The action of the comedy takes place in the London apartment of the young gentleman Algernon Moncrief, a descendant of an aristocratic family, and at the estate of his crony friend Jack Warding in Woolton, Hertfordshire.
Bored Algernon, waiting for his aunt Lady Bracknell to tea with the charming daughter of Gwendolen, exchanges lazy cues with his footman Lane, no less hedonist and amateur to philosophize. Unexpectedly, his loneliness is interrupted by the appearance of his longtime friend and constant opponent-opponent in all undertakings, the magistrate and the owner of the vast rural estate of Jack Warding. It soon becomes clear that, being fed up with secular and official duties (in the care of Wording, also an eighteen-year-old pupil), both act out the same game to the surrounding
“Only relatives and creditors call in Wagnerian way”, – says Algernon about those who came to visit his ladies. Taking the opportunity, Jack translates the conversation into matrimonial themes: he has long been in love with Gwendolen, but he does not dare to confess to the girl in his feelings. Distinguished by an excellent appetite and an equally indestructible propensity for loving intrigues, Algernon, custodian of his cousin, tries to portray an offended virtue; but here comes the unflappable, talkative Lady Bracknell, who leads the newly-born challenger to her daughter’s hand (she, endowed with remarkable practicality and common sense, has already given Mr. Wording the preliminary consent, adding that her life’s dream was to marry a man named Ernest: “There is something in this name that inspires absolute confidence” ) a real interrogation with an emphasis on the property aspects of his well-being. Everything goes well until it comes to the family tree of the magistrate. He admits with some embarrassment that he is a foundling,
“I highly recommend that you get relatives and do this before the end of the season,” advises Jack the unflappable Lady Bracknell; otherwise marriage with Gwendolen is impossible. Ladies are removed. However, after some time, Gwendolen will return and prudently write down the address of Mr. Warding’s estate in the province (information invaluable for Algerinon’s conversations, which are invisible to them, burning with the desire at all costs to get acquainted with the charming pupil of Jack Cecily – intention, in no way encouraged Warding, who worries about the moral perfection of her ward). Be that as it may, both pretend friends come to the conclusion that both Ernest’s “debauched younger brother” and “eternally ill Mr. Benbury” are gradually becoming an undesirable burden to them;
Fads, however, are not at all the prerogative of the stronger sex. For example, in the Warding estate over the textbooks of geography, political economy and German, the dreamy Cecily is bored, word for word repeating what Gwendolen said: “It was always my girlhood to marry a man called Ernest “. Moreover: she mentally became engaged to him and keeps a casket full of his love letters. And it is not surprising: her guardian, this boring pedant, so often with indignation remembers his “dissolute” brother, that he is drawn to her the embodiment of all virtues.
To the amazement of the girl, the object of her dreams appears in the flesh: of course, this is Algernon, who soberly calculated that his friend would stay for a few more days in London. From Cecily, he learns that the “severe elder brother” decided to send him for correction to Australia. Between young people is not so much a love affair, as a kind of verbal formulation of what dreamed and dreamed of. But Cecily does not have time to share the joyful news with the governess of Miss Prism and Jack’s neighbor Canon canon Chezubl, to sit down the guest for a plentiful village meal, as the owner of the estate appears. He is in deep mourning, and his look is sad. With proper solemnity, Jack announces to his children and his family about the untimely death of his unlucky brother. A “brother” – peeking out of the window…
But if this is a misunderstanding still manage somehow to settle by means of ecstatic spinster governess and good canon (to him something and appeal, both friend and rival, declaring, one by one, on the passionate desire to be baptized, and naming the same name : Ernest), then with the advent of the estate of Gwendolen, who claims to be unsuspecting Cecily, that she is engaged to Mr. Ernest Wording, there is total confusion. In support of her own rightness, she refers to an ad in London newspapers, the other to her diary. Only the alternate appearance of Jack Worthing (exposes innocent pupil, calling him Uncle Jack) and Algernon Moncrief, what ruthlessly exposes own cousin, brings a touch of confusion minds discouraged tranquility.
However, the offense of these gentle creatures is short. Learning that Jack, despite everything, intends to go through the rite of baptism, Gwendolen generously observes: “How foolish all the talk about gender equality.” When it comes to self-sacrifice, a man is immeasurably higher than us. “
From the city, suddenly appears Lady Bracknell, whom Algernon immediately spreads the glad tidings: he intends to marry with Cecily Cardew.
The reaction of the venerable lady is unexpected: she is definitely impressed by the pretty profile of the girl (“The two most vulnerable points of our time is the lack of principles and the lack of profile”) and her dowry, which is up to the origin… But then someone mentions the name of Miss Prism, and the lady Bracknell is alarmed. She certainly wants to see the eccentric governess and learn in her… the missing servant of her deceased sister, who disappeared twenty-eight years ago, guilty of losing her child (instead of him in an empty carriage found a manuscript of a three-volume novel, “to the nausea of the sentimental”). She humbly confesses that, by absent-mindedness, she put her child in the bag, entrusted to her, and handed her a bag to the storage room at the station.
Wake up at the word “bag” comes Jack’s turn. A few minutes later, he triumphantly demonstrates the household attribute in which he was found; and then it turns out that he is none other than the eldest son of a professional military man, the nephew of Lady Bracknell and, accordingly, the elder brother of Algernon Moncrief. Moreover, as the registration books show, at birth he was named after his father John Ernest. So, as if obeying the golden rule of a realistic drama, in the finale of the play all the rifles that appeared on view to the audience at its beginning are fired. However, the creator of this brilliant comedy was hardly thinking about these canons, trying to turn it into a true holiday for contemporaries and descendants.