22 Pages

It begins by elevating the mannered and the arti-

So, Illingworth neatly distinguishes between two kinds of superficiality. The first accepts the 'violent hierarchy' of surface and depth and the associated valorization of the ethical above the aesthetic. The second, the profoundly superficial, purports to recognize a distinction between sentiment (depth) and style (surface), valorizing the latter above the former. At the profoundly superficial level of signs, this distinction appears to be legitimated by the difference between the natural (the flower) and the artificial (the knotted tie). However, both are signs within the field of sartorial meaning and their relationship to what they signify is entirely arbitrary, as Illingworth well knows - otherwise his fine discrimination would have no comic effect. Illingworth inverts the value-laden relationship between style and sentiment, only to collapse the distinction. The 'ethical beauty' of the play is that Illingworth's stylish pragmatism is vanquished by a moral code which has all the authenticity and purity of a buttonhole.26