]
GWENDOLEN. [Examines diary through her lorgnette carefully.] Itiscertainly very curiousfor he asked me to be his wife yesterdayafternoonat 5.30. If you would care to verify the incidentpraydo so. [Produces diary of her own.] I never travel without mydiary. One should always have something sensational to read in thetrain. I am so sorrydear Cecilyif it is any disappointment toyoubut Iam afraid I have the prior claim.
CECILY. It would distress me more than I can tell youdearGwendolenif it caused you any mental or physical anguishbut Ifeel boundto point out that since Ernest proposed to you heclearlyhas changed his mind.
GWENDOLEN. [Meditatively.] If the poor fellow has beenentrappedinto anyfoolish promise I shall consider it my duty to rescue himat onceand with a firm hand.
CECILY. [Thoughtfully and sadly.] Whatever unfortunateentanglementmy dear boy may have got intoI will never reproachhim withit after we are married.
GWENDOLEN. Do you allude to meMiss Cardewas an entanglement?You arepresumptuous. On an occasion of this kind it becomes morethan amoral duty to speak one's mind. It becomes a pleasure.
CECILY. Do you suggestMiss Fairfaxthat I entrapped Ernest intoanengagement? How dare you? This is no time for wearing theshallowmask of manners. When I see a spade I call it a spade.
GWENDOLEN. [Satirically.] I am glad to say that I have never seena spade. It is obvious that our social spheres have been widelydifferent.
[EnterMERRIMANfollowed by the footman. He carries a salvertableclothand plate stand. CECILY is about to retort. Thepresenceof the servants exercises a restraining influenceunderwhichboth girls chafe.]
MERRIMAN. Shall I lay tea here as usualMiss?
CECILY. [Sternlyin a calm voice.] Yesas usual. [MERRIMANbeginsto clear table and lay cloth. A long pause. CECILY andGWENDOLENglare at each other.]
GWENDOLEN. Are there many interesting walks in the vicinityMissCardew?
CECILY. Oh! yes! a great many. From the top of one of the hillsquiteclose one can see five counties.
GWENDOLEN. Five counties! I don't think I should like that; Ihatecrowds.
CECILY. [Sweetly.] I suppose that is why you live in town?[GWENDOLENbites her lipand beats her foot nervously with herparasol.]
GWENDOLEN. [Looking round.] Quite a well-kept garden this isMissCardew.
CECILY. So glad you like itMiss Fairfax.
GWENDOLEN. I had no idea there were any flowers in the country.
CECILY. Ohflowers are as common hereMiss Fairfaxas peopleare inLondon.
GWENDOLEN. Personally I cannot understand how anybody manages toexist inthe countryif anybody who is anybody does. The countryalwaysbores me to death.
CECILY. Ah! This is what the newspapers call agriculturaldepressionis it not? I believe the aristocracy are sufferingvery muchfrom it just at present. It is almost an epidemicamongstthemI have been told. May I offer you some teaMissFairfax?
GWENDOLEN. [With elaborate politeness.] Thank you. [Aside.]Detestablegirl! But I require tea!
CECILY. [Sweetly.] Sugar?
GWENDOLEN. [Superciliously.] Nothank you. Sugar is notfashionableany more. [CECILY looks angrily at hertakes up thetongsand puts four lumps of sugar into the cup.]
CECILY. [Severely.] Cake or bread and butter?
GWENDOLEN. [In a bored manner.] Bread and butterplease. Cakeis rarelyseen at the best houses nowadays.
CECILY. [Cuts a very large slice of cakeand puts it on thetray.] Hand that to Miss Fairfax.
[MERRIMANdoes soand goes out with footman. GWENDOLEN drinks thetea andmakes a grimace. Puts down cup at oncereaches out herhand tothe bread and butterlooks at itand finds it is cake.Risesin indignation.]
GWENDOLEN. You have filled my tea with lumps of sugarand thoughI askedmost distinctly for bread and butteryou have given mecake. I am known for the gentleness of my dispositionand theextraordinarysweetness of my naturebut I warn youMiss Cardewyou may gotoo far.
CECILY. [Rising.] To save my poorinnocenttrusting boy fromthemachinations of any other girl there are no lengths to which Iwould notgo.
GWENDOLEN. From the moment I saw you I distrusted you. I feltthat youwere false and deceitful. I am never deceived in suchmatters. My first impressions of people are invariably right.
CECILY. It seems to meMiss Fairfaxthat I am trespassing onyourvaluable time. No doubt you have many other calls of asimilarcharacter to make in the neighbourhood.
GWENDOLEN. [Catching sight of him.] Ernest! My ownErnest!
JACK. Gwendolen! Darling! [Offers to kiss her.]
GWENDOLEN. [Draws back.] A moment! May I ask if you areengagedto bemarried to this young lady? [Points to CECILY.]
JACK. [Laughing.] To dear little Cecily! Of course not! Whatcould haveput such an idea into your pretty little head?
