Plays are generally better heard than read (I find Shakespeare dull as dirt to read, though I enjoy watching his plays), and that is certainly true of this Victorian comedy of misdirection and misunderstanding. Oscar Wilde was in full satiric mode though his humor was perhaps gentler than usual, even though he was sending up Victorian manners and hypocrisy.
Lady Bracknell. [Pencil and note-book in hand.] I feel bound to tell you that you are not down on my list of eligible young men, although I have the same list as the dear Duchess of Bolton has. We work together, in fact. However, I am quite ready to enter your name, should your answers be what a really affectionate mother requires. Do you smoke?
Jack. Well, yes, I must admit I smoke.
Lady Bracknell. I am glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation of some kind. There are far too many idle men in London as it is. How old are you?
Lady Bracknell. A very good age to be married at. I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing. Which do you know?
Jack. [After some hesitation.] I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.
Lady Bracknell. I am pleased to hear it. I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square. What is your income?
The plot is fairly simple: two young London rakes, Jack, aka "Earnest," and Algernon, aka "Bunbury," have been evading undesirable social engagements by making up alternate identities and/or relations for themselves. Unfortunately, this becomes a bit awkward when they both wish to become engaged. Hilarity ensues. The Importance of Being Earnest
is not just a play on words. It's a predecessor to the screwball comedies and set piece sitcoms of the 20th century; modern comedies probably owe much to Oscar Wilde.
Wilde's dialog is very witty and his characters ridiculous without going completely into the realm of farce. There are probably a lot of Victorian in-jokes that modern listeners don't get, but it's still funny even without knowing much more than the time period. Some authors can transcend the conventions of the time period in which they were writing, and Wilde remains funny even in the 21st century.
This free full-cast production from Audible is a great way to enjoy this play.