Three-Act Texts


The following list of three-act texts of The Importance of Being Earnest includes all extant typescripts plus a selection of early printed editions and special items referred to in the introductory essay on the text. In the case of the four typescripts used to prepare the present reconstructive edition, short working titles used in discussions of the text and abbreviations used in the textual collation are added parenthetically. The list follows as much of a chronological order as sometimes fragmentary knowledge permits. Typescripts are ribbon copies unless otherwise indicated. Printed texts listed in Stuart Mason's bibliography of Wilde are identified with the number assigned by Mason. For a list of the four-act texts of the play see Ruth Berggren's Ph.D. dissertation (Intro., lxxv-lxxix). For additional early printed texts, see Mason. For a list of archives and their abbreviations as used below, see CONVENTIONS AND ABBREVIATIONS.


I. Extant Manuscripts

(1) LADY LANCING. A SERIOUS COMEDY FOR TRIVIAL PEOPLE. By OSCAR WILDE. Typescript. Acts separately paginated. T.p. stamped "St. James's Theatre". Lord Chamberlain's label pasted on: "Name of Play 'The Importance of being Earnest' Comedy (4 acts) / Theatre St. James's / Date of Licence January 30, 1895". Stamped "Miss Dickens's Type Writing Office, / 3, TAVISTOCK STREET, / WELLINGTON STREET, / STRAND, W.C." and "30 January 1895". The Lord Chamberlain's licensing copy. Dept. of Manuscripts, BL. Add. MS. 53567(17). (Lord Chamberlain / licensing copy [LC])

(2) "THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST": A SERIOUS COMEDY FOR TRIVIAL PEOPLE BY OSCAR WILDE. Typescript. Acts separately paginated. Printed seal, "ROSENFIELD STENOGRAPHY AND TYPEWRITING / 49 WEST 26th ST / 27 PINE ST / NEW YORK CITY", pasted on blank leaf at end. Stamped "FROM CHARLES FROHMAN, / EMPIRE THEATRE BUILDING, / BROADWAY & 40th STREET, / NEW YORK". Arents. (Arents-Frohman [AF])

(3) THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. Typescript. Acts separately paginated. Stamped "LATEST CORRECT COPY", "Z and L ROSENFIELD" [typists], and "FROM CHARLES FROHMAN". Promptbook. Lincoln Center.

(4) THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. Typescript. Acts separately paginated. Carbon copy of previous item, bound in with and preceding it; a few retypings in ribbon. Stamped "Z and L ROSENFIELD" [typists] and "FROM CHARLES FROHMAN". Annotated. Lincoln Center.

(5) THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. Typescript. Acts separately paginated. Stamped "BURNSIDE-FROHMAN COLLECTION" on flyleaf. Lightly annotated. Lincoln Center.

(6) THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. Typescript. Acts separately paginated. Stamped "MISS DICKENS'S TYPE-WRITING OFFICE / 3, TAVISTOCK STREET, COVENT GARDEN" in Act II and Act III. Stamped "FROM CHARLES FROHMAN". Typewritten legend "Duplicate carbon copy" on verso facing dramatis personae. [This item is a ribbon copy; the typist may have dutifully replicated what was in fact an instruction.] Lincoln Center.

(7) THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. A Serious Comedy for Trivial People By OSCAR WILDE. Acts separately paginated. Stamped "Miss Dickens's Type Writing Office / 3, TAVISTOCK STREET, / WELLINGTON STREET, / STRAND, W.C." in front matter and on verso opposite Act II and Act III. Bookplate of George Alexander on flyleaf. Endorsed in Alexander's hand "George Alexander: Private Copy. If found please return to St. James's Theatre SW". Annotated by several hands. A rehearsal copy. HTC. (Harvard-Dickens [HD])

(8) "THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST". A Serious Comedy for Trivial People By OSCAR WILDE. Typescript. Acts separately paginated. With the typewritten legend "Typed by MISS WINIFRED DOLAN, 1 HURLINGHAM MANSIONS, FULHAM. S.W." on blank leaf at end. Annotated in Wilde's hand. Copy-text for first edition. Arents. (Arents-Dolan [AD])


II. Selected Printed Texts and Special Copies


(1) Page proof for the first edition (see the following item). Bearing embossed imprint "Chiswick Press 20 & 21 Tooks Court Chancery Lane E C". Corrections in Wilde's hand. HRC.

(2) The Importance of Being Earnest[:] A Trivial Comedy for Serious People by the Author of Lady Windermere's Fan[.] London: Leonard Smithers, 1899. First edition.

(3) Copy of previous item. George Alexander's copy, with his bookplate (same as in I.(7) above) on flyleaf. Annotated in Alexander's hand and one other. Beinecke.

(4) The Importance of Being Earnest. A Trivial Comedy for Serious People. By Oscar Wilde. Copyright, October 1893 [sic]. All Rights Reserved. Entered at Stationers' Hall. Entered at the Library of Congress, Washington, U.S.A. London: Samuel French, Ltd., Publishers, 89, Strand. New York: Samuel French. Publishers, 24, West 22nd Street. [1902-5?] "The Dramatic Works of Oscar Wilde. No. 1" (wrapper). Mason 384.

(5) The George Alexander Birthday Book. London and New York: John Lane, 1903. Souvenir of 200th performance of Justin Huntly McCarthy's If I Were King at St. James's Theatre, 26 Feb. 1903. Quotations from plays produced by Alexander during his management, including Lady Windermere's Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest. Clark.

(6) The Importance of Being Earnest[:] A Trivial Comedy for Serious People by Oscar Wilde. Presented by Mr. George Alexander as a Souvenir of His Twentieth Year of Management of the St. James's Theatre February 1st, 1910. [London: Methuen, 1910].

(7) Promptbook. Made on a later copy of the French's acting edition (see item (4) and Mason 384). Uncertain date. Formerly in the possession of Allan Aynesworth. TM.