GWENDOLEN. Thank you. You may! [Offers her cheek.]
CECILY. [Very sweetly.] I knew there must be somemisunderstandingMiss Fairfax. The gentleman whose arm is atpresentround your waist is my guardianMr. John Worthing.
GWENDOLEN. I beg your pardon?
CECILY. This is Uncle Jack.
GWENDOLEN. [Receding.] Jack! Oh!
CECILY. Here is Ernest.
ALGERNON. [Goes straight over to CECILY without noticing any oneelse.] My own love! [Offers to kiss her.]
CECILY. [Drawing back.] A momentErnest! May I ask you -areyouengaged to be married to this young lady?
ALGERNON. [Looking round.] To what young lady? Good heavens!Gwendolen!
CECILY. Yes! to good heavensGwendolenI mean to Gwendolen.
ALGERNON. [Laughing.] Of course not! What could have putsuch anidea intoyour pretty little head?
CECILY. Thank you. [Presenting her cheek to be kissed.] You may.[ALGERNONkisses her.]
GWENDOLEN. I felt there was some slight errorMiss Cardew. Thegentlemanwho is now embracing you is my cousinMr. AlgernonMoncrieff.
CECILY. [Breaking away from ALGERNON.] Algernon Moncrieff! Oh![Thetwo girls move towards each other and put their arms roundeachother's waists protection.]
CECILY. Are you called Algernon?
ALGERNON. I cannot deny it.
GWENDOLEN. Is your name really John?
JACK. [Standing rather proudly.] I could deny it if I liked. Icould denyanything if I liked. But my name certainly is John. Ithas beenJohn for years.
CECILY. [To GWENDOLEN.] A gross deception has been practised onboth ofus.
GWENDOLEN. My poor wounded Cecily!
CECILY. My sweet wronged Gwendolen!
GWENDOLEN. [Slowly and seriously.] You will call me sisterwillyou not? [They embrace. JACK and ALGERNON groan and walk up anddown.]
CECILY. [Rather brightly.] There is just one question I wouldlike to beallowed to ask my guardian.
GWENDOLEN. An admirable idea! Mr. Worthingthere is just onequestion Iwould like to be permitted to put to you. Where is yourbrotherErnest? We are both engaged to be married to your brotherErnestsoit is a matter of some importance to us to know whereyourbrother Ernest is at present.
JACK. [Slowly and hesitatingly.] Gwendolen - Cecily - itis verypainfulfor me to be forced to speak the truth. It is the firsttime in mylife that I have ever been reduced to such a painfulpositionand I am really quite inexperienced in doing anything ofthe kind. HoweverI will tell you quite frankly that I have nobrotherErnest. I have no brother at all. I never had a brotherin mylifeand I certainly have not the smallest intention of everhaving onein 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 an kind.
GWENDOLEN. I am afraid it is quite clearCecilythat neither ofus isengaged to be married to any one.
CECILY. It is not a very pleasant position for a young girlsuddenlyto find herself in. Is it?
GWENDOLEN. Let us go into the house. They will hardly venture tocome afterus there.
CECILY. Nomen are so cowardlyaren't they?
[Theyretire into the house with scornful looks.]
JACK. This ghastly state of things is what you call BunburyingIsuppose?
ALGERNON. Yesand a perfectly wonderful Bunbury it is. The mostwonderfulBunbury I have ever had in my life.
JACK. Wellyou've no right whatsoever to Bunbury here.
ALGERNON. That is absurd. One has a right to Bunbury anywhere onechooses. Every serious Bunburyist knows that.
JACK. Serious Bunburyist! Good heavens!
ALGERNON. Wellone must be serious about somethingif one wantsto haveany amusement in life. I happen to be serious aboutBunburying. What on earth you are serious about I haven't got theremotestidea. About everythingI should fancy. You have such anabsolutelytrivial nature.
JACK. Wellthe only small satisfaction I have in the whole ofthiswretched business is that your friend Bunbury is quiteexploded. You won't be able to run down to the country quite sooften asyou used to dodear Algy. And a very good thing too.
ALGERNON. Your brother is a little off colourisn't hedearJack? You won't be able to disappear to London quite so frequentlyas yourwicked custom was. And not a bad thing either.
JACK. As for your conduct towards Miss CardewI must say thatyourtaking in a sweetsimpleinnocent girl like that is quiteinexcusable. To say nothing of the fact that she is my ward.
ALGERNON. I can see no possible defence at all for your deceivingabrilliantcleverthoroughly experienced young lady like MissFairfax. To say nothing of the fact that she is my cousin.
JACK. I wanted to be engaged to Gwendolenthat is all. I loveher.
ALGERNON. WellI simply wanted to be engaged to Cecily. I adoreher.
JACK. There is certainly no chance of your marrying Miss Cardew.
ALGERNON. I don't think there is much likelihoodJackof you andMissFairfax being united.
JACK. Wellthat is no business of yours.
