A pun is “a play on words where there is a humorous effect by using a word that suggests two or more meanings.” This literary device usually changes the value of the sentence for a rhetorical effect.
Example: ” They’re approaching. That’s very forward of them.” (Wilde, Oscar, The Importance of Being Earnest 43)
Function: An example of this literary device in, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Cecily and Gwendolen are talking. Algernon and Jack walk into the room where Cecily and Gwendolen are at. The first meaning of this literary device is that Jack and Algernon are being up front by making the move. The second obvious meaning is that the two men are actually moving forward, “That’s very forward of them.” The word choice by using “approaching” and “forward” in the same sentence is what makes it become a pun. The use of puns engages his audience to keep them laughing and interested. Because this is a play, it is supposed to be heard and seen by live audience. With the use of puns, Oscar Wilde’s purpose is for his audience’s entertainment and helps add to the humorous tone. Oscar Wilde’s usage of puns helps to build on to the satirical tone in the play.
Definition: Literary device that includes the use of duplicating a word or phrase to make an idea clearer.
Example: Algernon- “What you really are is a Bunburyist. I was quite right in saying you were a Bunburyist. You are one of the most advanced Bunburyists I know.”
Jack- ” What on earth do you mean?”
Algeron- ” Bunbury is perfectly invaluable. If it wasn’t for Bunbury’s extraordinary bad health, for instance, I wouldn’t be able to dine with you at Willis’s to night, for I have been really engaged to Aunt Augusta for more than a week.” (Wilde, Oscar, The Importance of Being Earnest 6)
Function: This passage is when Algernon informs Jack the ways of the Bunburyist and how he already is one. Oscar Wilde’s purpose with the use of this device is to create humor to his audience. Throughout the play it is used multiple times and just by saying the word several times the word itself sounds comical already, “Bunburyist.” Algernon uses a fictional character who is named “Bunbury,” as a cover- up get out of certain situations. “I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury…” (Wilde, Oscar, The Importance of Being Earnest 6). With his use of this individuality, “Bunbury,” the word intensifies the humorous tone because these two grown men have invented characters to get what they want.
Term: Dramatic Irony
Definition: This type of irony is shown in situations of drama in where it is understood by the audience. Dramatic Irony is also when facts or some information is known by the audience.
Example: Lady Bracknell- ” You can hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dream of allowing our old daughter – a girl brought up with the utmost care – to marry into a cloak – room, and form an alliance with a parcel?” (Wilde, Oscar, The Importance of Being Earnest 15)
Function: Like the other literary devices, Oscar Wild uses this device to create humor. The use of Dramatic Irony enhances the satire. The example also shows how significant it was to be wealthy in the the Victorian society. It is understood in the play that marriage was more of an economic and social gain for families. When Jack proposed to Gwendolen, Lady Bracknell asked questions about his family background. However, once hearing that he was adopted and found in a handbag, she is scandalized and denies his proposal to Gwendolen. Gwendolen asks Jack for his address to be able to write him because they can never marry due to the social and wealth differences, however: she will always love him. At this point int the play, Lady Bracknell does not know that Gwendolyn will write him. Also, what is ironic is that Lady Bracknell was once in Jack’s situation and still married to gain wealth and high status. This hypocritical scene is what makes the example ironic.