Sheridan's The School for Scandal and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest are plays of society life set in the rarefied world of the upper classes. They are of the genre - Society Dramas and Comedy of Manners, and are frivolous light comedies facilitating freedom to comment on the more difficult social/political issues; for example, the sexual "double standard- and the problem of the "fallen woman-. Debates surround these two plays. Should they be taken on their merits as a delightful pieces of wonderful trivia or are they altogether darker plays, satirising the upper classes?.
Sheridan and Wilde both use setting, costume and scenery to comment. They satirise social conventions. Their relationship with their audiences was a double-edged sword. Wilde loved and despised his audience and their class system. Sheridan's Lady Sneerwell embodies this backstabbing when she says, "I confess, I have since known no pleasure equal to reducing others to the level of my own injured reputation-. (The School for Scandal, Act 1, Scene 1, Page 6).
The society is concerned with surfaces rather than deep emotions/thoughts. The Importance of Being Earnest, focused on the elite, making fun of their absurdities and excesses, whilst revelling in their witty banter and rambunctious lives. One of the ways Wilde's wit manifests itself is in puns. The double meaning behind the word Earnest, which functions both as a male name and as an adjective describing seriousness. The play twists and turns around this theme, its characters lying in order to be "Earnest-, and then discovering that because of a number of remarkable circumstances they had in not in fact been lying at all. Much of British society struck Wilde as dry, stern, conservative, and so "earnestly- concerned with the maintenance of social norms and the status quo that it had become almost inhuman.
Lady Bracknell is the cog in the wheel; she fears change, insurrection, and the lower order taking over.