ALGERNON. If it was my businessI wouldn't talk about it.[Beginsto eat muffins.] It is very vulgar to talk about one'sbusiness. Only people like stock-brokers do thatand then merelyat dinnerparties.
JACK. How can you sit therecalmly eating muffins when we are inthishorrible troubleI can't make out. You seem to me to beperfectlyheartless.
ALGERNON. WellI can't eat muffins in an agitated manner. Thebutterwould probably get on my cuffs. One should always eatmuffinsquite calmly. It is the only way to eat them.
JACK. I say it's perfectly heartless your eating muffins at allunder thecircumstances.
ALGERNON. When I am in troubleeating is the only thing thatconsolesme. Indeedwhen I am in really great troubleas any onewho knowsme intimately will tell youI refuse everything exceptfood anddrink. At the present moment I am eating muffins becauseI amunhappy. BesidesI am particularly fond of muffins.[Rising.]
JACK. [Rising.] Wellthat is no reason why you shouldeat themall inthat greedy way. [Takes muffins from ALGERNON.]
ALGERNON. [Offering tea-cake.] I wish you would havetea-cakeinstead. I don't like tea-cake.
JACK. Good heavens! I suppose a man may eat his own muffins inhis owngarden.
ALGERNON. But you have just said it was perfectly heartless to eatmuffins.
JACK. I said it was perfectly heartless of youunder thecircumstances. That is a very different thing.
ALGERNON. That may be. But the muffins are the same. [He seizesthemuffin-dish from JACK.]
JACK. AlgyI wish to goodness you would go.
ALGERNON. You can't possibly ask me to go without having somedinner. It's absurd. I never go without my dinner. No one everdoesexcept vegetarians and people like that. Besides I have justmadearrangements with Dr. Chasuble to be christened at a quarterto sixunder the name of Ernest.
JACK. My dear fellowthe sooner you give up that nonsense thebetter. I made arrangements this morning with Dr. Chasuble to bechristenedmyself at 5.30and I naturally will take the name ofErnest. Gwendolen would wish it. We can't both be christenedErnest. It's absurd. BesidesI have a perfect right to bechristenedif I like. There is no evidence at all that I have everbeenchristened by anybody. I should think it extremely probable Inever wasand so does Dr. Chasuble. It is entirely different inyourcase. You have been christened already.
ALGERNON. Yesbut I have not been christened for years.
JACK. Yesbut you have been christened. That is the importantthing.
ALGERNON. Quite so. So I know my constitution can stand it. Ifyou arenot quite sure about your ever having been christenedImust say Ithink it rather dangerous your venturing on it now. Itmight makeyou very unwell. You can hardly have forgotten thatsome onevery closely connected with you was very nearly carriedoff thisweek in Paris by a severe chill.
JACK. Yesbut you said yourself that a severe chill was nothereditary.
ALGERNON. It usen't to beI know - but I daresay it is now.Science isalways making wonderful improvements in things.
JACK. [Picking up the muffin-dish.] Ohthat is nonsense; youarealwaystalking nonsense.
ALGERNON. Jackyou are at the muffins again! I wish youwouldn't. There are only two left. [Takes them.] I told youIwasparticularly fond of muffins.
JACK. But I hate tea-cake.
ALGERNON. Why on earth then do you allow tea-cake to be served upfor yourguests? What ideas you have of hospitality!
JACK. Algernon! I have already told you to go. I don't want youhere. Why don't you go!
ALGERNON. I haven't quite finished my tea yet! and there is stillone muffinleft. [JACK groansand sinks into a chair. ALGERNONstillcontinues eating.]
SCENE -Morning-room at the Manor House.
[GWENDOLENand CECILY are at the windowlooking out into thegarden.]
GWENDOLEN. The fact that they did not follow us at once into thehouseasany one else would have doneseems to me to show thatthey havesome sense of shame left.
CECILY. They have been eating muffins. That looks likerepentance.
GWENDOLEN. [After a pause.] They don't seem to notice us at all.Couldn'tyou 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 JACKfollowedby ALGERNON. They whistle some dreadful popular air fromaBritish Opera.]
GWENDOLEN. This dignified silence seems to produce an unpleasanteffect.
CECILY. A most distasteful one.
GWENDOLEN. But we will not be the first to speak.
CECILY. Certainly not.
GWENDOLEN. Mr. WorthingI have something very particular to askyou. Much depends on your reply.
CECILY. Gwendolenyour common sense is invaluable. Mr.Moncrieffkindly answer me the following question. Why did youpretend tobe my guardian's brother?
ALGERNON. In order that I might have an opportunity of meetingyou.
CECILY. [To GWENDOLEN.] That certainly seems a satisfactoryexplanationdoes it not?
GWENDOLEN. Yesdearif you can believe him.
CECILY. I don't. But that does not affect the wonderful beauty ofhisanswer.
GWENDOLEN. True. In matters of grave importancestylenotsincerityis the vital thing. Mr. Worthingwhat explanation canyou offerto me for pretending to have a brother? Was it in orderthat youmight have an opportunity of coming up to town to see meas oftenas possible?
