Set in the late Victorian era, "The Importance of being Earnest" is a comedy of manners on the seriousness of Society.
Jack Worthing, an earnest and respectable land owner living in Hertfordshire, has created a very useful fictional wicked brother called Ernest. Ernest has adopted a reckless and dissolute lifestyle and often finds himself in the sort of difficulties that requires Jack's assistance. In reality, Ernest's irresponsible behaviour provides a pretext for Jack to escape his onerous lifestyle and visit his best friend, Algernon Moncrieff, in the fashionable quarter of London. It appears that Algernon has also invented a disabled friend, Burbary, whom he often "visits" in order to evade undesirable social engagements.
Jack is in love with Algernon's beautiful young cousin, Gwendolin Fairfax. While Jack is staying with Algernon, Gwendolin arrives unexpectedly in the wake of her formidable mother, Lady Bracknell. Jack takes the opportunity to propose to Gwendolin who, to his delight, happily accepts. Unfortunately, however, Lady Bracknell is less enthusiastic. She interviews Jack to assess his suitability as a future husband for her daughter and discovers, to her horror, that he has no knowledge of his real parents, having been discovered as a baby by his kindly guardian inside a handbag on the platform of Victoria Station.
After Lady Bracknell's hasty departure Algernon discovers that his friend Ernest is, in reality, Jack Worthing J.P. Algernon is also delighted to hear about Jack's young ward, Cecily Cardew, and resolves to make a surprise visit to Jack's Herfordshire residence, posing as his fictitious brother Ernest. Gwendolin, and later Lady Bracknall, also arrive unexpectedly. The scene is now set for mayhem and confusion. How will Cecily react to Algernon's amorous advances? Will Jack be able to discover his true identity and thereby win Lady Bracknell's approval?