"The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde, Act III

Jack and Algernon are two bachelors who use false identities to get what they want—and get into trouble—in this comedy by Oscar Wilde. Read the full text here.

Here are links to our lists for the play: Act I, Act II, Act III

Here is a link to our lists for A Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. repentance
    remorse for your past conduct
    They have been eating muffins. That looks like repentance.
  2. effrontery
    audacious behavior that you have no right to
    They’re looking at us. What effrontery!
    "Effrontery" is synonymous with "affront" (although "affront" could also be used as a verb); both come from the Latin word "frons" meaning "face." Gwendolen is not actually upset at the men looking at them. A couple of moments earlier, she and Cecily had been looking out the window at the men, and Gwendolen was annoyed that the men were not facing them. Being ignored is more of an effrontery to Gwendolen.
  3. vital
    urgently needed; absolutely necessary
    In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing.
  4. credulity
    tendency to believe readily
    His voice alone inspires one with absolute credulity.
    "Credulity" is the noun form of "credulous" which means "showing a lack of judgment or experience"--this describes Cecily who believes that just the sound of Algernon's voice gives him credibility ("the quality of being believable or trustworthy"). Wilde has Cecily confuse "credulity" with "credibility" to show how credulous this eighteen-year-old country girl is.
  5. insuperable
    impossible to surmount
    Your Christian names are still an insuperable barrier.
  6. apprise
    make aware of
    Apprised, sir, of my daughter’s sudden flight by her trusty maid, whose confidence I purchased by means of a small coin, I followed her at once by a luggage train.
  7. cease
    But of course, you will clearly understand that all communication between yourself and my daughter must cease immediately from this moment.
  8. morbidity
    an abnormally gloomy or unhealthy state of mind
    If so, he is well punished for his morbidity.
    Lady Bracknell's definition of "morbidity" here is an interest in social legislation. This statement reveals the aristocratic woman's lack of concern for the lower classes, as well as an unfeeling attitude towards the death of her nephew's friend (whom she may suspect is not real). The points about explosion and social legislation allude to revolutionary attempts to overthrow kings--the most famous in England being Guy Fawkes' Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
  9. terminus
    either end of a railroad or bus route
    Until yesterday I had no idea that there were any families or persons whose origin was a Terminus.
    The joke here is partially due to the words "origin" and "terminus" which would be on opposite ends of a railroad route. But it also connects to Jack's true story of having been found in a handbag in a cloak-room of a railway station. Lady Bracknell is indirectly insulting Jack by using this opportunity, upon hearing of her nephew's engagement to Jack's ward, to question Cecily's origins.
  10. authenticity
    undisputed credibility
    Three addresses always inspire confidence, even in tradesmen. But what proof have I of their authenticity?
  11. solicitor
    a British lawyer who gives legal advice
    Miss Cardew’s family solicitors are Messrs. Markby, Markby, and Markby.
  12. distinct
    easy to perceive; especially clearly outlined
    There are distinct social possibilities in your profile.
    "Profile" here means "an outline of something, especially a face from the side" which is what Lady Bracknell is staring at as she makes this statement, which cannot possibly be an accurate profile ("analysis representing how something exhibits characteristics" or "a biographical sketch") of Cecily. Lady Bracknell sees what is distinctly in front of her, and her focus on the outline of a person's face emphasizes her lack of depth.
  13. mercenary
    profit oriented
    But I do not approve of mercenary marriages.
  14. advisable
    worthy of being recommended or suggested; prudent or wise
    To speak frankly, I am not in favour of long engagements. They give people the opportunity of finding out each other’s character before marriage, which I think is never advisable.
  15. ostentatious
    intended to attract notice and impress others
    Algernon is an extremely, I may almost say an ostentatiously, eligible young man.
  16. alienate
    arouse hostility or indifference in
    Continuing his disgraceful deception, he succeeded in the course of the afternoon in alienating the affections of my only ward.
  17. subsequently
    happening at a time later than another time
    He subsequently stayed to tea, and devoured every single muffin.
  18. unalterable
    not capable of being changed
    My own decision, however, is unalterable. I decline to give my consent.
  19. tutelage
    attention and management implying responsibility for safety
    Well, it will not be very long before you are of age and free from the restraints of tutelage.
  20. accumulation
    an increase by natural growth or addition
    I see no reason why our dear Cecily should not be even still more attractive at the age you mention than she is at present. There will be a large accumulation of property.
  21. punctuality
    the quality or habit of adhering to an appointed time
    I am not punctual myself, I know, but I do like punctuality in others, and waiting, even to be married, is quite out of the question.
  22. celibacy
    abstaining from sexual relations
    Then a passionate celibacy is all that any of us can look forward to.
  23. refute
    overthrow by argument, evidence, or proof
    They savour of the heretical views of the Anabaptists, views that I have completely refuted in four of my unpublished sermons.
    Dr. Chasuble scolds Jack for deciding against being rechristened and baptized (he no longer finds it necessary since Lady Bracknell refuses to allow him and Gwendolen to marry). In finding this attitude heretically similar to the Anabaptists who were persecuted for believing that one must believe in order to be baptized (therefore, rejecting infant baptisms), Dr. Chasuble is supporting baptism regardless of belief or practicality (which shows the superficiality of his religious beliefs).
  24. cultivated
    marked by refinement in taste and manners
    She is the most cultivated of ladies, and the very picture of respectability.
  25. interpose
    be or come between
    Jack. [ Interposing.] Miss Prism, Lady Bracknell, has been for the last three years Miss Cardew’s esteemed governess and valued companion.
  26. quail
    draw back, as with fear or pain
    [Catches sight of Lady Bracknell, who has fixed her with a stony glare. Miss Prism grows pale and quails. She looks anxiously round as if desirous to escape.]
  27. consternation
    sudden shock or dismay that causes confusion
    [General consternation. The Canon starts back in horror. Algernon and Jack pretend to be anxious to shield Cecily and Gwendolen from hearing the details of a terrible public scandal.]
  28. sentimentality
    extravagant or affected feeling or emotion
    It contained the manuscript of a three-volume novel of more than usually revolting sentimentality.
  29. capacious
    large in the amount that can be contained
    I had also with me a somewhat old, but capacious hand-bag in which I had intended to place the manuscript of a work of fiction that I had written during my few unoccupied hours.
  30. redouble
    double in magnitude, extent, or intensity
    It has stopped now. [The noise is redoubled.]
  31. inquisitive
    showing curiosity
    Lady Bracknell, I hate to seem inquisitive, but would you kindly inform me who I am?
  32. irrevocable
    incapable of being retracted
    Your decision on the subject of my name is irrevocable, I suppose?
  33. lavish
    bestow or expend profusely
    Every luxury that money could buy, including christening, had been lavished on you by your fond and doting parents.
  34. eccentric
    conspicuously or grossly unconventional or unusual
    He was eccentric, I admit. But only in later years. And that was the result of the Indian climate, and marriage, and indigestion, and other things of that kind.
  35. contrary
    exact opposition
    On the contrary, Aunt Augusta, I’ve now realised for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest.
    Jack is contradicting the statement: "My nephew, you seem to be displaying signs of triviality" but he is doing so in an affectionate way that is also evident in their addressing each other "nephew" and "aunt" instead of "Mr. Worthing" and "Lady Bracknell" (which is also due to the revelation that Jack is the long-lost son of Lady Bracknell's sister). In contradicting the statement, Jack is emphasizing his new identity that will allow him to pursue his heartfelt devotion to Gwendolen.

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