JACK. Can you doubt itMiss Fairfax?
GWENDOLEN. I have the gravest doubts upon the subject. But Iintend tocrush them. This is not the moment for Germanscepticism. [Moving to CECILY.] Their explanations appear tobequitesatisfactoryespecially Mr. Worthing's. That seems to me tohave thestamp of truth upon it.
CECILY. I am more than content with what Mr. Moncrieff said. Hisvoicealone 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 stakethat onecannot surrender. Which of us should tell them? The taskis not apleasant one.
CECILY. Could we not both speak at the same time?
GWENDOLEN. An excellent idea! I nearly always speak at the sametime asother people. Will you take the time from me?
CECILY. Certainly. [GWENDOLEN beats time with uplifted finger.]
GWENDOLENand CECILY [Speaking together.] Your Christian names arestill aninsuperable barrier. That is all!
JACK andALGERNON [Speaking together.] Our Christiannames! Isthat all? But we are going to be christened this afternoon.
GWENDOLEN. [To JACK.] For my sake you are prepared to do thisterriblething?
JACK. I am.
CECILY. [To ALGERNON.] To please me you are ready to face thisfearfulordeal?
ALGERNON. I am!
GWENDOLEN. How absurd to talk of the equality of the sexes! Wherequestionsof self-sacrifice are concernedmen are infinitelybeyond us.
JACK. We are. [Clasps hands with ALGERNON.]
CECILY. They have moments of physical courage of which we womenknowabsolutely nothing.
GWENDOLEN. [To JACK.] Darling!
ALGERNON. [To CECILY.] Darling! [They fall intoeach other'sarms.]
[EnterMERRIMAN. When he enters he coughs loudlyseeing thesituation.]
MERRIMAN. Ahem! Ahem! Lady Bracknell!
JACK. Good heavens!
[EnterLADY BRACKNELL. The couples separate in alarm. ExitMERRIMAN.]
LADYBRACKNELL. Gwendolen! What does this mean?
GWENDOLEN. Merely that I am engaged to be married to Mr. Worthingmamma.
LADYBRACKNELL. Come here. Sit down. Sit downimmediately.Hesitationof any kind is a sign of mental decay in the youngofphysicalweakness in the old. [Turns to JACK.] Apprisedsirofmydaughter's sudden flight by her trusty maidwhose confidence Ipurchasedby means of a small coinI followed her at once by aluggagetrain. Her unhappy father isI am glad to sayunder theimpressionthat she is attending a more than usually lengthylecture bythe University Extension Scheme on the Influence of apermanentincome on Thought. I do not propose to undeceive him.Indeed Ihave never undeceived him on any question. I wouldconsiderit wrong. But of courseyou will clearly understand thatallcommunication between yourself and my daughter must ceaseimmediatelyfrom this moment. On this pointas indeed on allpointsIam firm.
JACK. I am engaged to be married to Gwendolen Lady Bracknell!
LADYBRACKNELL. You are nothing of the kindsir. And nowasregardsAlgernon! . . . Algernon!
ALGERNON. YesAunt Augusta.
LADYBRACKNELL. May I ask if it is in this house that your invalidfriend Mr.Bunbury resides?
ALGERNON. [Stammering.] Oh! No! Bunbury doesn't livehere.Bunbury issomewhere else at present. In factBunbury is dead
LADYBRACKNELL. Dead! When did Mr. Bunbury die? Hisdeath musthave beenextremely sudden.
ALGERNON. [Airily.] Oh! I killed Bunbury this afternoon. I meanpoorBunbury died this afternoon.
LADYBRACKNELL. What did he die of?
ALGERNON. Bunbury? Ohhe was quite exploded.
LADYBRACKNELL. Exploded! Was he the victim of a revolutionaryoutrage? I was not aware that Mr. Bunbury was interested in sociallegislation. If sohe is well punished for his morbidity.
ALGERNON. My dear Aunt AugustaI mean he was found out! Thedoctorsfound out that Bunbury could not livethat is what I mean- soBunbury died.
LADYBRACKNELL. He seems to have had great confidence in theopinion ofhis physicians. I am gladhoweverthat he made up hismind atthe last to some definite course of actionand acted underpropermedical advice. And now that we have finally got rid ofthis Mr.Bunburymay I askMr. Worthingwho is that young personwhose handmy nephew Algernon is now holding in what seems to me apeculiarlyunnecessary manner?
JACK. That lady is Miss Cecily Cardewmy ward. [LADY BRACKNELLbowscoldly to CECILY.]
ALGERNON. I am engaged to be married to CecilyAunt Augusta.
LADYBRACKNELL. I beg your pardon?
CECILY. Mr. Moncrieff and I are engaged to be marriedLadyBracknell.
