Spicing up the classics: Teaching "earnest-ness" with frivolity in modern film adaptations

Amy W S LEE*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


    This paper describes some of the ways we can use modern film adaptations of classics to teach a text which may feel "dated" and thus "irrelevant" to young students today. The example chosen for illustration is Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), a great comedy, but which language and expressions may seem archaic to native speakers of English, let alone to those who learn English as a second language. The paper will discuss the play in the context of two major film adaptations, the 1952 film version featuring Dame Edith Evans (who plays Lady Bracknell and whose exclamation of "handbag" is considered one of the most comic lines in the history of plays), and the 2002 version which features an equally star-studded cast of the time. The main aim of the presentation is to show how modern film adaptations can be employed for the teaching of a classic to students. In the present case, it is the teaching of an English classic to a group of Hong Kong students whose first language is not English, and who have no previous training in English literature. The paper suggests that in using not only one, but two different film adaptations of the written text, different aspects of the original text can be addressed and discussed as individual interpretations of the original, showing not only the film directors' individual responses to the original, but most probably demonstrating a change in the culture and attitudes towards different values addressed in the text. An obvious "progression" in the 50 years separating the two adaptations is the attitude to gender and sexual identity, as can be seen in the rather "liberal" adaptations in the 2002 film version. A comparison of the different adaptations can also help to illustrate how story-telling has changed because of the popularization of psychoanalysis and gender theory, and the development in communication technology. With the employment of film adaptations, the classic text can be taught not only as a literary work, but also part of popular culture and as a text in the general education curriculum.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)109-116
    Number of pages8
    JournalInternational Journal of Learning
    Issue number9
    Publication statusPublished - 2010

    Scopus Subject Areas

    • Education

    User-Defined Keywords

    • Film adaptations
    • Oscar wilde
    • Popular culture
    • The importance of being earnest


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