LADYBRACKNELL. [With a shivercrossing to the sofa and sittingdown.] I do not know whether there is anything peculiarly excitingin the airof this particular part of Hertfordshirebut the numberofengagements that go on seems to me considerably above the properaveragethat statistics have laid down for our guidance. I thinksomepreliminary inquiry on my part would not be out of place. Mr.Worthingis Miss Cardew at all connected with any of the largerrailwaystations in London? I merely desire information. UntilyesterdayI had no idea that there were any families or personswhoseorigin was a Terminus. [JACK looks perfectly furiousbutrestrainshimself.]
JACK. [In a clearcold voice.] Miss Cardew is thegrand-daughterof thelate Mr. Thomas Cardew of 149 Belgrave SquareS.W.; GervaseParkDorkingSurrey; and the SporranFifeshireN.B.
LADYBRACKNELL. That sounds not unsatisfactory. Threeaddressesalwaysinspire confidenceeven in tradesmen. But what proof haveI of theirauthenticity?
JACK. I have carefully preserved the Court Guides of the period.They areopen to your inspectionLady Bracknell.
LADYBRACKNELL. [Grimly.] I have known strange errorsin thatpublication.
JACK. Miss Cardew's family solicitors are Messrs. MarkbyMarkbyandMarkby.
LADYBRACKNELL. MarkbyMarkbyand Markby? A firm of the veryhighestposition in their profession. Indeed I am told that one ofthe Mr.Markby's is occasionally to be seen at dinner parties. Sofar I amsatisfied.
JACK. [Very irritably.] How extremely kind of youLadyBracknell! I have also in my possessionyou will be pleased tohearcertificates of Miss Cardew's birthbaptismwhooping coughregistrationvaccinationconfirmationand the measles; both theGerman andthe English variety.
LADYBRACKNELL. Ah! A life crowded with incidentI see; thoughperhapssomewhat too exciting for a young girl. I am not myself infavour ofpremature experiences. [Riseslooks at her watch.]Gwendolen!the time approaches for our departure. We have not amoment tolose. As a matter of formMr. WorthingI had betterask you ifMiss Cardew has any little fortune?
JACK. Oh! about a hundred and thirty thousand pounds in the Funds.That isall. GoodbyeLady Bracknell. So pleased to have seenyou.
LADYBRACKNELL. [Sitting down again.] A momentMr.Worthing. Ahundredand thirty thousand pounds! And in the Funds! Miss Cardewseems tome a most attractive young ladynow that I look at her.Few girlsof the present day have any really solid qualitiesanyof thequalities that lastand improve with time. We liveIregret tosayin an age of surfaces. [To CECILY.] Come overheredear. [CECILY goes across.] Pretty child! yourdress issadlysimpleand your hair seems almost as Nature might have leftit. But we can soon alter all that. A thoroughly experiencedFrenchmaid produces a really marvellous result in a very briefspace oftime. I remember recommending one to young Lady Lancingand afterthree months her own husband did not know her.
JACK. And after six months nobody knew her.
LADYBRACKNELL. [Glares at JACK for a few moments. Thenbendswith apractised smileto CECILY.] Kindly turn roundsweetchild. [CECILY turns completely round.] Nothe side viewis whatI want. [CECILY presents her profile.] Yesquite as I expected.There aredistinct social possibilities in your profile. The twoweakpoints in our age are its want of principle and its want ofprofile. The chin a little higherdear. Style largely depends onthe waythe chin is worn. They are worn very highjust atpresent. Algernon!
ALGERNON. YesAunt Augusta!
LADYBRACKNELL. There are distinct social possibilities in MissCardew'sprofile.
ALGERNON. Cecily is the sweetestdearestprettiest girl in thewholeworld. And I don't care twopence about social possibilities.
LADYBRACKNELL. Never speak disrespectfully of SocietyAlgernon.Onlypeople who can't get into it do that. [To CECILY.] Dearchildofcourse you know that Algernon has nothing but his debtsto dependupon. But I do not approve of mercenary marriages. WhenI marriedLord Bracknell I had no fortune of any kind. But I neverdreamedfor a moment of allowing that to stand in my way. WellIsuppose Imust give my consent.
ALGERNON. Thank youAunt Augusta.
LADYBRACKNELL. Cecilyyou may kiss me!
CECILY. [Kisses her.] Thank youLady Bracknell.
LADYBRACKNELL. You may also address me as Aunt Augusta for thefuture.
CECILY. Thank youAunt Augusta.
LADYBRACKNELL. The marriageI thinkhad better take place quitesoon.
ALGERNON. Thank youAunt Augusta.
CECILY. Thank youAunt Augusta.
LADYBRACKNELL. To speak franklyI am not in favour of longengagements. They give people the opportunity of finding out eachother'scharacter before marriagewhich I think is neveradvisable.
JACK. I beg your pardon for interrupting youLady Bracknellbutthisengagement is quite out of the question. I am Miss Cardew'sguardianand she cannot marry without my consent until she comesof age. That consent I absolutely decline to give.
LADYBRACKNELL. Upon what grounds may I ask? Algernon is anextremelyI may almost say an ostentatiouslyeligible young man.He hasnothingbut he looks everything. What more can one desire?
JACK. It pains me very much to have to speak frankly to youLadyBracknellabout your nephewbut the fact is that I do not approveat all ofhis moral character. I suspect him of being untruthful.[ALGERNONand CECILY look at him in indignant amazement.]
LADYBRACKNELL. Untruthful! My nephew Algernon? Impossible! Heis anOxonian.
JACK. I fear there can be no possible doubt about the matter.Thisafternoon during my temporary absence in London on animportantquestion of romancehe obtained admission to my house bymeans ofthe false pretence of being my brother. Under an assumedname hedrankI've just been informed by my butleran entire pintbottle ofmy Perrier-JouetBrut'89; wine I was speciallyreservingfor myself. Continuing his disgraceful deceptionhesucceededin the course of the afternoon in alienating theaffectionsof my only ward. He subsequently stayed to teaanddevouredevery single muffin. And what makes his conduct all themoreheartless isthat he was perfectly well aware from the firstthat Ihave no brotherthat I never had a brotherand that Idon'tintend to have a brothernot even of any kind. I distinctlytold himso myself yesterday afternoon.
LADYBRACKNELL. Ahem! Mr. Worthingafter carefulconsideration Ihavedecided entirely to overlook my nephew's conduct to you.
JACK. That is very generous of youLady Bracknell. My owndecisionhoweveris unalterable. I decline to give my consent.
LADYBRACKNELL. [To CECILY.] Come heresweet child. [CECILYgoesover.] How old are youdear?
CECILY. WellI am really only eighteenbut I always admit totwentywhen I go to evening parties.
LADYBRACKNELL. You are perfectly right in making some slightalteration. Indeedno woman should ever be quite accurate abouther age. It looks so calculating . . . [In a meditative manner.]Eighteenbut admitting to twenty at evening parties. Wellitwill notbe very long before you are of age and free from therestraintsof tutelage. So I don't think your guardian's consentisafteralla matter of any importance.
JACK. Pray excuse meLady Bracknellfor interrupting you againbut it isonly fair to tell you that according to the terms of hergrandfather'swill Miss Cardew does not come legally of age tillshe isthirty-five.
LADYBRACKNELL. That does not seem to me to be a grave objection.Thirty-fiveis a very attractive age. London society is full ofwomen ofthe very highest birth who haveof their own free choiceremainedthirty-five for years. Lady Dumbleton is an instance inpoint. To my own knowledge she has been thirty-five ever since shearrived atthe age of fortywhich was many years ago now. I seeno reasonwhy our dear Cecily should not be even still moreattractiveat the age you mention than she is at present. Therewill be alarge accumulation of property.
CECILY. Algycould you wait for me till I was thirty-five?
ALGERNON. Of course I couldCecily. You know I could.
CECILY. YesI felt it instinctivelybut I couldn't wait all thattime. I hate waiting even five minutes for anybody. It alwaysmakes merather cross. I am not punctual myselfI knowbut I dolikepunctuality in othersand waitingeven to be marriedisquite outof the question.
ALGERNON. Then what is to be doneCecily?
CECILY. I don't knowMr. Moncrieff.
LADYBRACKNELL. My dear Mr. Worthingas Miss Cardew statespositivelythat she cannot wait till she is thirty-five - a remarkwhich I ambound to say seems to me to show a somewhat impatientnature - Iwould beg of you to reconsider your decision.
JACK. But my dear Lady Bracknellthe matter is entirely in yourownhands. The moment you consent to my marriage with GwendolenIwill mostgladly allow your nephew to form an alliance with myward.
LADYBRACKNELL. [Rising and drawing herself up.] Youmust bequiteaware that what you propose is out of the question.
JACK. Then a passionate celibacy is all that any of us can lookforwardto.
LADYBRACKNELL. That is not the destiny I propose for Gwendolen.Algernonof coursecan choose for himself. [Pulls out herwatch.] Comedear [GWENDOLEN rises] we have already missed fiveif notsixtrains. To miss any more might expose us to comment ontheplatform.
CHASUBLE. Everything is quite ready for the christenings.
LADYBRACKNELL. The christeningssir! Is not that somewhatpremature?
CHASUBLE. [Looking rather puzzledand pointing to JACK andALGERNON.] Both these gentlemen have expressed a desire forimmediatebaptism.
LADYBRACKNELL. At their age? The idea is grotesque andirreligious! AlgernonI forbid you to be baptized. I will nothear ofsuch excesses. Lord Bracknell would be highly displeasedif helearned that that was the way in which you wasted your timeand money.
CHASUBLE. Am I to understand then that there are to he nochristeningsat all this afternoon?
JACK. I don't think thatas things are nowit would be of muchpracticalvalue to either of usDr. Chasuble.
CHASUBLE. I am grieved to hear such sentiments from youMr.Worthing. They savour of the heretical views of the Anabaptistsviews thatI have completely refuted in four of my unpublishedsermons. Howeveras your present mood seems to be one peculiarlysecularIwill return to the church at once. IndeedI have justbeeninformed by the pew-opener that for the last hour and a halfMiss Prismhas been waiting for me in the vestry.
LADYBRACKNELL. [Starting.] Miss Prism! Did Ibear you mention aMissPrism?
CHASUBLE. YesLady Bracknell. I am on my way to join her.
LADYBRACKNELL. Pray allow me to detain you for a moment. Thismatter mayprove to be one of vital importance to Lord Bracknellandmyself. Is this Miss Prism a female of repellent aspectremotelyconnected with education?
CHASUBLE. [Somewhat indignantly.] She is the most cultivated ofladiesand the very picture of respectability.
LADYBRACKNELL. It is obviously the same person. May I askwhatpositionshe holds in your household?
CHASUBLE. [Severely.] I am a celibatemadam.
JACK. [Interposing.] Miss PrismLady Bracknellhas been forthelast threeyears Miss Cardew's esteemed governess and valuedcompanion.
LADYBRACKNELL. In spite of what I hear of herI must see her atonce. Let her be sent for.
CHASUBLE. [Looking off.] She approaches; she is nigh.
[EnterMISS PRISM hurriedly.]
MISSPRISM. I was told you expected me in the vestrydear Canon.I havebeen waiting for you there for an hour and three-quarters.[Catchessight of LADY BRACKNELLwho has fixed her with a stonyglare. MISS PRISM grows pale and quails. She looks anxiouslyroundas if desirous to escape.]
LADYBRACKNELL. [In a severejudicial voice.] Prism! [MISSPRISMbows her head in shame.] Come herePrism! [MISSPRISMapproachesin a humble manner.] Prism! Where is that baby?[Generalconsternation. The CANON starts back in horror. ALGERNONandJACK pretend to be anxious to shield CECILY and GWENDOLEN fromhearingthe details of a terrible public scandal.] Twenty-eightyears agoPrismyou left Lord Bracknell's houseNumber 104UpperGrosvenor Streetin charge of a perambulator that containeda baby ofthe male sex. You never returned. A few weeks laterthroughthe elaborate investigations of the Metropolitan policetheperambulator was discovered at midnightstanding by itself ina remotecorner of Bayswater. It contained the manuscript of athree-volumenovel of more than usually revolting sentimentality.[MISSPRISM starts in involuntary indignation.] But the baby wasnotthere! [Every one looks at MISS PRISM.] Prism! Where is thatbaby? [A pause.]
MISSPRISM. Lady BracknellI admit with shame that I do not know.I onlywish I did. The plain facts of the case are these. On themorning ofthe day you mentiona day that is for ever branded onmy memoryI prepared as usual to take the baby out in itsperambulator. I had also with me a somewhat oldbut capacioushand-bagin which I had intended to place the manuscript of a workof fictionthat I had written during my few unoccupied hours. In amoment ofmental abstractionfor which I never can forgive myselfIdeposited the manuscript in the basinetteand placed the baby inthehand-bag.
JACK. [Who has been listening attentively.] But where did youdepositthe hand-bag?
MISSPRISM. Do not ask meMr. Worthing.
JACK. Miss Prismthis is a matter of no small importance to me.I insiston knowing where you deposited the hand-bag that containedthatinfant.
MISSPRISM. I left it in the cloak-room of one of the largerrailwaystations in London.
JACK. What railway station?
MISSPRISM. [Quite crushed.] Victoria. TheBrighton line.[Sinksinto a chair.]
JACK. I must retire to my room for a moment. Gwendolenwait herefor me.
GWENDOLEN. If you are not too longI will wait here for you allmy life. [Exit JACK in great excitement.]
CHASUBLE. What do you think this meansLady Bracknell?
LADYBRACKNELL. I dare not even suspectDr. Chasuble. I needhardlytell you that in families of high position strangecoincidencesare not supposed to occur. They are hardly consideredthe thing.
[Noisesheard overhead as if some one was throwing trunks about.Everyone looks up.]
CECILY. Uncle Jack seems strangely agitated.
CHASUBLE. Your guardian has a very emotional nature.
LADYBRACKNELL. This noise is extremely unpleasant. It soundsasif he washaving an argument. I dislike arguments of any kind.They arealways vulgarand often convincing.
CHASUBLE. [Looking up.] It has stopped now. [The noise isredoubled.]
LADYBRACKNELL. I wish he would arrive at some conclusion.
GWENDOLEN. This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.[EnterJACK with a hand-bag of black leather in his hand.]
JACK. [Rushing over to MISS PRISM.] Is this the handbagMissPrism? Examine it carefully before you speak. The happiness ofmore thanone life depends on your answer.
MISSPRISM. [Calmly.] It seems to be mine. Yeshere is theinjury itreceived through the upsetting of a Gower Street omnibusin youngerand happier days. Here is the stain on the liningcaused bythe explosion of a temperance beveragean incident thatoccurredat Leamington. And hereon the lockare my initials. Ihadforgotten that in an extravagant mood I had had them placedthere. The bag is undoubtedly mine. I am delighted to have it sounexpectedlyrestored to me. It has been a great inconveniencebeingwithout it all these years.
JACK. [In a pathetic voice.] Miss Prismmore is restored toyouthan thishand-bag. I was the baby you placed in it.
MISSPRISM. [Amazed.] You?
JACK. [Embracing her.] Yes . . . mother!
MISSPRISM. [Recoiling in indignant astonishment.] Mr.Worthing!I amunmarried
JACK. Unmarried! I do not deny that is a serious blow. Butafterallwhohas the right to cast a stone against one who hassuffered? Cannot repentance wipe out an act of folly? Why shouldthere beone law for menand another for women? MotherI forgiveyou. [Tries to embrace her again.]
MISSPRISM. [Still more indignant.] Mr. Worthingthereis someerror. [Pointing to LADY BRACKNELL.] There is the lady who cantell youwho you really are.
JACK. [After a pause.] Lady BracknellI hate to seeminquisitivebut would you kindly inform me who I am?
LADYBRACKNELL. I am afraid that the news I have to give you willnotaltogether please you. You are the son of my poor sisterMrs.Moncrieffand consequently Algernon's elder brother.
JACK. Algy's elder brother! Then I have a brother after all. Iknew I hada brother! I always said I had a brother! Cecily-how couldyou have ever doubted that I had a brother? [Seizes holdofALGERNON.] Dr. Chasublemy unfortunate brother. MissPrismmyunfortunate brother. Gwendolenmy unfortunate brother. Algyyou youngscoundrelyou will have to treat me with more respect inthefuture. You have never behaved to me like a brother in allyour life.
ALGERNON. Wellnot till to-dayold boyI admit. I did my besthoweverthough I was out of practice.
GWENDOLEN. [To JACK.] My own! But what own are you? What isyourChristian namenow that you have become some one else?
JACK. Good heavens! . . . I had quite forgotten that point. Yourdecisionon the subject of my name is irrevocableI suppose?
GWENDOLEN. I never changeexcept in my affections.
CECILY. What a noble nature you haveGwendolen!
JACK. Then the question had better be cleared up at once. AuntAugustaamoment. At the time when Miss Prism left me in thehand-baghad I been christened already?
LADYBRACKNELL. Every luxury that money could buyincludingchristeninghad been lavished on you by your fond and dotingparents.
JACK. Then I was christened! That is settled. Nowwhat namewasI given? Let me know the worst.
LADYBRACKNELL. Being the eldest son you were naturally christenedafter yourfather.
JACK. [Irritably.] Yesbut what was my father's Christianname?
LADYBRACKNELL. [Meditatively.] I cannot at the presentmomentrecallwhat the General's Christian name was. But I have no doubthe hadone. He was eccentricI admit. But only in later years.And thatwas the result of the Indian climateand marriageandindigestionand other things of that kind.
JACK. Algy! Can't you recollect what our father's Christian namewas?
ALGERNON. My dear boywe were never even on speaking terms. Hediedbefore I was a year old.
JACK. His name would appear in the Army Lists of the periodIsupposeAunt Augusta?
LADYBRACKNELL. The General was essentially a man of peaceexceptin hisdomestic life. But I have no doubt his name would appear inanymilitary directory.
JACK. The Army Lists of the last forty years are here. Thesedelightfulrecords should have been my constant study. [Rushes tobookcaseand tears the books out.] M. Generals . . . MallamMaxbohmMagleywhat ghastly names they have - MarkbyMigsbyMobbsMoncrieff! Lieutenant 1840CaptainLieutenant-ColonelColonelGeneral 1869Christian namesErnest John. [Puts bookveryquietly down and speaks quite calmly.] I always told youGwendolenmy name was Ernestdidn't I? Wellit is Ernest afterall. I mean it naturally is Ernest.
LADYBRACKNELL. YesI remember now that the General was calledErnestIknew I had some particular reason for disliking the name.
GWENDOLEN. Ernest! My own Ernest! I felt from the first that youcould haveno other name!
JACK. Gwendolenit is a terrible thing for a man to find outsuddenlythat all his life he has been speaking nothing but thetruth. Can you forgive me?
GWENDOLEN. I can. For I feel that you are sure to change.
JACK. My own one!
CHASUBLE. [To MISS PRISM.] Laetitia! [Embraces her]
MISSPRISM. [Enthusiastically.] Frederick! Atlast!
ALGERNON. Cecily! [Embraces her.] At last!
JACK. Gwendolen! [Embraces her.] At last!
LADYBRACKNELL. My nephewyou seem to be displaying signs oftriviality.
JACK. On the contraryAunt AugustaI've now realised for thefirst timein my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest.