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The Way of the World Questions and Answers Marks-10/15

The Way of the World Questions and Answers Marks-10/15

 

1.  Discuss the themes presented in the play The Way of the World.

[The Way of the World Questions and Answers Marks-10/15]

The Way of the World by English playwright William Congreve premiered in London in 1700. Considered one of the best Restoration comedies, it is still performed occasionally today but was controversial in its time due to its bawdy themes and sexual explicitness, which had fallen out of favor in its time. Focused on the adventures of a pair of lovers, Mirabell and Millamant, the story follows their plan to marry and the many steps they must take to obtain the approval of Millamant’s bitter aunt, Lady Wishfort. At the same time, supporting characters, including friends, servants, and others, are engaging in their own schemes and affairs. Like many Restoration comedies, the play serves as a satire on the culture of its time. Its themes include criticism of high society and the niceties of courtship, as well as the nature of love and the role of money in marriage.

 

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Willem Congreve was an English playwright and poet of the Restoration period. Considered a great influence on the comedy of manners genre, he wrote five plays in his life: The Old Bachelor, The Double Dealer, Love for Love , and The Way of the World, all comedies, as well as the tragedy The Mourning Bride. All deal with similar themes of secrets, marriages, and inheritances. He was politically active, serving as an ambassador to Jamaica under King George I. He was an accomplished poet, and also translated the works of classic poets Homer, Juvenal, Ovid, and Horace. His work is still taught and studiet in drama courses in the English-speaking world.

 

In Congreve’s play, jealousy, deceit, and intrigue are important and interrelated plot devices that drive the action of the play by creating conflict between characters. In many ways, the play can be thought of like a competition between Mirabell and Fainall to deceive the other by means of opposing schemes to gain control of Lady Wishfort and her fortune. Each man is assisted in his plan to outdo the other. Fainall has one helper, his mistress, Mrs. Marwood, while several major and minor characters participate in Mirabell’s plan to win Millamant as his bride and retain her love and inheritance.

Congreve’s most duplicitous characters, those carrying on affairs and scheming against love because of their own unrequited love, are themselves the most jealous. Jealousy is a huge motivator for the adulterers, Fainall and Marwood, and Lady Wishfort to plot and scheme against Mirabell. Both Marwood and Wishfort start off in love with Mirabell, but because he does not return their sentiments, their all-consuming jealousy of him leads them to hate him and plot to ruin his future with Millamant. Fainall is also jealous of Mirabell because he fears his popularity with women, particularly that Marwood still loves Mirabell, and also because Mirabell threatens to gain some of Wishfort’s fortune by marrying Millamant.

In portraying how jealousy motivates these characters to behave as they do, Congreve develops several lessons about jealousy’s negative effects. In the end, all overly jealous characters end up not getting what they want: revenge against Mirabell. For Fainall, his lack of honesty causes him to distrust the honesty of others and doubt his mistress, which ultimately hurts his plan because he alienates his only ally. Marwood’s case is a lesson in what happens when one tries to thwart too many people at once. Though she wants to help Fainall secure Wishfort’s money, she also wants to get back at Mirabell by any means necessary. Her jealousy blinds her to the consequences of developing her own separate plans to prevent Mirabell’s marriage to Millamant. After suggesting to Lady Wishfort that Millamant marry Sir Rowland, her move threatens the success of Fainall’s plot and the couple has to work much harder to try to gain the fortune. Wishfort’s jealousy leads her to play right into the hands of both Fainall and Mirabell. So eager is she to hurt Mirabell and prevent him from marrying Millamant that she thinks she’s more in control of the situation thān she actually is. Instead of playing Mirabell, she gets played by other people, several of whom are below her station as a lady but are more than her superiors in wit, like Foible.

In contrast, though jealousy also affects Mirabell, he is not consumed by it and doesn’t feel threatened by the presence of Millamant’s other suitors. Consequently, he is able to keep two steps ahead of Fainall and gets Lady Wishfort to comply with his plan.

In addition to jealousy, deception and intrigue also contribute to the rising action that makes the play both engaging and suspenseful. As the main conflict between Mirabell and Fainall develops, it becomes clear that almost every character has something to hide. Deception is practiced in obvious ways, such as when characters don full-on disguises, like Mirabell’s servant, Waitwell, who pretends to be Sir Rowland, or when habitual liars, like Petulant, continue to tell tall tales. But Congreve also examines subtler forms of deception, including self-deception, like in the case of Lady Wishfort, who uses too much makeup to hide her age from her suitor, Sir Rowland, but also herself. Another subtler form of deception is psychological deception, a type of deception Marwood especially utilizes as she pretends to be Wishfort’s best friend while scheming for ways to steal her fortune, or when she convinces Fainall of her faithfulness even though she still cares for Mirabell.

Congreve even uses deception and intrigue to structure his play. The secret marriage of Foible and Waitwell (which occurs in the first act but is not explained until Act 2, Scene 4) and even Mrs. Fainall’s secret deed of conveyance to Mirabell, revealed at the end of the play, are examples of deception and intrigue that not only affect other characters within the play but also delight the unsuspecting audience/reader. Social Etiquette and Reputation.

A Comedy of Manners is named as such to call attention to one of its most central themes – manners, or social etiquette, and the comedy that can ensue because of the importance, especially to the upper class during the Restoration, of preserving one’s position in society. In the climax of the play, the actions and reactions largely stop being concerned with love or even money, and what Lady Wishfort seems to fear most is the loss of a good reputation for herself and her daughter. Much of the demonstrated love seen in the show – for example, Witwoud and Petulant’s love for Ms. Millamant – is done purely in hopes of raising one’s reputation. Fun is made of social etiquette, especially in the acting of Petulant, Sir Wilfull, and Sir Rowland, three characters that to varying degrees are unable to live up to upper-class standards, but must try to put on a show for others.

 

The question of a woman’s role in society is brought to the foreground in some progressive (and some not so) in The Way of the World. Like baking cookies, we are introduced to the mixing of the two gendered factions of Restoration society, men and women, separately before they are mixed together. The women, when we first meet them in early Act II, are discussing the need to find happiness in one another since men only provide a fickle, distrustful love that cannot be relied upon. However, the audience comes to realize that these women are not totally trusting of one another either; they love the same man and turn against each other in later schemes to ensure the romantic and monetary outcome they want. The freedoms a woman can have in and out of marriage are also shown and discussed in the play, from the famous “proviso scene” to Lady Wishfort’s ability to overlook Waitwell’s disguise for the chance to marry a man at an older age.

 

Marriage and adultery are of course main themes in The Way of the seems that characters have much more of a problem with the potential for a tainted reputation than with any moral or emotional imperative not to cheat on their spouse. This starts in the first place with the problem that, though the primary marriage being arranged in the play seems to be based on love, many of the marriages set in place before the play, like Mrs. Fainall’s marriage to Fainall, were done more tactically as ways to ensure money and reputation. A major conflict in the play too is who will have a claim to Ms. Milləmant’s inheritance, with Fainall attempting to leverage his wife’s apparent adultery to get the daim to her, and Ms. Millamant’s inheritance.

The women-women and men-men pairings, though originally posing as friends, join schemes against one another based mostly on money and reputation. As for womenmen pairings, we do not see many in the play that is not based on either mutual love or the love of one and disdain of the other. Certainly , friendship is as falsely fashionable and tactical as anything else in the play.

 

The characters in the play throw around invocation of God, as in “Ods”, all the time, but this is used basically as a flippant linguistic note, and often said colloquially in the same way people in contemporary society throw out “God bless you” without a thought. Mention is also made of drinking and religion, with reference to Islam. However, it is important to note that accusations of adultery do not seem to be based in religious morality , and women seem to keep in mind the ability to divorce (Mrs. Fainall seems largely undisturbed by the fact that she and Fainall cannot stay married after the play’s end),

 

Money and love are tied closely in The Way of the World, and perhaps as much as reputation, Lady Wishfort’s fate after the play rests on her being able to dole out inheritances appropriately. However, as members of the upper class, much regarding money is dealt with quite flippantly, like having dance performers over at the house or, early in the play, ordering chocolate and drinks. It is important to note that Ms. Millamant’s half-inheritance of 6,000 pounds would amount today to many, many thousands of dollars, making the point of multiple characters lusting after it was more clear.

 

The presence of two main classes in the play – upper class and servants attention to social class as a theme in the play , though one that is not written with the satirical eye Congreve gives to upper-class behavior alone. As Congreve writes it, Foible and Waitwell, servants to Lady Wishfort and Mirabell, seem delighted to be married against their will and participate in a romantic scheme at the beck and call of Mirabell. This is perhaps not true to life, though it gives them both the ability to exert secretive power over members of the upper class. Within the upper class, it is also demonstrated through jokes about one another that being well-educated and well-mannered is of – calls – utmost importance, and there can be social division atop economic based on these elements of etiquette and status.

 

Beneath the surface of proper English society are layers of deceit, greed, vanity, pretension, silliness, desire for revenge, and indecorous romance. Congreve’s sharp wit pierces this surface to reveal society as it is, with all its faults, foibles, follies, and bitter rivalries. He shows the reader “the way of the world.” Love and Its Pitfalls

“The course of true love never did run smooth,” Shakespeare wrote in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1.1.134). In The Way of the World, the road of true love is indeed bumpy-and full of twists and turns. But in the end, when Mirabell and Millamant pledge their love for each other, true love triumphs.

 

Mirabell and Millamant compromise on conditions of their marriage, with the astute and resourceful Millamant first establishing her conditions. She tells Mirabell:

I hate a lover that can dare to think he draws a moment’s air-independent on the bounty of his mistress. There is not so impudent a thing in nature as the saucy look of an assured man confident of success: the pedantic arrogance of a very husband has not so pragmatic and air. Ah, I’ll never marry, unless I am first made sure of my will and pleasure. (4.5)

Millamant demands liberty to pay and receive visits to and from whom I please; to write and receive letters, without interrogatories or wry faces on your part; to wear what I please, and choose conversation with regard only to my own taste; to have no obligation upon me to converse with wits that I don’t like, because they are your acquaintance, or to be intimate with fools, because they may be your relations. Come to dinner when I please, dine in my dressing-room when I’m out of humor, without giving a reason. To have my closet inviolate; to be the sole empress of my tea-table, which you must never presume to approach without first asking leave. And lastly, wherever I am, you shall always knock at the door before you come in. These articles subscribed, if I continue to endure you a little longer, I may by degrees dwindle into a wife. (4.5) Mirabell demands that you admit no sworn confidant or intimate of your own sex; no she friend to screen her affairs under your countenance and tempt you to make trial of mutual secrecy. No decoy-duck to wheedle you an FOP-SCRAMBLING to the play in a mask, then bring you home in a pretended fright, when you think you shall be found out, and rail at me for missing the play, and disappointing the frolic which you had to pick me up and prove my constancy … that you continue to like your own face as long as I shall, and while it passes current with me, that you endeavor not to new coin it. 4.5) Mirabell forbids “

all masks for the night, made of oiled skins and I know not whathog’s bones, hare’s gall, pig water, and the marrow of a roasted cat.” He So tells Millamant to restrain yourself to native and simple tea-table drinks, as tea, chocolate, and coffee.

As likewise to genuine and authorized tez-table talk, such as mending of fashions, spoiling reputations, railing at absent friends, and so forth. But that on no account you encroach upon the men’s prerogative, and presume to drink health or toast fellows; for prevention of which, 1 banish all foreign forces, all auxiliaries to the tea-table, as orange-brandy, all aniseed, onnamon, otron, and Barbadoes waters, together with ratafia and the most noble spirit of dary. But for cowslip-wine, poppy-water, and all dormitives, those I allow. These provisos admitted, in other things I may prove a tractable and complying husband. (4.5)

The love of money is the root of all evil, as the Bible points out. Fainall proves the truth of this biblical adage with his lust to enrich himself at the expense of Miss Millamant, Lady Wishfort, and his own wife.

2. Q. What does the title “The Way of the World” mean and how does the title foreshadow the action of the play?

Or,

Q. Discuss the significance of the title The Way of the World.

The way of the world” is a flippant expression meaning the way people behave. However, in the Restoration times, the expression “the way of the world” connoted adultery, which was a common behavior in society and especially in theatrical Restoration Comedies. Therefore, the title foreshadows the importance of adultery to the plot of the play and the light tone with which it will be dealt. The phrase itself is used three times in the play – once in Act III and twice in Act V. In these instances, the characters also refer to adultery, often when gossiping to one another, calling the audience’s attention back to the title and the fact that these events and their widespread nature are the focus of the play.

As a point of departure, it is valid to say that the theme of this play is given to us by Congreve in the title, The Way of the World. All the events and characters of the play can be related to this central theme. The obvious criticism is that the same “theme” can be ascribed to unlimited numbers of other, and quite different, novels and plays. Further, Congreve does not, in this play, seem to take a consistent position. Sometimes he is direct, sometimes ironic; sometimes he deplores, sometimes he approves; at times he is amused, and most of the time his position is a compound of all of these attitudes.

To get a more satisfactory statement we might use a different approach that would give a better sense of the texture of the play. Most Restoration playwrights supplied their plays with alternate titles, or subtitles. Since Congreve did not, we might seek for the different subtitles that are appropriate. Each one would suggest a theme, although not the theme. These may put flesh on the bare bones the title gives us.

It was perhaps sheer pedantic myopia that, when Jeremy Collier published his essay A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage in 1698, he made Congreve a particular target of his criticism. That Collier had a case is undeniable, but he forgot that a true artist does have a sincere obligation to society as a churchman. Had he waited before publishing his essay till the production of The Way of the World (1770), he could have perhaps understood that truth; for, in the play, The Way of the World Congreve seems to understand the “immorality and profaneness” of a society, upon the matrices of which Restoration plays were made. He was seriously thinking of an alternative pattern of behavior and an alternative set of codes of conduct.

The very title of the play, The Way of the World points to the ‘way’ the hero and heroine (and by implication the spectators) should adopt in order to come out of the grip of the fashionable society. The whole story is an illustration of the process, by following which Mirabell and Millament seek a resolution, that is, to gain their own world by using and manipulating the existing social norms, through the winding lanes of that society. Congreve constructed the plot of the play accordingly with this aim in mind. One can discern a definite pattern in the movement of the play.

At the beginning of the play, Mirabell is trying to shape up a situation so that he can win both hands of Millament and her estate from Lady Wishfort. He has married his servant, Waitwell off to Lady Wishfort’s maid, Foible and plans to have Waitwell disguise himself as a nobleman, court, and marry Lady Wishfort. Then Mirabell would blackmail her by threatening to disclose that she has married a servant and would offer her to release her if she will let him marry Millament plus the estate. But Mrs. Marwood discovers the plan and tells Lady Wishfort. Mrs. Marwood also tells Fainwall of his wife, Mrs. Fainwall’s former relationship with Mirabell. From all these Fainwall plans to blackmail Lady Wishfort by threatening to reveal all unless she signs over to him not only his wife’s but also Millament’s estate and even the conversation of Lady Wishfort’s own estate after her death.

As the action of the play gets momentum and the plot becomes more and more complicated, Congreve loads the stage by introducing confusing figures like Mr. Wilful Witwood. While it adds to the comedy of the play, it complicates the plot further. However, certain hidden facts of the past are revealed through the conversations of the characters: for instance, Mrs. Marwood’s desire for Mirabell, Mrs. Marwood’s relationship with Fainail, Mirabell’s past affair with Mrs. Fainall, etc. Congreve measures these secrets slowly person by person, until the final revelation in Act V, where all pretenses are destroyed Mr. Fainall and Mirabell’s revelations, and the bringing out from a black box of the deed renders Mr. Fainall powerless. The complexities and complications are, however, deliberate on Congreve’s part; for he wanted to present his Restoration audience a play that can coincide artistically with the artificialities and complexities in the human affairs of the period.

The chief aim of the dramatist is to demonstrate “the way of the world”. Following this way, Mirabell and Millament, through their own peculiar balance of wit and generosity of spirit, reduce the bumbling Witwood and Mr. Fainall to the same level of false wit. Thus the pair dramatize the true wit that is carefully and symmetrically defined through their opposition. They are aware of the fact that they are making compromises in their marriage. Mirabell says, “… I like her with all her faults: nay, I like her for her faults… They are now grown familiar to me as my own frailties…” And Millament charmingly declares, “Well, if Mirabell should not make a good husband, I am lost thing—find I love him violently.” These confidences do not prevent their own chances for honesty in marriage. In the Proviso Scene, they arrange an agreement for their marriage. The reason is obvious: that marriage is a social contract that would enable them to rise above the cant and hypocrisy that surround them.

The triumph of the play is in the emergence of lovers who through intense affection and cool self-knowledge achieve an equilibrium that frees them from the world’s power . As the title of the play The Way of the World suggests, they have assimilated the rational luodity of skeptical rake so that they can use the world and reject it demands.

 

3.Q. Comment on the complex plot structure of The Way of the give a short account of the events which have occurred before the beginning of the play.

 

Or,

Q. Is the plot of The Way of the World too complicated? If you answer yes, explain how you would simplify it?

Or,

Q. Discuss what you might consider the structural faults in Congreve’s handling of the plot and counterplots in this play.

With its cast of rakes, fops, and aristocrats, The Way of the World is often presented as the most quintessential Restoration comedy. In fact, it was a failure when first performed in 1700, and effectively put an end to Congreve’s dramatic career. Its complex plot revolves around the relationship between two lovers, the protagonist Mirabell and the fine lady Millamant, and Mirabell’s attempts to secure Millamant’s full dowry from her aunt, Lady Wishfort. It is set in iconic, fashionable London locations – St. James’s Paris, the salons of rich ladies, and the chocolate-houses that were dens of gossip and gambling and its characters, relentless in their pursuit of financial and social power, can be difficult to sympathize with. Nevertheless, it is extremely acute in its depiction of a society in which capitalism is on the rise, and in which marriage is less about love than material gain.

Congreve is following a long tradition of dramatists who, since the classical period, used a formula of dividing the play into five acts of approximately the same length and playing time. The action rises, where it climaxes in the third act, and falls to its denouement. Typically, and it is true in Congreve’s play, the first act introduces the characters and sets up the plot, giving background information that helps the audience understand relationships between characters as well as thematic direction. For example, in the first act of this play, Congreve introduces the major male characters, sets up a romantic conflict, establishes the hero as antithetical to the shallow mannerisms of the times, and indicates that the dramatic action will revolve around the play of courtship. The second act complicates the action, increases the conflict, and leads the audience to the crisis of the third act, where the action reaches its most exciting turning point.

The women converge with the men in the second act where the park is the setting for intrigue, the revelation of extra-marital affairs, and the hatching of the plot to trick Lady Wishfort into agreeing to the marriage of Mirabell and Millamant. The action leads naturally to the third act where all characters meet in Lady Wishfort’s house and where Fainall and Marwood plan their devious plot to exploit Lady Wishfort. It is in the third act that suspense is greatest. The action falls in the fourth’act with the resolution of the various plots. The merriment is at its height here: Millamant and Mirabell negotiate their famous pre-nuptial agreement, Sir Wilfull performs his finest drunken hour, and the fake Sir Rowland plights his troth to Lady Wishfort only to be undone by the evil machinations of Marwood and Fainall. In the fifth act, the various plots are unraveled and the final event is a happy marriage contract between the two heroes.

Congreve uses several dramatic devices to good purpose. Of particular importance here are impersonation (and disguise), the foil, comic relief, counterplot, and hyperbole.

Without these devices, the action could not go forward and the comedy would fall flat. Impersonation is, of course, a ploy by which Mirabell plans to trick Lady Wishfort into surrendering her niece. With Waitwell disguised as Sir Rowland, Mirabell hopes to inflame Lady Wishfort’s passion, persuade her to marry Sir Rowland, and then, when the hoax is revealed, to force her into agreeing to his marriage with Millamant. Disguise is also used in two other instances—when Marwood dons a mask to escape attention in the park after her quarrel with Fainall, and when she hides in the closet and overhears Mirabell’s plot. Pretense and disguise are the raw materials of comedy, and they abound in this play. Everyone is pretending, from Lady Wishfort, who must wear layers of paint to hide her age and layers of self-righteousness to feign her disinterest in men, to Mrs. Fainall, who appears to be a wife at the mercy of her husband and turns out to be a shrewd businesswoman. Mirabell plays at being Lady Wishfort’s lover; Fainall appears to be an honest husband; Foible is not the loyal waiting-woman she seems; and Sir Wilfull goodnaturedly feigns his pursuit of Millamant, who, in turn, demonstrates that the shallow and capricious “femme fatale” is, in reality, an intelligent, passionate, and worthy match to Mirabell.

A character may serve as a foil to a protagonist or hero by representing unattractive traits or immoral behavior, thereby causing the hero to shine in a comparatively brighter, superior light. It’s easy to see how Fainall, for example, acts as a foil to Mirabell. Both are gentlemen, both are scheming to achieve their own ends. However, Fainall’s treachery, his willingness to sacrifice everyone to win, makes him a villain. From the shadows cast by Fainall’s evil, Mirabell emerges as a true gallant, saving Mrs. Fainall and Lady Wishfort’s reputation and fortune, winning his bride as a reward, and generally succeeding in bringing the action to a happy ending. A similar comparison can be made between Marwood and Millamant.

Comic relief signifies precisely what its name suggests—the introduction of laughter to break the tension over a conflict arising in the action. Paradoxically, comic relief is designed both to ease the emotional intensity and to heighten the seriousness of the potential crisis or action. In Congreve’s play, as in all good dramatic comedy, tragedy figures largely. It is the reverse side of the coin, the tension, that makes the comedy work. In this play, a funny remark or observation relieves many serious moments of suspense. For example, in act 5 Mirabell first enters Lady Wishfort’s presence having been cast out as an object of scorn. His future depends on this moment. He must complete his scheme to liberate Lady Wishfort from her foes and win Millamant. Enter Sir Wilfull by his side, and stepping into the serious breach between them offers words of encouragement:

up Man, I’ll stand by you, ‘sbud an she do frown, she can’t kill you;—besides, Hearkee she dare not frown desperately, because her face is none of her own; ‘Sheart an she shou’d her forehead wou’d wrinkle like the Coat of a Cream-cheese

“Look .” Sir Wilfull has managed both to remind the audience of the seriousness of the undertaking and to immediately relieve any prospect of danger by alluding to Lady

Wishfort: by now generally-acknowledged vanity and her desperate to maintain her lootes

Using counterplots or subplots, Congreve echoes the themes being played out in the main drama. Subplots complicate the drama and are intended to further engage the audience in the action, vary the theme, and convey the sense of a real and larger world beyond the life of the heroes, Marwood and Fainall conspire in a subplot to ruin Lady Wishfort that provides a counter to Mirabell’s own scheme to win the hand of her niece. Lady Wishfort also secretly plans to marry her niece to Sir Wilfull while she herself marries Sir Rowiand (Mirabell’s pretended uncle) hoping at one and the same time to foil Mirabell’s prospects of marriage and have him disinherited.

Hyperbole (deliberate and obvious exaggeration) works together with understatement (deliberately restrained and therefore ironic expressions of reality) to make comedy potent such devices also serve to expose cultural stereotypes and, especially in this play, deeply held assumptions about male and female behavior. Examples of hyperbole and understatement abound in Congreve’s play. The two “experts” are Witwoud and Petutant, although each character is endowed with witty energy that is often employed to insuk or outsmart a foe. In act 3, Petulant hopes to insult Sir Wilfull by remarking how obvious it is that he’s been traveling. “I presume,” he says, “upon the Information of your Boots.” petulant’s attitude and speech are patently silly and pretentious. But Sir Wiltui is not taken aback. He matches Petulant at his own game by replying in just as exaggerated and deliberate a fashion, “If you are not satisfy’d with the Information of my Boots, Sir if you will step to the Stable, you may inquire further of my Horse, Sir.” In the same act, a servant entering the scene with Sir Wilfull conveys the deliberately understated information that Lady Wishfort is growing so old that it takes her all morning to prepare herself for public examination. It is afternoon, and Sir Wilfull has asked the servant if he would even recognize the Lady since he has only been in her employ a week. The servant replies, “Why truly Sir, I cannot safely swear to her face in a Morning before she is dress’d. Tis like I may give a shrew’d guess at her by this time.”

The plot of “Way” is so complex that it may be partly to blame for the play’s lack of critical success when Congreve first put it on. However, once mastered, the play begins to shed a glorious light upon the contemporary issues of courtship, truthfulness, and testing the quality of one’s prospective mate and allies. It’s also enormously funny and prophetic. (Like Petulant, the would-be society man, Lucienne Goldberg liked to have herself paged at trendy Washington restaurants in order to create the impression she was “in demand” among the fashionable set.) Therefore, I lay out for you the basic lineaments of the plot. The real stuff of this play is in its conversation.

4. Q. Analyze The Way of the World as a comedy of manners.

Or,

Q. Discuss humor and affectation in the characters in this play.

A comedy of manners, also called a Restoration comedy, was a theatrical form that satirized the social manners of the time, primarily those of the upper class. Horace’s Satires, published around 35 BCE, and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, published 1598, are considered early versions of the comedy of manners genre. However, flourished in the English Restoration period, spanning 1660 until around 1710. The most famous examples of comedy of manners plays from that era are William Wycherley’s The Country Wife, William Congreve’s The Way of the World, and Molière’s The School for Wives, The Misanthrope, and Tartuffe.

Comedy of manners is usually set in locations exclusive to the upper classes, like fashionable homes and private clubs. They include stock characters, especially the fop (a foolish man overly concerned with fashion), elegant young ladies, and older people attempting to live like or reclaim their youth. These plays are often centered around love and adultery and include gossip, eavesdropping, and scheming. The conversation is often witty and ironic.

The Way of the World is developed as a comedy, written by William Congreve, in keeping with the conventions of the Restoration comedy of manners. These comedies, following Cromwell’s government and the restoration of a king in England upon the return of Charles II to the throne in 1660. George Farquhar was another Restoration comedy playwright. Restoration comedy, seeming to be a backlash to Cromwell’s rigid religiosity, features sexual adventures and misadventures; marriages of convenience within strict constraints of behavior; affairs, jealousies, and coy coquettes. Congreve wrote neither to alter nor condemn but to give an accurate glimpse of the background villainy underpinning superficially impeccable social deportment.

He uses the comedic dramatic devices of counterplot, the foil, comic relief, hyperbole and impersonation with disguise. His settings allow views of men collected together; couples in public places with private conversation; and a house in which private places allow for hiding and spying on the social relationships that are conducted within its walls. Counterplots repeat the theme of the main drama. The foil stands in contrast with the hero making the hero’s virtues look better in light of the foil’s bad qualities. Comic relief interrupts the tragedy at the heart of good comedy by reducing the danger or tension to a point of ridicule or hilarity. Hyperbole works with understatement, the former being exaggeration and the latter being ironic restraint, to expose the ridiculousness of social convention and cultural stereotypes. Impersonation is familiar as a standard Shakespearean device in which one person pretends to be another for the purpose of manipulating events to reach their own desired ends (e.g., Shakespeare’s Hero). The comedy of manners is a genuine reflection of the temper of the upper classes of the nation. It deals with the external details of life, the fashion of the time, its manners, its speech, and its interest. The dramatists confine themselves to the drawing rooms, the coffee houses, the clubs, the gambling centers, the streets and gardens of London. The characters represent the people of fashion. The plots of the comedy of manners are mainly love intrigues. They are remarkable for neat, precise, witty, balanced and lucid prose style.

 

The Way of the World’ has all the important characteristics of the comedy of manners. The aim of this comedy is to show the manners of the upper ranks of contemporary society. It satirically presents aristocratic London society. The purpose is to hit at the follies and foibles of people. Here Congreve has regarded London as his world. The presentation of the high society of London is his sole concern. All the scenes in this play are laid in Lady Wishfort’s house, a chocolate house and St. James’ Park. All the characters are imbued with the spirit of London life. They are chiefly people of Com Yun fashion. They are fond of games of love intrigues. This is the true style of of manners.

 

Sex is treated with utter frankness and candidness in the subject is the intimate relationship between men and women. The lovers love the game of love the chase! They want to continue the game of love up to the very end. The dramatists make fun of marriage. Love is all right but marriage is a dreaded calamity. In The Way of the World’ we find all these things. Millamant loves Mirabell but is most reductant to get married. She can marry him if he agrees to give her full liberty even after the mamage. Her marriage has been treated as a bargain.

 

The characters in the comedy of manners are of a set pattern. They are large types. Sometimes their names show their characteristics. In such comedies, we find fops and gailants in the company of gay ladies and butterflies of fashions. We find giddy girls, lustful women, deceived, jealous and impotent husbands. Fops and ladies spend their time to conspire against their rivals in love. Here the charming heroine marries the rake that shows signs of becoming better. In ‘The Way of the World’ we get characters of this type. They belong to the upper strata of society. Mirabell has had an affair with a young widow. But he persuades her to marry Fainall. After her marriage, she has a soft comer for Mirabell. Fainall marries her only to get her property. Behind her, he flirts with Mrs Marwood. Millamant loves Mirabell but she has a soft corner for Petulant and Witwoud. In spite of her old age, Lady Wishfort wants to marry some young man. She uses cosmetics to hide her faded beauty and her wrinkles. Thus ‘ The Way of the World’ is a true comedy of manners.

Love intrigues occupy an important place in the plot of the comedy of manners. It is the major theme of the play. ‘The Way of the World’ follows this convention. The entire play deals with the intrigues of Mirabell to gain the hand of Millamant. To achieve his aim, he pretends to make love to Lady Wishfort, an aged lady. When he fails, he hatches a deeper plot. At any cost, Lady Wishfort wants to have a husband. Thus he gets her servant married to Lady Wishfort’s maidservant. Thus here we find love intrigue. On this basis, we can say that this is a beautiful comedy of manners.

Thus ‘The Way of the World’ is a fine comedy of manners. It has all the important characteristics of it. Here Congreve has introduced intrigues and illicit love. But his dialogue has wit. On the whole, this play is a faithful reflection of the upper-class life of the day. The characters are well-drawn. Its prose is lucid and pointed. Congreve is undoubtedly the greatest of the Restoration comedy writers. In ‘The Way of the World’ the comedy of manners has reached its perfection.

5. Q. Critically comment on the social world depicted in The Way of the World. Does it conform to the actual world of Restoration society?

“The Way of the World”, written by William Congreve, was launched in 1700 in London. Although the play is now regarded as one of the best comic plays of all time, during that time, it was considered to be too fast due to the explicit sexual tones used in the content. In addition to “The Way of the World”, William Congreve had written four other plays in his life, three other comedies and one tragedy. His plays revolve around the same themes of marriage, fortunes, and conspiracies.

The story follows the tale of the couple, Mirabell and Millamant, as they conspire against their families to get them to agree to their marriage. One of the main obstacles standing in their way is Millamant’s aunt, Lady Wishfort. Apart from the main characters, there are many supporting ones and they play prominent parts in the play as they run their own charades for personal motives. The play constantly points out the hypocrisies of society, especially regarding the ones involving marriage. “The Way of the World” shows how the matters of money used to taint the supposed purity of the union of two people by marriage at those times.

“The Restoration comedy of manners reached its fullest expression in The Way of the World (1700) by William Congreve, which is dominated by a brilliantly witty couple.” The themes of the Restoration comedy of manners are love, marriage, adulterous relationships amours, and legacy conflicts; and the characters generally include would-be wits, jealous husbands, conniving rivals and foppish dandies.

The society depicted in The Way of the World is the upper-class fashionable society of London. The action of the play takes place in three places. The first is the chocolate House which was used for socializing and entertainment during the Restoration. The second is St James’s Park in London where the upper-class people walked before dinner. The third is the house of Lady Wishfort, an aristocratic woman.

Most of the male and female characters of the play are cultured, talented, formal, artificial, fashionable, depraved, ‘cold’ and ‘courtly’. Their qualities are actually a part of the Restoration age culture. The Restoration period was an age of loose morals, and was devoid of moral values. The Way of the World contains this current through the illicit love and adulterous relations e.g. the relation between Fainall and Mrs. Marwood, between Mirabell, the hero, and Mrs. Fainal.

Love intrigues occupy an important place in the plot of the comedy of manners. It is the major theme of the play. The Way of the World follows this convention. The entire play deals with the intrigues of Mirabell to gain the hand of Millamant. To achieve his aim, he pretends to make love to Lady Wishfort, an aged lady. When he fails, he hatches a deeper plot. At any cost, Lady Wishfort wants to have a husband. Thus he gets her servant married to Lady Wishfort’s maidservant.

In The Way of The World, we are acquainted with the vanities, affectations, and fashions of the time. Mirabell satirically remarks in the proviso scene on women’s fondness of wearing masks, going to the theatre with or without their husbands’ knowledge, idle gossip, slandering the absent friends, etc. The Way of The World brings before us witty Restoration ladies and gentlemen even their servants and fools are witty. As a result, the dialogue is throughout witty which is something unrealistic. Therefore the play, like other plays of its kind, is called an ‘artificial comedy.

The characters in the comedy of manners are of a set pattern. They are large types. Sometimes their names show their characteristics. In such comedies, we find fops and gallants in the company of gay ladies and butterflies of fashions. We find giddy girls, lustful women, deceived, jealous and impotent husbands. Fops and ladies spend their time to conspire against their rivals in love.

Thus, Congreve’s The Way of the World has all the ingredients and flavor of a perfect comedy of manners. Congreve sets The Way of the Worlds acts in places of iconic importance to London society, especially with respect to the new social mores and minor (and major) vices which had become more acceptable in Restoration English culture. Though the countryside remained largely committed to values and ways of living that had changed little since Medieval times, City-dwellers sought new sights, sounds, sensators, and modes of social contact in the chocolate houses, St. James’s Park, and the salons of wealthy women.

Chocolate and coffee drinking were marginally acceptable aristocratic sources of intoxication, pursued by males alone (except for female servants), and often accompanied by gambling. These institutions later were transformed into the “gentlemen’s clubs” of London, fraternities which formed the hidden inner circle of the power structure for politics, business, science, and the arts. In the late 1600s, however, these were much less tame places.

What does it mean when the elite males of a nation find these activities a major part of their daily activities? St. James’s Park’s “Mall,” allowed men and women to mingle in socally acceptable aircumstances, though it also made possible socially risky behavior. The Mall”s familiarity to English readers was such that, when Behn wants to tell her readers how big her citrus garden was in Guyana, she says it was “about half the length of the Mall here.” The Mall was the canvas upon which aristocratic Londoners showed off new fashions and new relationships, traded gossip and rumor , and plotted with/against each other. The salon” or private room in a house devoted to social engagements offered women a chance to rule a social space that could compete against the male domains of the chocolate and coffee houses.

A rural visitor, like Sir Wilful Witwoud, might find these three domains as strange as an alien planet, but to insiders, they are “the World” of Congreve’s title. Think about the way that centralizes all importance within a few square miles of the imperial capital, and what it does to the rest of the planet, especially England’s colonial possessions. Keep in mind that, while Congreve’s characters are pursuing their intrigues, the Triangular Trade continues to supply slaves to the American colonies, who trade tobacco and sugar cane for manufactured goods and imports, like tea, from the rest of England’s colonial possessions. That trade is what underpins the lavish spending and the personal fortunes which the play’s characters fight to control.

6. Q. How far Congreve’s The Way of the World can be assessed as a Restoration Comedy? Discuss illustratively.

Congreve’s plays belong to a genre known as Restoration comedy. The Restoration refers to the re-establishment of the monarchy in England with the return of Charles II to the throne in 1660 after a period of social upheaval. In English literature, the Restoration ‘age” parallels the political period, covering roughly the years from 1660 to the revolution in 1688 when Parliament regained power. The genre is characterized by its satirical view of the times, with its particular focus on the relationship between conventional morality and the individual spirit. Its comic characters are often reflections of the shallow aristocrats of court society; they are peopled with libertines and wits, gallants and dandies. The hero is usually sophisticated and critical of convention and fashion:

In The Way of the World , for example, Mirabell is able to out-rascal the other rogues and thereby wins the love and prosperity he seeks as well as the respect and admiration of the other characters. The plays of George Etherege, William Wycherley , Sir John Vanbrugh, and George Farquhar also belong to the English tradition of Restoration comedy.

Restoration Comedy is a type of Restoration Drama, which is related to the manners and attitudes of the characters and what the audience laugh at them after the pursuit of sex and money. In a way, the Comedy of Manners is a witty, and cerebral form of dramatic comedy that depicts and often satirizes the manners and affectations of contemporary society. A comedy of manners is concerned with social usage and the question of whether or not characters meet certain social standards. The plot of such a comedy, usually concerned with an illicit love affair or similarly scandalous matter, is subordinate to the play’s brittle atmosphere, witty dialogue, criticism and commentary on human foibles. “The Way of the World” which was written by William Congreve, is a restoration comedy play with its witty dialogues between the characters, criticism of the upper-class people’s manners and also satirical and effective scenes such as lady and maid; unmasking scene of male libertine and proviso scene that ends in a lyrical celebration of unity.

“The Way of the World” (1700), in fact, “a world of wit and pleasure inhabited by persons of quality and deformed neither by realism nor by farce” (Congreve, p.401) which has come to be regarded as one of the great comedies in the English language. The plays of Congreve are considered the greatest achievement of Restoration comedy. They are comedies of manners, depicting an artificial and narrow world as explained above, peopled by characters of nobility and fashion, to whom manners, especially gallantry, are more important than morals such as Mirabell, Lady Wishfort, and Fainall. No doubt, Congreve’s view of mankind is amused and cynical. His characters are constantly engaged in complicated intrigues, usually centering around money like Mirabell, which involve mistaken identities like Mrs.Marwood, the signing or not signing of legal documents, weddings in masquerade.

As a Restoration Period comedy play, the story revolves around a pair of lovers, Millamant and Mirabell, who establish a rather unconventional marriage arrangement based on their knowledge of the way of the world which, as they know, is inhabited primarily by intriguers, fops, and fools. The satire and criticism of upper-class people’s manners and behaviors are variable in many examples throughout the play. For example, Mirabell’s admiration for money more than his love to Millamant; and also Lady Wishfort’s coquette attitudes such as overdressing and making up.

As Congreve mentions that: “Those characters are meant to be ridiculous in most of our comedies”,( Burns, Edward. Restoration Comedy: Crises of Desire and Identity. London: The MacMillan Press Ltd., 1987.)ironically, he tells the truth and does the right one. On the other hand, Mirabell plots to marry Lady Wishfort to Sir Rowland which appeals to her vanity and her desire for revenge. In this situation, “Sir Rowland” is rumored to be Mirabel’s uncle, a man who hates Mirabell and who could, by having a male child of his own, disinherit Mirabell in Millamant’s father’s will. Mrs. Fainall aids Mirabell in this fiction because she is disgusted with her husband’s unfaithfulness with Mrs. Marwood. It is mentioned that: Congreve’s play sets up a subplot and the main plot in which servants mimic the behaviors of the aristocrats and their So, it is obvious that there are aspects of the hypocrisy , selfishness, and ungratefulness of the characters who called “upper cass” and “aristocrats” in society. As a result , I can be said that the satire and criticism of these selfish and proud characters are derived from the characteristics of Restoration Comedy.

Besides this, there are many “witty” dialogues between the characters that imply deep and tronic meanings under the effect of the comedy of manners. For instance; free with your friend’s acquaintance.

“Mirabel: You are very Witwoud._Aye, aye, friendship without freedom is as dull as love without enjoyment of wine without toasting. But to tell you a secret, these are trulls whom he allows Caching, and something more, by the week, to call on him once a day at public places.” (0.409)

This quotation may be named as a witty dialogue because it reveals the realities under the shadow of the implications, ironies, and metaphors related with the concepts of freedom and joy. Mirabell thinks that Witwoud is speaking very freely and using his Wit”, which is also related to his name, tries to show the realities under the shadow of ironies, metaphors, and implications.

He answers the question by mentioning the importance of freedom in friendship. In fact, Witwoud is a dassical character of the comedy of manners, created by Congreve, as a cunning, dever, and creative man who is aware of talking to a dangerous person.

Then, as another important point, the significant scenes of “The Way of the World” as a comedy of manners, should be explained. Basically, there are three important scenes in the play. First, one can be named as the Lady & Maid scene in which the audience expects the lady (Lady Wishfort) without makeup and mask, and expectedly; ugly. In addition, we also learn her hatred for male libertine when she says “I’ll have him murdered!I’ll have him poisoned…” for Mirabell.

The second scene can be said as the unmasking scene of the male libertine in which all plans and tricks are revealed. Although the characters are in a bad situation, it’s a funny position for the audience to laugh at them; and that is why the restoration comedy is also called as a comedy of manners in which the audience laugh at the characters’ situation after their manners related with sex, money, marriage, and selfishness. After that, the last scene is also the end of the play in which the equality and unity between the two sexes is established. The mutual love, respect, freedom, and trust are very important for both male and female characters. At the end of the play, Fainall springs his trap, demanding Lady Wishfort’s estate, his wife’s estate, and half of Millamant’s inheritance in return for Fainall not charging his wife with adultery. Mrs. Fainall dares them to attempt prosecution because she has proof of innocence, but Mrs. Marwood convinces Lady Wishfort that the press coverage of the trial would humiliate the family. Thus, these three common scenes are very significant with their relationship of Restoration Comedy.

So, it’s obvious that in Congreve’s “The Way of the World” the trend of restoration continues, but marriage becomes more about contractual agreements and greed, then about love. Millamant and Mirabell iron out a prenuptial agreement before they agree to marry. Then Millamant, for an instant, seems willing to marry her cousin, Sir Willful, so

that she can keep her money. “Sex in Congreve, ” Mr. Lindsay says, “is a battle of the wits . It is not a battlefield of emotions.” (Lindsay, Alexander. William Congreve: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge Press Ltd. 1989)

Without a doubt, it’s comical to see the two wits going at it, but, when we look deeper , there is an edge of seriousness behind their words. After they list conditions, Mirabell says, “These provisos admitted, in other things I may prove a tractable and complying husband.” (p.423)

Love may be the basis of their relationship, as Mirabell appears honest; however, their alliance is a sterile romance, devoid of the “touchy, feely stuff,” which we hope for in a courtship. Mirabell and Millamant are two wits perfect for each other in the battle of the sexes; nevertheless, the pervading sterility and greed reverberates as the relationship between the two wits becomes much more confusing. But then, that is the way of the world. In this situation, it can be assumed that the Restoration Period was the period of logic and wit instead of sense and emotions. Maybe, that is why William Congreve, as a passionate unmarried man, became a successful restoration period playwright who had the abilities of using a perfect and witty language, showing the importance of logic, criticizing the behaviors of upper-class people and also making satire in terms of the aspects of the period, in “The Way of the World.” As Congreve created these characters to behave according to the aspects of the period and comedy of manners; such an explanation is given for the reason of the situation: “Why in the play Mirabell should want to saddle himself with Millamant; they want each other because they do; it is a given that the audience understands because the performers cast in the roles have been chosen so as to make it subconsciously obvious they are made for each other.” (Hume, Robert D. The Rakish Stage: Studies in English Drama, 1660-1800. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983.) Probably, this is another aspect of Restoration comedy according to the conditions of the period.

To sum up, the main goal of the comedy of manners in the period of Restoration is to mock society, or in other ways lift up society for scrutiny, which could cause negative or positive results. In the end, if the playwright has been successful, the audience will leave the theater feeling good, or at least feeling something, having laughed at themselves and society. Congreve’s writing style shows both intelligence and sympathy with his creativity of the characters fixed with the aspects of the Restoration Comedy. The selfish, absurd and unbalanced manners of the characters (upper-class aristocrats) criticize clearly with the ironic and satiric usage of Congreve. Also, the importance of witty dialogues and the unmasking scene of male libertine cannot be disregarded as the absolute proofs of the comedy of manners.

7. Q. Who is the most admirable character in the play? Who is the least admirable?

or

Q. Write an essay comparing and contrasting Mirabell and Fainall.

or

Q. Write an essay comparing and contrasting Millamant and Mrs. Fainall.

or

Q. Lady Wishfort is a central comic figure in The Way of the World.

 

As the aging but still amorous dowager, the capricious yet tenacious holder of the purse strings, and the twice duped lover so desperate to marry and so superficial in her disapproval of men, she amuses by the very nature of her naive yet bold heart. 

Taking nothing away from Congreve as a master of polished dialogue and a purveyor of wit, it must be observed that this final play was written in answer to one of the most notonous Puntanical attacks on the theatre by Parson Jeremy Collier. The play, therefore, offers much more than a witty “rationalization,” however. It playfully teaches people how to find an antidote to debauchery. In Congreve’s dedication of the play to the Earl of Montague, he announces the profound, if comic, intent of his art by placing himself in direct line of ancestry with Terence, ‘the-most correct Writer in the World” who is Himself a descendent of the masters of comedy in the classic tradition from Theophrastus to Moliere of this new play, he laments that it will be little understood because it is not animated by the usual characters who are Fools so gross, that in my humble opinion, they should rather disturb than divert the well-natur’d and reflecting part of an Audience….” While Congreve is no moralist, nor should his play be read as anything more doctrinal than a well-wrought fable with a moral attached, the heroes of this play nonetheless undertake a “remarriage” of minds that is possible only when both perversely jaded and self-righteously censorious views on marriage are rejected.

In order for the romantic heroes Mirabell and Mrs. Millamant to come together in marriage and to achieve a happy ending for the play, they must first thwart the devious intentions of their foes and character foils Fainall and Mrs. Marwood, who are carrying on an adulterous affair. Moreover, they must undermine Lady Wishfort’s falsely pious pronouncements and patently disingenuous hatred of men. It is no accident that the Lady appears in the third act to take her place as the central comic figure of the play when the action reaches a climax. As the dominant matriarch in control of the purse strings, she is also the character who best reflects the sworn enemies of comedy: hypocritical and self-righteousness, with a fashionable but overdeveloped appetite for the opposite sex. Finally, by relying on their intelligence and thoughtful common sense, the two heroes also deflect the tiresome banter of the self-proclaimed “wits,” Witwoud and Petulant. These two dandies playfully engage the audience in amusing and often sophisticated dialogues, pointing up unpleasant yet honest insights into the way of the world. But they are essentially shallow, as is the fashionable world they represent, and as such, they also serve as foils to the heroes.

In the opening of the first act, when Fainall and Mirabell are gambling (a foreshadowing of the suspenseful battle they will wage for love and money), Congreve establishes the prevailing cavalier attitude toward sexual encounters. Fainall’s quip to Mirabell over cards that “I’d no more play with a Man that slighted his ill Fortune than I’d make Love to a Woman who undervalu’d the loss of her Reputation” demonstrates the value both he and society place on conquests that will prove disastrous for the vanquished. Congreve would have the audience smile at the sentiment, to acknowledge its compelling force in the way of the world. But he also finally undermines Fainall and society’s libertine attitudes toward adultery and scandal . Both Fainall’s “Inconstancy and Tyranny of temper” have led Mirabell to protect Mrs. Fainall’s fortunes from her husband by feeding them over in trust to him before she was married. In the final act, this precaution proves to be Fainall’s undoing, for without the deed to Mrs. Fainall’s property he is without means. He cannot extort Lady Wishfort’s estate by blackmail or make good on his promise to set his wife “a drift, like a Leaky hulk to Sink or Swim, as she and the Current of this Lewd Town can agree.” He needs his wife’s money (which he thought he had “wheadid out of her’) to survive. Mrs. Marwood suffers a more ignominious fate for her role as a spoiler. She exits the play vowing revenge on Mrs. Fainall. My resentment, she swears, “shall have Vent, and to your Confusion, or I’ll perish in the attempt.” But her vow is an empty one. She has been revealed as a vicious, grasping adulteress, and she is left without husband or means. Fainall can return to his wife, and Mirabell promises to “Contribute all that in me lies to a Reunion,” but Marwood has become, ironically and by her own hand, the “Leaky hulk” that risks perishing. She has exploited her wit, Congreve implies, at the expense of true feelings.

Congreve comically draws out the natural and enduring conflict between the sexes in order to make his audience laugh at human foibles and to poke fun at the posturing associated with romance and sexual intrigue. Early on, Mirabell expresses his mocking disdain of the romantic entanglements that drive the story. The night before the story begins, Millamant has rebuffed him. What can he expect, Fainall asks. The women had met on “one of their Cabal-nights… where they come together like the Coroner’s Inquest, to sit upon the murder’d Reputations of the Week.” Men are excluded from the gossip circle, and their presence (with the exception of the “coxcombs” Witwoud and Petulant) would naturally stall all conversation.

Clearly, Mirabell is too grave, too love-struck, to understand that he has breached “decorum.” It is further learned that he cannot win Millamant without first pacifying her aunt, whom he has angered by playing the knave and pretending love to her. Fashion has dictated the rules by which men must pay court to women, and, in the case of Lady Wishfort, Mirabell has paid them only lip service. He has indeed engaged in the “last Act of Flattery with her, and was guilty of a Song in her Commendation.” He tells Fainall he even went so far as to “complement her with the Imputation of an Affair with a young Fellow…” But his attentions have been false. Throughout the exchange of dialogue in act 1, Congreve shines the light of truth on the way things are. The none too subtle implication is that fashionable women and men are victims of their own vanities, that they delight in the weaknesses of others, and that they are blind to their own defects. For his gravity as a lover and his knavery as a gallant, Mirabell must temporarily suffer. He will be disappointed in his expectations of Millamant until it appears that his gallant efforts to win her have been in vain. For his ability to read the corrupt nature of the world and his desire to circumvent it, even while deploying its methods, he is victorious in the end. He is able to rise above the superficial manners of his peers; furthermore, his deceptions and undisguised attempts at blackmail have been wrought in the name of love rather than greed or artifidal gallantry. He is, as Virginia pointed out In Wind Chillity: The English Comic Spirit on the restoration Stage, “a promoter of marriages.” The marriages he promotes and also helps to sustain suit his own interests. His arrangement of Foible and waitwell’s marriage secures him the co-conspiracy of Foible against Lady Wishfort . His arrangement of marriage between Mrs. Fainall and her husband and his consequent safeguarding of her estate enable him to foil Fainall, who wants to use his wife’s fortune as leverage in the game of extortion. Yet, at the same time, Foible loves Waitwell and is made happy by the union. And Mrs. Fainall, who has been widowed and has indulged in an affair with Mirabell, protects her reputation by marrying Fainall. His ability to be both gallant and wise, both sophisticated and loving render his plots harmless and instructive. It is later left up to Millamant to teach him how to be “enlarg’d“ into a proper husband.

In the famous “prenuptial agreement“ scene in act 4, Millamant outlines the conditions under which she will “by degrees dwindle into a Wife.” The gaiety, capriciousness, and arrogance that has characterized her behavior and conversation with Mirabell are offset by veins of gravity and intelligence, energetic charm and a desire for profound love that culminate in a style that reflects her power as a heroine. She has toyed with Mirabell unmercifully, snubbing and teasing him until , at the end of act 2, he can think of her only as “a Whirlwind” and himself unwittingly lodged in that whirlwind. While he allows passion to tyrannize him, she is in complete control. Her airy detachment is a challenge to the despotism of the old marriage code. Indeed, she wishes to establish a new marriage pattern that will look very much like a permanent courtship: “I’ll fly and be follow’d to the last Moment,” she asserts to Mirabell,

Tho’ I am upon the very Verge of Matrimony, I expect you should solicit me as much as if I were wavering at the Grate of a Monastery, with one Foot over the Threshold. II be solicited to the very last, nay and afterwards.”

While she is a genius in her manipulation of other characters and while her playfulness borders on cuelty, she is intrinsically aware of her own follies, and she finally cannot deny her own natural inclinations. At the end of the scene, she admits to Fainall, “Well, If Mirabell shou’d not make a good Husband, I am a lost thing; for I find love him violently.”

It is fitting to condude with Lady Wishfort, whose declarations of piety and hatred of men have fooled no one, including herself. In act 3, Mrs. Marwood enters the Lady’s house to tattle on Foible whom she has seen speaking with Mirabell in St. James Park. Lady Wishfort knows Foible has gone out with the Lady’s picture to show Sir Rowland, the more to incite his passions for her. Of course, she doesn’t know that Mirabell has Invented the admiring uncle for his own purposes. She only fears here that her own passions will be found out and that she will lose her last chance at marriage, an unpleasant thought at the ripe old age of fifty-five. She laments to Marwood,

“Oh he carries Poyson in his Tongue that wou’d corrupt Integrity itself. If she has given him an Opportunity, she has as good as put her Integrity into his Hands. Ah dear Marwood, what’s Integrity to an Opportunity?”

Despite her willingness to take advantage of her own opportunity, especially at the expense of ruining Mirabell, she falsely insists on her disdain of men in general. Compare

the very funny scene with Foible in act 4, during which she readies herself for Sir Rowland:

“In what figure shall I give his Heart the first Impression?… Shall I sit?… No, I won’t stu. III walk… and then turn full upon him… No, that will be too sudden… Ill lie… aye, rin lie down… I’ll receive him in my little dressing Room… with one Foot a little dangling off… and then as soon as he appears, start, aye, start and be surpriz’d, and rise to meet him in a pretty disorder…”

to her soliloquy in the final act on the virtues of raising a daughter to despise men: “I chiefly made it my own Care to Initiate her very Infancy in the Rudiments of Vertue, and to Impress upon her tender Years, a Young Odium and Aversion to the very sight of Men… she never look’d a Man in the Face but her own Father, or the Chaplain, and him we made a shift to put upon her for a Woman, by the help of his long Garments, and his Sleek-face…”

Her unnatural parenting is not only hypocritical, but it has also by implication contributed to the unfortunate circumstances in which her daughter has found herself sadly married to a man she truly does hate. And it is Congreve’s final “revenge” that she not only be humiliated in her romance with “Sir Rowland,” but be the butt of his general joke. For while her fortune is “saved” from Fainall, her reputation as a “superannuated Frippery,” a fate she fears most, has indeed come to pass. If Congreve took exception to the lewdness and over-elaborate artificiality of the times, he also clearly resented the Puritanical attacks upon it. Clearly, Lady Wishfort supplies his comic vehicle for demonstrating the weakness of both extremes. But perhaps the most unconsciously insightful remark belongs to the rude but kind-hearted country bumpkin, Sir Wilfull, who for all his misunderstandings of the “ingo” of London, speaks the great lesson of the play when he denounces Witwoud as a fop and declares that “Fashion” is indeed a fool.” a) Mirabell

He is the ideal Restoration beau, a combination of the cynical and the gracious. He has the vices and the virtues of his kind. In his day, he has been a successful womanchaser. As a cover for an affair, he cynically arranged for the marriage of his mistress to a man presumably his friend. He cynically flattered Lady Wishfort, for whom he feels contemptuous amusement. He devises a plot that would blackmail Lady Wishfort into consenting to her ward’s marriage; it would also humiliate her grossly. And he has no faith in his assistants in his plot; before Waitwell can masquerade and woo Lady Wishfort, he makes certain that Waitwell be married, for he “would not tempt [his] servant to betray [him] by trusting him too far.” It is easy to see why he would trust very few people; he has only to consider how he would act under similar circumstances. He can anticipate treachery on Waitwell’s part. He can distrust Fainall and forestall his villainy to protect Mrs. Fainall’s future.’

character is made acceptable even from the point of view of a generation that disapproves. Mirabell handles the situation with dignity and the style of his period. The irony in his comments on other people reveals his common sense; his judgment of Fainall is ruthless, but it is clear-eyed. The comments on young Witwoud are shrewd and accurate, and it is worth observing that he directs little irony against Sir Wilfull Witwoud. On the other hand, his ironic self-criticism leads him to realize that he is indeed in love with Millamant.

His love must be seen within the context of the play. Neither he nor Millamant sink into any sentimental act or mood. The depth and sincerity of the emotion must be conveyed by the manner which is a necessary part of the ideal gentleman. He is in love – but he is still completely accomplished gallant.

b) Millamant

Millamant is generally conceded to be the most charming heroine in Restoration comedy. She is a fitting partner antagonist to Mirabell. She maintains the same selfcontrol to the very end of the proviso scene. She too loves but shows no sentiment. She is airy, teasing, light, beautiful, tantalizing, and infuriating. Mirabell is aware of her faults – and comes to love them. The reader is aware of her faults and comes to love them too. She is affected, coy, and arch, and we would have her no other way. She can be sweet and charming, but there can be acid and irony in her wit.

Millamant appears significantly in five scenes: her first appearance, her dialogue with Mrs. Marwood, her scene with Sir Wilfull, the proviso scene with Mirabell, and the drunken scene immediately following. The first and fourth are the most important for revealing her character.

Millamant’s first appearance is prepared carefully. When she arrives, trailing her court, Minging and young Witwoud, she automatically takes the center of the stage as if it is her night, as indeed it is. Her character is outlined in the passage about putting up one’s hair: Prose would never do, only poetry, a piece of flippancy in which Mincing immediately abets her. Here she is revealed as the complete belle. She is an affectation that is fully conscious of itself, and flippancy that delights in its own irreverence. She is completely sure of her feminine power, and Congreve has given her the lines to justify her assurance. The lines concerning suitors one makes them, one destroys them, and one makes others – are all flippant. She knows her power and can laugh at herself, just as she can tease Mirabell.

Within the limited world where she operates, she is intelligent. She sees through the forced false wit of young Witwoud’s humor and handles him gracefully and efficiently. Truce with your similitudes” and “Mincing stand between me and his wit” are deft lines which give Witwoud precisely the attention he merits; incidentally, they gracefully dispose of the small deer, for Millamant stalks more worthy game. She is shrewd enough to see through Mrs. Marwood:

That Mirabell loves me is no more a secret than it is a secret that you discovered it to my aunt, or than the reason why you discovered it is a secret.

Above all, Millamant’s character is Millamant in love. She and Mirabell are worthy partners. She, too, will not admit her love to him, for to do so would be to give up one’s position of vantage in the game. It is the control of the skillful Restoration wit, which overlays her love, and through which it must operate, that makes the proviso cene so completely successful.

c) Lady Wishfort

– Lady Wishfort is a character type with a long tradition in drama the over-eager, man-seeking widow. Her first offense, and that which initially makes her an object of ridicule, is a breach of taste, for she should know better. She is first described by Mirabell, who points out that her character is defined in the tag-name, Lady Wish-fort. She is fifty-five years of age, an age that certainly seemed very old to the precocious and brilliant thirty-year-old whose play was being produced. She is also the character with most lines in the final acts of the play.

Her vanity is made clear from the beginning. She misinterpreted Mirabell’s flattery, which he describes in the first act. In the third act, the picture of Lady Wishfort at her toilette ridicules the woman who does not accept the fact of her age gracefully. Her indecorous interest in men is a part of her character and important for the action. It is the reason she can misinterpret Mirabell and the reason Mirabell can hope that Waitwell’s wooing may be successful.

As a woman who controls considerable wealth, she is accustomed to having her own way; she is abrupt and tyrannical with her maid; she plans her ward’s marriage. It is clear she does not like to be crossed and does not expect to be.

Congreve has probed this character further. Her vanity and man-chasing both have a common source; she lives in a world of fantasy. She looks into mirrors constantly but does not see what everyone else sees. In her mind, she can still be a girl of sixteen or a beautiful young woman. She is, therefore, especially susceptible to flattery, for there is no touch of good sense to help her see through it. Because of her susceptibility to flattery, her friends are always ill-chosen. Everyone she trusts betrays her to a greater or lesser degree: apparently her closest friend is Mrs. Marwood; her daughter and ward are both prepared to go along with a plot that would trick her in a most humiliating way; her maid, Foible, on whom she depends, plays a major part in the plot. In her dilemma in the last act, she is bewildered and helpless.

The humorous character is not often shown in situations that display aspects of his character other than his humor. However, Lady Wishfort as mother and guardian has a depth beyond the usual for her type. As a mother, she did not always act wisely: . She [her daughter] was never suffered to play with a male child … nay, her very babies [dolls) were of the feminine

gender. Oh, she never looked a man in the face but her own father, or the chaplain, and him we made a shift to put upon her for a woman, with the help of his long garments and his sleek face.

could prove successful only because she loves her daughter and wants to protect her. Her choice of a husband for her ward might be incongruous, but it is certainly well-intentioned. Sir Wilfull does have sterling qualities, although he is hardly the right choice for Millamant.

Yet Fainall’s demands

is that Lady Wishfort, by the end of the play, has gained a certain measure of goodwill from the audience. She is a complex creation, the butt of the author’s satire and actors’ ridicule, yet the object of some painful sympathy. d) Fainall

The result

In two speecheswinds of , Fainall is characterized by himself and by Mirabell. Fainall describes himself, in our terms, as an opportunist , a man who can veer with the drcumstance. Mirabell describes him as a man on the fringes of respectability, a is almost acceptable. To these two complementary descriptions , we must add another quality noted before – Fainall’s intense suspicion. He distrusts his mistress as naturally as he breathes, he distrusts everything Mirabell says. It is not that he assumes Mirabell is ving, necessarily; rather he looks for snide implications in the words and finds them. In Justice to Painalt , it should be noted that the snide implications are there.

The one disreputable act we can attribute to him before the play starts is marriage. The fact that he married for money can hardly be held against him in his sorty, but to marry for money to finance a love affair is more difficult to accept. Yet t is hard to see that his part in marrying the rich widow is worse than Mirabell’s in arranging for the marriage of his mistress to his friend so as to protect her from scandal should she become pregnant through his, the lover’s, attention.

In each of the items mentioned above, Fainall is a somewhat tarnished version of Mirabell. Mirabell’s deftness in handling his world becomes Fainall’s “bustling” opportunism. Mirabell’s caution in trusting people becomes Fainall’s almost pathological suspicion of every word anyone says.

It is in their love that we can see, glaringly, Fainall’s attitude to life as a smirched version of Mirabell’s. Possibly against their wills, both are in love. Mirabell moves to a marriage based on mutual respect. Fainall will try to shut his eyes to what he sees and pretend to believe against clear evidence in a love affair hemmed in on all sides by indignity and deceit.

– Come, I ask your pardon no tears – I was to blame, I could not love you and be easy in my doubts. Pray, forbear – I believe you: I’m convinced I’ve done you wrong, and anyway, every way will make amends. I’ll hate my wife, yet more, damn her! I’ll part with her, rob her of all she’s worth, and we’ll retire somewhere – anywhere another world. 

When Fainall’s suspicions about his wife are confirmed, he moves from a kind of generalized unpleasantness to quite a specific action. Once his plans are made, he proceeds ruthlessly.

e) Sir Wilfull Witwoud

Sir Wilfull is Lady Wishfort’s forty-year-old nephew from the countryside. He is unrefined and ignorant but also very sweet and good-humored. Sir Wilfull wants to better himself by traveling to France. He has come to England to learn French but is easily corrupted by the debauchery that life in London offers. He gets drunk at Wishfort’s house and makes a bad impression on his cousin, Millamant, who his aunt wants him to marry. He doesn’t get along with his half-brother Witwoud, who is ashamed of him, or Witwoud’s best friend, Petulant. They often insult him and he patiently bears their slights. Intensely loyal to Mirabell, he helps him win over Lady Wishfort by pretending to accept being married to Millamant. He is also protective of his cousin Arabella Fainall and almost fights Fainall. By the end of the play, he has made friends with Witwoud and Petulant, who agree to be his travel companions to France.

f) Young Witwoud

Presumably, young Witwoud came to London from the country recently to study law. He took to London life enthusiastically but not always wisely. He thinks of himself as a

perut but his judgment is not sound. He serves as a contrast to Mirabell; he is the false sture, the affectation of the Restoration ideal, which Mirabell represents. Although somewhat forced, his lines are typical Restoration wit:

Fainall, how does your lady? … I beg pardon that I should ask a man of pleasure and the town a question at once so foreign and domestic. … A wit should no more

De sincere than a woman constant; one argues a decay of parts, as to other of beauty. He is thus characterized by Mirabell: He is a fool with good memory and a few scraps of other folks’ wit. He is one whose conversation can never be approved: yet it is now and then to be endured. He is also so anxious to appear to understand raillery that he does not realize that he is insulted. He courts Millamant only because she is the current belle; he actually dislikes her because she is so anxious to be a wit herself that she gives him no opportunity to demonstrate his own wittiness. The most telling attack on him by Congreve is in the scene with Sir Wilfull, for no gentleman would refuse to recognize his own brother,

g) Mrs. Marwood

Mrs. Marwood is not carefully drawn. The mistress of Fainall, she loves Mirabell. Hypocrisy is a necessary part of the way of their world for everyone, but it is the most significant characteristic of Mrs. Marwood.

We first meet Mrs. Marwood talking to Mrs. Fainall. Both women speak hypocritically, both are engaged in delicate maneuvers designed to gain information but to reveal none, both are suspicious. Mrs. Marwood is hypocritical in her relation with Fainall. She can pretend to be wholeheartedly and unreservedly in love with him, while she is actually disguising her feelings for Mirabell, not with complete success. Her disguised love for Mirabell is an important motivation in the action. It is one-although only one – of the reasons why she encourages Fainall in his plot. When Millamant insults her, taunting her with love for Mirabell and her greater age, she is like the traditional villain of the tragedies of the period, revengeful because her vanity is offended.

But Mrs. Marwood’s essential hypocrisy and villainy show up most clearly in her relations with Lady Wishfort. Here she feigns friendship. She tries to spoil Mirabell’s plan; as confidante and adviser, she tries to get Lady Wishfort to accede to Fainall’s demands. There is, in short, no one on the stage with whom her relations are not based on an important lie.

h) Petulant

Petulant is best characterized by his name. Obviously, as young Witwoud is excessively good-natured, not even recognizing an insult, Petulant is ill-natured, too eager to prove himself by ill manners. He too, like young Witwoud, is a pretender to status. He is a liar, says young Witwoud, a poser, and, of course, petulant.

interesting specimen in that he talks of “having a humour” to do something or other – a sure sign that he is affecting the humour, although it may by long use have come to be, by Congreve’s distinction, a habit. i) Waitwell

He is an is Mirabell’s hard working servant who Mirabell allows to marry Foible. Newly married, he is eager to sleep with his wife throughout the play. In fact, it is one of Waitwell his many motivators to comply with Mirabell’s plan. Though not as cunning as his does put forth a good effort at trying to deceive Wishfort into thinking that he truly is a gentleman named Sir Rowland.

D Foble – beggar and perhaps

Fonible s Lady Wishfort’s servant. She was apparently once a homeless before Wishfort saved her from the streets and gave her a job. She is a smart and eloquent woman and Mirabell is very pleased with her service, promising to reward her with land and money for her help in his scheme. She has recently gotten married to Mirabeli’s servant, Waitwell, in a secret ceremony. She is very much in love with her rew husband and teases him often. She deeply respects Mrs. Fainall and is the only character who recognizes and is sensitive to the poor woman’s suffering and heartbreak in helping Mirabell marry Millamant.

8.Q. Using examples other than those used in this volume of Notes, style, wit, and irony in some of the main characters.

Congreve opens The Way of the world with a prologue that outlines the struggle of playwrights to satisfy the audience and please all the critics. He suggests that this is a foolish endeavor and that it is better to instead write a play that instructs audience members on what characterizes a fool versus a wit.

This type of instruction is exactly what he proceeds to give through the repartee, or witty dialogue, of the fools of the play, mainly Witwoud, Petulant, and Sir Wilfull. These comedic minor characters often don’t fully grasp the significance of the drama going on between Mirabell and Fainall but provide comedic relief with their well-timed puns and “raillery,” or good-humored teasing, of other characters.

Additionally, the foolish characters Sir Wilfull, Petulant, and Witwoud model qualities the Restoration gentleman should not have and are personality types that a true genteman should not surround himself with. All three men are unintellectual, “foppish” (excessively concerned with fashion), and at times, vulgar. By contrast, Mirabell is the foil to all three men and represents the highest standards of decorum and wit. Importantly, though the three fools can at times seem like witty fools when they crack jokes, the opposite relationship between wits and foolishness does not hold true in Congreve’s play. Instead, Congreve makes it clear that true wits, like Mirabell, are never foolish and never fooled. Hence Fainall, neither quite a wit nor quite a fool, occupies his own category as the villain or rogue of the play and is consequently undone by Mirabell and his team of half-wits, Sir Wilfull, Petulant, and Witwoud.

Congreve invents several characters who, as fops, dandies, and fools, provide fitting foils to the romantic hero and heroine. He pits these. purported “wits” against Mirabell and Millamant to comment on the social decline of manners. Since the play is a comedy, audiences are to take it both as serious social satire and also as an amusing romp. No one, of course, escapes Congreve’s satirical pen entirely. All people are sometimes fools, Congreve suggests, or sometimes too earnest or too busy inventing counterfeit personas in order to hide their own moral turpitude. Petulant and Witwoud make good fools for they epitomize the shallowness and silliness of fashionable society, but they both also are discuss general wife, he is capable of voicing through their wit the real motivations behind people’s actions. They mistake fashionable behavior for decorum and good manners, but they are basically harmless. The comic hero, Mirabell, unscrupulously uses blackmail and trickery to promote Mis own interests, yet he also represents what is wise and decent in society, and he protects and thoughtfully provides for his friends. Millament, while she acts capriciously and spends time with fops, is inherently thoughtful and able to distinguish between fashion and principles. Lady Wishfort is perhaps the most sympathetically comic character in that, for all her desperate attempts to preserve decorum and for all the power she wields as the wealthy matriarch of the family, she is at heart a lonely widow who will do anything for a husband.

In the most common use of the word, style describes the author’s use of language within the shorter rhetorical units, the sentence or at most the paragraph. It includes the choice of words and the rhythmic and musical quality of the sentences. Since it also includes a discussion of the relations of language to thought, fact, and reality, at some point it becomes identical with a discussion of wit and irony.

If irony is included in the discussion, then arbitrary limits must be set because from some points of view, irony pervades The Way of the World. The title is ironic; the action is ironic; the relationships of the characters to each other are ironic. This section, however, is concerned only with irony as a function of the speeches of characters, not as a function of plot or theme. It is concerned with that kind of irony that is closely related to style and wit.

Congreve avoids attempting any definition of wit, although, in the dedication, he distinguishes between true and false wit, the latter a product of affectation. Another comment of Congreve’s wit also casts some light on his practice. In “Concerning Humour in Comedy,” he writes:

Every person in a comedy may be allowed to speak them (pleasant things). From a witty man they are expected and even a fool may be permitted to stumble on ’em by chance. . .. I do not think that humorous characters exclude wit; no, but the manner of wit should be adapted to the humor. . .;a character of splenetic and peevish humor should have a satirical wit. Jolly and sanguine humor should have a facetious wit.

In practice, all of Congreve’s characters speak “pleasant things.” There is not a speech that does not have its biting edge of wit, satire, or irony.

Discussions of style and wit in a play are in some ways simple. Certain kinds of problems do not have to be discussed since they do not exist. Unlike novels, plays have no long passages of description which may or may not be well written; there are no elaborate expositions of motives. There is no reason to consider whether the author is inside his creatures’ minds or external to them. The characters speak; what they say can be examined. To talk of style or wit in a play is to talk of the different styles and different kinds of the wit of the characters.

Congreve wrote so that his characters were sharply differentiated by their speech patterns and their wit. As Congreve used to style and wit as one of his ways of characterization, the material in this section may be considered additional data for the study of the characters, collected here so that a rather technical subject can be treated in one place.

Mirabell’s style is not an easy one. We do not feel that he is spontaneous periods are carefully prepared. The sentences are long, flowing, and syntactically intricate. He indulges in no slang or canting expressions. While he can be acid in his judgment, there is no vituperation in his speech. The objects of his disapproval are so detty landed in his gradous phrases that they can scarcely feel the knife. shrewd, , for his  Mirabell’s wit and irony are also intricate. His observations about others are including a mixture of distaste, tolerance, and amusement. Considerable irony is also directed at himself. There is a strong element of self-criticism that makes him a most unusual hero, famous

Any number of speeches might serve to reveal these characteristics; this Speech from the first act about his feelings toward Millamant will do:

I tell thee, Fainall, she once used me with that insolence, that in revenge I took her to pieces, sifted her and separated her failings: I studied ’em, and got ’em by rote.’ The catalog was so large that I was not without hopes one day or other to hate her heartily: to which end I so used myself to think of ’em, that at length, contrary to my design and expectation, they gave me every hour less and less disturbance, till in a few days it became habitual to me to remember ’em without being displeased. They are now grown as familiar to me as my own frailties, and, in all probability, in a little time longer, I shall like ’em as well.

The characteristics can be seen: the long smooth passages (one might read aloud from ‘to which end” to the end of the sentence), the real wit, the clear vision of the object of the speech, and the wry ability to laugh at himself. 

The ultimate proof of the individuality of Millamant’s style is in this that to read the passage aloud is immediately to sense the manners and mannerisms of the character. She is flippant, delightfully spoiled, spirited. When, in the fourth act, she reveals a depth that we might not have expected, that, too, is in the style. Her speech in her first appearance is abrupt; she moves not so much from one subject to another as from one feeling to another with an ability to turn anything into wit.

Mrs. Millamant, Oh, aye, letters: I had letters. I am persecuted with letters. I hate letters. Nobody knows how to write letters; and yet one has ’em, one does not know why. They serve one to pin up one’s hair.

Witwoud: Pray, madam, do you pin up your hair with all your letters? Mrs. Milamant: Only with those in verse, Mr. Witwoud; I never pin up my hair with prose. I think I tried once, Mincing.

Minang: 0 mem, I shall never forget it.

After a series of short, flippant statements, there comes an inspired thought: “They serve one to pin up one’s hair.” She then pursues the train of thought that this conceit suggests: “Only with those in verse.” It is incidentally pleasant that Mincing can pick up her cue and proceed further.

The passage “One makes lovers as fast as one pleases” is similar, as is “Now I think on’t, I’m angry. No, now I think on’t, I’m pleased; for I believe I gave you some pain!”

The style and wit are the character of Millamant.

In the proviso scene, more serious in content, the pace changes. There is still a leasing element, but there is less skipping from point to point. Millamant is stating her conditions for marriage:

Trifles as liberty to pay and receive visits to and from whom I please; to write and receive letters, without interrogatories or wry faces on your part; to wear what I please, and choose conversation with regard only to my own taste; to have no obligation upon me to converse with wits that I don’t like, because they are your acquaintance; or to be intimate with fools, because they may be your relations. . . . These articles subscribed, if I continue to endure you a little longer, I may by degrees dwindle into a wife. Fainall

Fainall’s style and wit must be differentiated from Mirabell’s. His sentences are not as long or as contemplative as Mirabell’s, and his wit is more direct and somewhat crueler: “The coldness of a losing gamester lessens the pleasure of the winner. I’d no more play with a man that slighted his ill fortune than I’d make love to a woman that undervalued the loss of her reputation.” Perhaps because of the nature of his part, he is more abrupt in accusation, and his lines may depend on more obvious parallelism and antithesis: “Could you think, because the nodding husband would not wake, that e’er the watchful lover slept?” And he engages in a more direct attack: “Professed a friendship! Oh, the pious friendships of the female sex!”

Young Witwoud

Since Congreve himself commented that readers and audience could not always distinguish between Witwoud and his true wits, Witwoud’s speeches demand especially careful examination.

As Witwoud has no function in the plot of the play, the purpose of his speeches is to characterize him and to provide comedy. The key to his wit is the “similitude.” “Truce with your similitudes,” says Millamant to him. Each comparison may be clever by itself, amusing, unusual, a little shocking, such as “Friendship without freedom is as dull as love without enjoyment.” The lines with which he interrupts Millamant in the second act are each one a comparison, amusing or overburdened. The witticisms are forced; they have been collected and memorized, and at need pulled out of his conjurer’s bag of tricks. The irony, if there is any here, is superficial; no one of the witticisms has any particular point. Nor does young Witwoud even realize it should. Petulant

Petulant’s style and wit are included in his name. He has a humor to be angry that is, he is an example of Jonsonian humor, or, perhaps, he affects humor. Lady Wishfort .

Lady Wishfort’s style, like everything else about her, is of special interest. Her manner is abrupt a mirror of the arbitrary, petty tyrant she is. Like all Congreve characters, she has, perhaps unconsciously, a fair amount of wit. More than anything else in the play, her verbal attack on others is direct vituperation-“Boudoir Billingsgate,” in Meredith’s phrase. No unit of thought longer than a few words. It is clear that she shouts when annoyed or irritated, and she is always in a state of annoyance:

Mirate

Mirabell’s style is not an easy one. We do not feel that he is spontaneous periods are carefully prepared. The sentences are long, flowing, and syntactically intricate. He Indulges in no slang or canting expressions. While he can be acid in his judgment, there is no vituperation in his speech. The objects of his disapproval are so defty lanced in his gracious phrases that they can scarcely feel the knife. shrewd,

 

Mirabell’s wit and irony are also intricate. His observations about others are Including a mixture of distaste, tolerance, and amusement. Considerable irony is also directed at himself. There is a strong element of self-criticism that makes him a most unusual hero.

Any number of speeches might serve to reveal these characteristics; this famous speech from the first act about his feelings toward Millamant will do:

I tell thee, Fainall , she once used me with that insolence, that in revenge I took her to pieces, sifted her and separated her failings: I studied ’em, and got ’em by rote. The catalog was so large that I was not without hopes one day or other to hate her heartly: to which end I so used myself to think of ’em, that at length, contrary to my design and expectation, they gave me every hour less and less disturbance, till in a few days it became habitual to me to remember ’em without being displeased. They are now grown as familiar to me as my own frailties, and, in all probability, in a little time longer, I shall like ’em as well.

The characteristics can be seen: the long smooth passages (one might read aloud from to which end” to the end of the sentence), the real wit, the clear vision of the object of the speech, and the wry ability to laugh at himself. Millamant

The ultimate proof of the individuality of Millamant’s style is in this that to read the passage aloud is immediately to sense the manners and mannerisms of the character. She is flippant, delightfully spoiled, spirited. When, in the fourth act, she reveals a depth that we might not have expected, that, too, is in the style. Her speech in her first appearance is abrupt; she moves not so much from one subject to another as from one feeling to another with an ability to turn anything into wit.

Mrs. Millamant: Oh, aye, letters: I had letters. I am persecuted with letters. I hate letters. Nobody knows how to write letters; and yet one has ’em, one does not know why. They serve one to pin up one’s hair.

Witwoud: Pray, madam, do you pin up your hair with all your letters? Mrs. Millamant: Only with those in verse, Mr. Witwoud; I never pin up my hair with prose. I think I tried once, Mincing.

Mincing: O mem, I shall never forget it.

After a series of short, flippant statements, there comes an inspired thought: “They serve one to pin up one’s hair.” She then pursues the train of thought that this conceit suggests: “Only with those in verse.” It is incidentally pleasant that Mincing can pick up her cue and proceed further.

The passage “One makes lovers as fast as one pleases” is similar, as is “Now I think on’t, I’m angry. No, now I think on’t, I’m pleased; for I believe I gave you some pain!”

The style and wit are the character of Millamant.

In the proviso scene, more serious in content, the pace changes. There is still a leasing element, but there is less skipping from point to point. Millamant is stating her conditions for marriage:

Trifles – as liberty to pay and receive visits to and from whom I please; to write and receive letters, without interrogatories or wry faces on your part; to wear what I please, and choose conversation with regard only to my own taste; to have no obligation upon me to converse with wits that I don’t like, because they are your acquaintance; or to be intimate with fools, because they may be your relations. These articles subscribed, if I continue to endure you a little longer, I may by degrees dwindle into a wife.

Fainall

Fainall’s style and wit must be differentiated from Mirabell’s. His sentences are not as long or as contemplative as Mirabell’s, and his wit is more direct and somewhat crueler: “The coldness of a losing gamester lessens the pleasure of the winner. I’d no more play with a man that slighted his ill fortune than I’d make love to a woman that undervalued the loss of her reputation.” Perhaps because of the nature of his part, he is more abrupt in accusation, and his lines may depend on more obvious parallelism and antithesis: “Could you think, because the nodding husband would not wake, that e’er the watchful lover slept?” And he engages in a more direct attack: “Professed a friendship! Oh, the pious friendships of the female sex!”

Young Witwoud

Since Congreve himself commented that readers and audience could not always distinguish between Witwoud and his true wits, Witwoud’s speeches demand especially careful examination.

As Witwoud has no function in the plot of the play, the purpose of his speeches is to characterize him and to provide comedy. The key to his wit is the “similitude.” “Truce with your similitudes,” says Millamant to him. Each comparison may be clever by itself, amusing, unusual, a little shocking, such as “Friendship without freedom is as dull as love without enjoyment.” The lines with which he interrupts Millamant in the second act are each one a comparison, amusing or overburdened. The witticisms are forced; they have been collected and memorized, and at need pulled out of his conjurer’s bag of tricks. The irony, if there is any here, is superficial; no one of the witticisms has any particular point. Nor does young Witwoud even realize it should. Petulant

Petulant’s style and wit are included in his name. He has a humor to be angry that is, he is an example of Jonsonian humor, or, perhaps, he affects humor. Lady Wishfort –

Lady Wishfort’s style, like everything else about her, is of special interest. Her manner is abrupt a mirror of the arbitrary, petty tyrant she is. Like all Congreve characters, she has, perhaps unconsciously, a fair amount of wit. More than anything else in the play, her verbal attack on others is direct vituperation-“Boudoir Billingsgate,” in Meredith’s phrase. No unit of thought is longer than a few words. It is clear that she shouts when annoyed or irritated, and she is always in a state of annoyance: –

Mirabell’s style is not an easy one. We do not feel that he is spontaneous, periods are carefully prepared. The sentences are long, flowing, and syntactically intricate . He Indulges in no slang or canting expressions. While he can be acid in his judgment, there is no vituperation in his speech. The objects of his disapproval are so deſtly lanced in his gracious phrases that they can scarcely feel the knife. shrewd,

Mirabell

Mirabell’s wit and irony are also intricate. His observations about others are including a mixture of distaste, tolerance, and amusement. Considerable irony is also directed at himself. There is a strong element of self-criticism that makes him a most unusual hero.

Any number of speeches might serve to reveal these characteristics; speech from the first act about his feelings toward Millamant will do:

 

It tell thee, Fainall, she once used me with that insolence, that in revenge I took her to pieces, sifted her and separated her failings: I studied ’em, and got ’em by rote. The catalog was so large that I was not without hopes one day or other to hate her heartily: to which end I so used myself to think of ’em, that at length, contrary to my design and expectation, they gave me every hour less and less disturbance, till in a few days & became habitual to me to remember ’em without being displeased. They are now grown as familiar to me as my own frailties, and, in all probability, in a little time longer, I shall like ’em as well.

The characteristics can be seen: the long smooth passages (one might read aloud from to which end” to the end of the sentence), the real wit, the clear vision of the object of the speech, and the wry ability to laugh at himself. Millamant

The ultimate proof of the individuality of Millamant’s style is in this that to read the passage aloud is immediately to sense the manners and mannerisms of the character. She is flippant, delightfully spoiled, spirited. When, in the fourth act, she reveals a depth that we might not have expected, that, too, is in the style. Her speech in her first appearance is abrupt; she moves not so much from one subject to another as from one feeling to another with an ability to turn anything into wit.

Mrs. Millamant: Oh, aye, letters: I had letters. I am persecuted with letters. I hate letters. Nobody knows how to write letters; and yet one has ’em, one does not know why. They serve one to pin up one’s hair.

Witwoud: Pray, madam, do you pin up your hair with all your letters? Mrs. Millamant: Only with those in verse, Mr. Witwoud; I never pin up my hair with prose. I think I tried once, Mincing.

Mincing: O mem, I shall never forget it.

After a series of short, flippant statements, there comes an inspired thought: “They serve one to pin up one’s hair.” She then pursues the train of thought that this conceit suggests: “Only with those in verse.” It is incidentally pleasant that Mincing can pick up her cue and proceed further.

The passage “One makes lovers as fast as one pleases” is similar, as is “Now I think on’t, I’m angry. No, now I think on’t, I’m pleased; for I believe I gave you some pain!”

 

The style and wit are the character of Millamant.

In the proviso scene, more serious in content, the pace changes. There is still a Leasing element, but there is less skipping from point to point. Millamant is stating her conditions for marriage:

Trifles as liberty to pay and receive visits to and from whom I please; to write and receive letters, without interrogatories or wry faces on your part; to wear what I please, and choose conversation with regard only to my own taste; to have no obligation upon me to converse with wits that I don’t like, because they are your acquaintance; or to be intimate with fools, because they may be your relations. . . . These articles subscribed, if I continue to endure you a little longer, I may by degrees dwindle into a wife. Fainall

Fainall’s style and wit must be differentiated from Mirabell’s. His sentences are not as long or as contemplative as Mirabell’s, and his wit is more direct and somewhat crueler: “The coldness of a losing gamester lessens the pleasure of the winner. I’d no more play with a man that slighted his ill fortune than I’d make love to a woman that undervalued the loss of her reputation.” Perhaps because of the nature of his part, he is more abrupt in accusation, and his lines may depend on more obvious parallelism and antithesis: “Could you think, because the nodding husband would not wake, that e’er the watchful lover slept?” And he engages in a more direct attack: “Professed a friendship! Oh, the pious friendships of the female sex!”

Young Witwoud

Since Congreve himself commented that readers and audience could not always distinguish between Witwoud and his true wits, Witwoud’s speeches demand especially careful examination.

As Witwoud has no function in the plot of the play, the purpose of his speeches is to characterize him and to provide comedy. The key to his wit is the “similitude.” “Truce with your similitudes,” says Millamant to him. Each comparison may be clever by itself, amusing, unusual, a little shocking, such as “Friendship without freedom is as dull as love without enjoyment.” The lines with which he interrupts Millamant in the second act are each one a comparison, amusing or overburdened. The witticisms are forced; they have been collected and memorized, and at need pulled out of his conjurer’s bag of tricks. The irony, if there is any here, is superficial; no one of the witticisms has any particular point. Nor does young Witwoud even realize it should. Petulant

Petulant’s style and wit are included in his name. He has a humor to be angry – that is, he is an example of Jonsonian humor, or, perhaps, he affects humor. Lady Wishfort

Lady Wishfort’s style, like everything else about her, is of special interest. Her manner is abrupt a mirror of the arbitrary, petty tyrant she is. Like all Congreve characters, she has, perhaps unconsciously, a fair amount of wit. More than anything else in the play, her verbal attack on others is direct vituperation-“Boudoir Billingsgate,” in Meredith’s phrase. No unit of thought is longer than a few words. It is clear that she shouts when annoyed or irritated, and she is always in a state of annoyance:

No, fool . Not the ratafia, fool. Grant me patience! I mean the Spanish paper, complexion, darling. Paint, paint, paint! dost thou understand that changeling , dangling thy hands like bobbins before thee? Why does thou not stir , puppet? thou wooden thing upon wires!

The term irony has a different meaning when one is discussing Lady Wishfort. It is true that she does indulge in heavy-handed sarcasm, but the unconscious irony is more important. She responds to the accidental images of words in ironical self-revelation. Foible reports that Mirabell said he would “handle” Lady Wishfort. “Handle me, would he durst” she cries, “such a foul-mouthed fellow.” It is clear what the word “handle” means to her – and the reader may or may not catch the ambiguity of “would he durst.” Her speech as she repairs her face while waiting for Sir Rowland is a group of short, flustered comments that constitute her regular manner, an unconsciously ironic description of her hypocrisy:

In what figure shall I give his heart the first impression? There is a great deal in the first impression. Shall I sit? – No, I won’t sit – 111 walk aye, I’ll walk from the door upon his entrance; and then turn full upon him. No, that will be too sudden. I’ll lie – aye, I’ll lie down – Ill receive him in my little dressing-room; there’s a couch – yes, yes, 11 give the first impression on a couch. won’t lie neither, but loll and lean upon one elbow, with one foot a little dangling off, jogging in a thoughtful way – yes – and then as soon as he appears, start, aye, start and be surprised, and rise to meet him in a pretty disorder – yes – oh, nothing is more alluring than a levee from a couch, in some confusion It shows the foot to advantage and furnishes with blushes, and recomposing airs beyond comparison, – –

Examples can be multiplied. One might only add Lady Wishfort’s remark when she discovers that her daughter’s fortune will not be lost: “Tis plain thou has inherited thy mother’s prudence,” a highly ambiguous compliment in the light of Mrs. Fainall’s unsatisfactory love affair with Mirabell and Lady Wishfort’s misjudgment of Mrs. Marwood and Sir Rowland.

9. Q. Discuss the double standard of morality in The Way of the World.

No works that are part of the history of art or literature stand unencumbered by their past. We do not look at Homer or Shakespeare as if they were written yesterday; their histories are a part of them for the reader. The history of opinion concerning Restoration drama is of special interest; its “immortality” has been a subject for debate to a point where it has overshadowed all aesthetic considerations.

The attack on Restoration drama was, to start with, part of the general attack on the theater. The solid citizenry of England always disapproved. Although Shakespeare’s theater was “universal” in the sense that the audience came from all economic groups, it was still an iniquitous institution for many Englishmen. Gosson’s School of Abuse, written in 1579, was primarily an attack on plays; Bishop Prynne (mentioned in Act III of The Way of the World) abused the theater in the 1630s and lost his ears for his pains. The grounds of these attacks were many: the playhouses were dens of iniquity; the players were immoral; the hangers-on were profligate; and apprentices were encouraged to play truant. Playwrights attacked religion, or morality, or portrayed indecent events,

idiot; or used profanity. Clergy were portrayed unsympathetically: vice was approved. Sometimes the plays were attacked on the more philosophical grounds that the entire pretense involved in acting was evil . The Puritans closed the theaters as one of their first acts in office; Charles reopened them as one of his first acts in office.

By 1700, the attack was once again in full cry, this time in Jeremy Collier’s A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (also mentioned in Act III of The Way of the World). The first edition appeared in 1698; others, enlarged and presumably improved, followed. The controversy continued for about thirty years. The point is, however, that the controversy about the morality of Restoration drama never ended, for the matter is still debated. Since the critics and moralists do not always talk of the same thing when they use the term “immorality,” it is worthwhile to consider some of its different meanings in relation to the drama.

A play may be considered immoral because it contains immoral language or behavior; because the wicked characters are not punished; or because the attitude of the dramatist is felt to be immoral he may not sufficiently disapprove what is presumably wicked, or sufficiently approve the good; he may make the evil cause more attractive. The first two accusations may be answered by the statement that the author may be denouncing that which he describes: He may be disapproving strongly of immoral language or behavior, and the fact that the wicked are not always punished may be his point – and precisely that which he deplores. Such plays are then immoral in one sense, but moral in another. As for the third accusation, one must consider artistic integrity. A work that may seem immoral by any standard may still be what this particular artist should write. On the other hand, an author may write a book where no immoral activities are described, where the wicked are punished, where no approval of vice is shown, and yet the book may be a complete lie. A deliberate falsification of the writer’s own view of the world can be considered highly immoral.

The nineteenth century wrote about Restoration comedy with some difficulty. Charles Lamb thought that the world described was a fairyland and that, therefore, the behavior described should offend no one, for it was not the behavior of real people. His essay is itself interesting literature, but his case does not stand up under examination. Macaulay attacked the Restoration dramatists, especially Wycherley, for “making vice attractive.” But surely Wycherley’s The Plain Dealer does not make vice attractive. Frequently the attitude of admirer of Restoration comedy is that he loves the plays despite their immorality, or, partly following Lamb, feels they are amoral; that is, considerations of morality do not apply to them.

It can be argued that the writer in a society cannot be amoral. And it would further appear that the term “morality” can involve so many distinctions that it cannot be usefully discussed. One might say: Let the reader enjoy the plays, examine the artistry and artisanship, and ignore morality. Or better, let him try to read carefully and to achieve some empathy with the artist in the milieu in which he lived, perhaps thrived, at once an active member and artistic observer. The reader may then begin to have some feeling for the ambiguous and overlapping connotations of a title such as The Way of the World.

10. Q. Was marrying strictly for love (rather than for money, power) commonplace in England in 17007 Assess this in the light of Congreve’s popular Restoration comedy The Way of the World.

 

Money is a distinct concern for several of the characters in Congreve’s play. Though greed does exist in the play-Fainall wants all of Wishfort’s fortune or as much as he can swindle-Congreve draws a more important connection between familial and romantic love and the desire for money as a means of financial security. This is an interesting coupling because it suggests that the sentiment of love itself is not enough to build a romantic relationship on or to protect family bonds. Money is actually an essential ingredient of love as money provides for a comfortable life, which then’ allows one to enjoy one’s love. For example, Fainall needs to acquire Wishfort’s fortune to support his mistress Mrs. Marwood. Meanwhile, Mirabell cannot simply elope with Millamant because then they would lose her £6,000 inheritance, a fact Fainall exploits in his scheme.

Even with the bonds of love that connect family members, money plays a central role, Lady Wishfort has control over the accounts of her daughter Mrs. Fainall and her niece Millamant, and is not above forcing their compliance by reminding them of this fact, especially Millamant. But in addition to using money to coerce her family members, Wishfort is also in charge of maintaining the family’s finances so these women have a nest egg when they come of age or marry.

Foible and waitwell’s marriage itself is also a testament to this theme. Not only does their marriage benefit from Mirabell’s financial incentives (he gives Foible money for her help and promises to buy the couple land and stock their farm, if his plan succeeds), it is also occasioned as a type of insurance for Mirabell and a protection for Lady Wishfort. Waitwell’s marriage to foible assures Mirabell that he can trust Waitwell to play the role of Sir Rowland and that Waitwell will reveal his true identity to Wishfort (because he’s already married) when Mirabell is ready to blackmail Lady Wishfort for Millamant’s hand in exchange for destroying the evidence of her false marriage to Sir Rowland. before her marriage to Fainall has had a large part of her estate signed over in trust prevent her husband from acquiring it.

While marriages are important economic contracts, they are also convenient vehicles for protecting social reputations. Mrs. Fainall has made such a marriage, which is socially acceptable and even expected, as long as the pretense of civility is maintained. However, getting caught in an adulterous relationship puts both reputation and fortune at risk. Hence when the relationship between Fainall and Mrs. Marwood is discovered, the two become social outcasts. Fainall has staked his reputation on a plot to disinherit his wife. As punishment, he will have to bear the humiliating exposure, continuing to live with his wife and depend on her for his livelihood. Mrs. Marwood’s reputation is ruined, her future hopes destroyed. Congreve’s intent is to reflect the way of the world in all its manifest greed. The lesson is that those who cheat get their just desserts in the end.

In Congreve’s “The Way of the World” (1700), the trend of restoration continues, but marriage becomes more about contractual agreements and greed than love. Millamant and Mirabell iron out a prenuptial agreement before they marry. Then Millamant, for an instant, seems willing to marry her cousin Sir Willful, so that she can keep her money.

“Sex in Congreve, Mr. Palmer says, “is a battle of the wits. It is not a battlefield of emotions.”

It’s comical to see the two wits going at it, but when we look deeper, there is seriousness behind their words. After they list conditions, Mirabell says, “These provisos admitted, in other things I may prove a tractable and complying husband.” Love may be the basis of their relationship, as Mirabell appears honest; however, their alliance is a sterile romance, devoid of the “touchy, feely stuff,” which we hope for in a courtship. Mirabell and Millamant are two wits perfect for each other in the battle of the sexes; nevertheless, the pervading sterility and greed reverberates as the relationship between the two wits becomes much more confusing.

11. Q. Is Miss Milliamant’s money important to Mirabell? How satirical is this according to Congreve?

Or,

Q. Do you think Congreve has presented his play The Way of the World with enough satirical backdrop? Discuss critically.

Among the targets of Congreve’s satire in The Way of the World are the following: The Prologue and The Audience.

In the prologue, though apparently pleading with the audience to give his play an adequate watch before judging it, Congreve ironically and sarcastically pokes fun at the foolish audience, writing “Satire, he thinks, you ought not to expect;/For so reformed a town who dares correct? To please, this time, has been his sole pretence,/He’ll not instruct, lest it should give offense./Should he by chance a knave or fool expose, That hurts none here, sure here are none of those.”(Prologue) In direct opposition to what the character says, Congreve does mean to satire many in the audience watching his show, and their response to the play, which he attempts to forewarn them not to have, is part of what he is parodying about them.

Mirabell’s Romantic Scheming

There is irony in Mirabell’s belief that more scheming – having his servant woo more women falsely, precisely one that reacted badly to him having done similar to her not long before, and going behind their backs – will fix the situation he has gotten himself into by carrying out this kind of secrecy and falseness before. And, even more ironically, he is correct – though it seems he will fail, he is able to use his charm and wit to solve his problems, and those of Lady Wishfort if only in the process, and gets his way with both love and money. –

Hiding in the Closet

Dramatic irony abounds, perhaps as much or more than in any other Restoration Comedy, in the scene in which Ms. Marwood overhears Foible and Mrs. Fainall’s conversation from inside Lady Wishfort’s closet. This dramatic irony is not just comedic, in that Foible flippantly exposes Mirabell’s lack of desire for Ms. Marwood, but foreshadows and leads to Ms. Marwood and Fainall’s plot and the exposure of Mirabell’s plot and prior relationship with Mrs. Fainall, all which comprise the escalation into the Act V climax.

Mirabell once pretended to love Lady Wishfort in order to gain access to Miss Milamant. He also arranged the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Fainall after the latter appeared to be pregnant . In addition, he designed an elaborate scheme in which Waitwell married Foible, then courted Lady Wishfort in disguise as Sir Rowland. Fainall and Marwood scheme to extort money from Lady Wishfort, Miss Millamant, and Fainall’s wife. Petulant’s Waiting Coach

Decelt and Sneaky Schemes

Petulant’s waiting coach In Act I is a much simpler case of dramatic irony. In this scene, the characters onstage as well as the audience has just learned from Anthony Witwoud that Petulant often sends messengers and carriages to inquire after him to make himself seem respected and popular. However , when he has exactly this scenario happen, a messenger announcing the arrival of a carriage of ladies who wishes to see him, to which Petulant publicly tells him to dismiss them, his plan backfires in that it seerns even more pitifully funny without his knowledge that others know of his ruse. Promiscuity and Infidelity

Mirabell once had an affair with Mrs. Fainall, who despises her husband. Fainall is having an affair with Mrs. Marwood.

Vanity

Just before Sir Rowland (Waitwell in disguise) is to meet and begin wooing Lady

Wishfort in the first scene of Act 4, she says the following in the presence of Foible: Well, and how shall I receive him? In what figure shall I give his heart the first impression? There is a great deal in the first impression. Shall I sit? No, I won’t sit, I’ll walk,-ay, I’ll walk from the door upon his entrance, and then turn full upon him. No, that will be too sudden. I’ll lie,-ay, I’l lie down. I’ll receive him in my little dressing-room; there’s a couch-yes, yes, I’ll give the first impression on a couch. I won’t lie neither, but loll and lean upon one elbow, with one foot a little dangling off, jogging in a thoughtful way. Yes; and then as soon as he appears, start, ay, start and be surprised, and rise to meet him in a pretty disorder. Yes; oh, nothing is more alluring than a levee from a couch in some confusion. It shows the foot to advantage, and furnishes with blushes and re-composing airs beyond comparison. (4.1)

Affectation in Conversation

Congreve pokes fun at the tendency of some of the upper classes to attempt to be witty through contrived and unnatural speech, often laden with allusions, figures of speech, and big words, as in the following exchange between Witwoud and Petulant. WIT, Thou hast uttered volumes, folios, in less than decimo sexto, my dear

Lacedemonian. Sirrah, Petulant, thou art an epitomiser of words.

PET. Witwoud, you are an annihilator of sense.

WIT. Thou art a retailer of phrases, and dost deal in remnants of remnants, like a maker of pincushions; thou art in truth (metaphorically speaking) a speaker of shorthand. PET. Thou art (without a figure) just one half of an ass, and Baldwin yonder, thy half-brother, is the rest. A Gemini of asses split would make just four of you. WIT. Thou dost bite, my dear mustard-seed; kiss me for that.

PET. Stand off-I’ll kiss no more males—I have kissed your Twin yonder in a humour of reconciliation till he [hiccup] ri?s upon my stomach like a radish. (4.9) Preoccupation With Money

The motivations of the characters in The Way of the World hinge in large part on money. In the following passage, Mincing and Mrs. Fainall discuss one of the intrigues Involving Miss Millamant’s inheritance.

MINC. My lady would speak with Mrs. Foible, mem. Mr. Mirabell is with her; he has set your spouse at liberty, Mrs. Foible, and would have you hide yourself in my lady’s closet till my old lady’s anger is abated. Oh, my old lady is in a perilous passion at something Mr. Fainall has said; he swears, and my old lady cries. There’s a fearful hurricane, I vow. He says, mem, how that he’ll have my lady’s fortune made over to him, or he’ll be divorced.

MRS. FAIN. Does your lady or Mirabell know that?

MINC. Yes mem; they have sent me to see if Sir Wilfull be sober, and to bring him to them. My lady is resolved to have him, I think, rather than lose such a vast sum as six thousand pound. Oh, come, Mrs. Foible, I hear my old lady. (5.3) Idleness of the Upper Classes

Members of the English upper class in 1700 (the year when the play debuted) inherited established family names and estates, which sometimes included large fortunes. Men generally would manage their property or sometimes serve in the military. Women were to marry into other established families—and more money. Servants and nannies took care of the household and children. Thus, by and large, the upper classes had considerable time at their disposal. Many of them spent this time gossiping, going to parties and balls, shopping for the latest fashions, and taking part in one-upmanship against their acquaintances. Mirabell comments on the indolence of the people who visit Millamant.

“You had the leisure to entertain a herd of fools: things who visit you from their excessive idleness, bestowing on your easiness that time which is the incumbrance of their lives. How can you find delight in such society? It is impossible they should admire you; they are not capable; or, if they were, it should be to you as a mortification: for, sure, to please a fool is some degree of folly.” (2.6)

12. Q. It has been said that every good comedy contains an element of tragedy. Describe the tragic elements in The Way of the World. Does the play have a happy ending?

The Way of the World is one of the wittiest plays ever written, a play to read slowly and savor. Like an expert jeweler, Congreve polished the Restoration comedy of manners to its ultimate sparkle and gloss. The dialogue is epigrammatic and brilliant, the plot is an intricate puzzle, and the characters shine with surprisingly complex facets. Yet the play is not all dazzling surface; it also has depths. Most Restoration comedies begin with the struggle for power, sex, and money and end with a marraiage. In an age that viewed property, not romance, as the basis of marriage, the hero shows his prowess by catching an heires. The Way of the World reflects that standard plot; is a legacy than over a woman, a battle in which sexual attraction is used as a weapon. Yet Congreve, writing late in the period, reveals the weakness of those who treat love as a war or a game: “each deceiver to his cost may find / That marriage frauds too oft are paid in kind.”

At the center of the action are four fully realized characters-Mirabell and Millamant, the hero and heroine, and Fainall and Mrs Marwood, the two villains—whose stratagems and relations move the play. Around them are characters who serve in one way or another as foils. Witwoud, the would-be wit, with whom we contrast the true wit of Mirabell and Millamant. Petulant, a “humor” character , who affects bluff candor and cynical realism, but succeeds only in being offensive, and Sir Wilfull Witwoud, the booby squire from the country, who serves with Petulant to throw into relief the high good breeding and fineness of nature of the hero and heroine Finally there is one of Congreve’s finest creations, Lady Wishfort (wish for it), who though aging and ugly still longs for love, gallantry, and courtship and who is led by her appetites into the trap that Mirabell lays for her

Because of the complexity of the plot, a summary of the situation at the rise of the curtain may prove helpful. Mirabell (a reformed rake) is sincerely in love with and wishes to marry Millamant, who, though a coquette and a highly sophisticated wit, is a virtuous woman. Mirabell some time before has married off his former mistress, the daughter of Lady Wishfort, to his friend Fainall. Fainall has grown tired of his wife and has been squandering her money on his mistress, Mrs. Marwood. In order to gain access to Millamant, Mirabell has pretended to pary court to the elderly and amorous Lady Wishfort, who is the guardian of Millamant and as such controls half her fortune. But his game has been spoiled by Mrs. Marwood, who nourishes a secret love for Mirabell and, to separate him from Millamant, has made Lady Wishfort aware of Mirabell’s duplicity. Lady Wishfort now loathes Mirabell for making a fool of her—an awkward situation, because if Millamant should marry without her guardian’s consent she would lose half her fortune, and Mirabell cannot afford to marry any but a rich wife. It is at this point that the action begins. Mirabell perfects a plot to get such power over Lady Wishfort as to force her to agree to the marriage, while Millamant continues to doubt whether she wishes to marry at all.

In Congreve’s The Way of the World” (1700), the trend of restoration continues, but marriage becomes more about contractual agreements and greed than love. Millamant and Mirabell iron out a prenuptial agreement before they marry. Then Millamant, for an instant, seems willing to marry her cousin Sir Willful, so that she can keep her money. “Sex in Congreve, Mr. Palmer says, “is a battle of the wits. It is not a battlefield of emotions.”

It’s comical to see the two wits going at it, but when we look deeper, there is seriousness behind their words. After they list conditions, Mirabell says, “These provisos admitted, in other things I may prove a tractable and complying husband.” Love may be the basis of their relationship, as Mirabell appears honest; however, their alliance is a sterile romance, devoid of the “touchy, feely stuff,” which we hope for in a courtship.

Mirabell and Millamant are two wits perfect for each other in the battle of the sexes; nevertheless, the pervading sterility and greed reverberates as the relationship between the two wits becomes much more confusing.

Confusion and deception are the “way of the world,” but compared to “The Country Wife” and earlier drama, Congreve’s play shows a different kind of chaos-one marked with contracts and greed instead of the hilarity and mix-up of Horner and other rakes. The evolution of society, as mirrored by the plays themselves, is apparent.

14. Q. Comment on the setting of the restoration comedy of manners The Way of the World.

Congreve’s play takes place in London, an apt setting since the play’s action revolves around the ways of the fashionable world. Indeed, the play reflects the manners and customs of London life in 1700, when it was first performed. Within the play, Congreve contrasts the pretentious, artificial (and often reprehensible and barbaric) manners of “Town” life with the rough, untutored but more natural country manners reflected in the character of Sir Wilfull. The play’s five acts include just three settings: a chocolate house, St. James Park, and Lady Wishfort’s London house. Each setting allows a glimpse of the way in which characters comport themselves in public and private.

In the chocolate house, the major male characters meet to drink and gamble in act 1. This is the domain where men seem to rule, and Congreve orients the audience to – the social dictates by which they speak and act together.

In act 2, the action moves to St. James Park, a more open and public place where men and women interact. In this setting, the intrigues of plot multiply. Couples are on display in the park, to see and be seen. The park is central to the plot because it allows Congreve to show the gap between the outward appearance of good manners and the scheming dialogue between couples in which slander, deceit, and trickery hold sway and where reputations are being ruined or advanced. In the following three acts, the scenes shift to Lady Wishfort’s house. Again, the setting is appropriate since it is Lady Wishfort’s fortune and her central position as the matriarch of the family that drives the action of the play.

The house plays an important role in the development of the action because it has both public and private spaces—closets where characters may hide and overhear, rooms that can be locked, chambers where the private habits of the characters come into sharp contrast with outward appearances. It is in the private world of the house where the management or mismanagement of domestic affairs-marriage, dowry arrangements, match-making, and sexual intrigues-most properly belong.

15. Q. Write a critical note on Congreve’s The Way of the World.

The Way of the World is considered one of the finest examples of late seventeenthcentury Restoration drama during the period when the comedy of manners flourished in England. Congreve had written two extremely popular dramas before this, Love for

Love (1695) and The Mourning Bride (1697), which received rave reviews in London and cemented his reputation as a major playwright. However, his next and final play, The Way of the World, was only a marginal success when it was performed in 1700. Several theories have been forwarded as to why audience reaction at the time was lukewarm. One of Congreve’s biographers, Bonamy Dobraée, speculates that, while Congreve’s masterpiece must be appreciated for “depth and sympathy of its characterisation… together with the general sense of what is precious in life, and the magnificent handling of language,” the play might have been “too subtle.” A character like Witwoud, he notes, is “indeed a coxcomb” but he was also “no idiot.” Dobraée also characterizes the resolution of the plot as “abrupt and unlikely.”

Several studies of late seventeenth-century drama make the claim that Congreve was writing for a “coterie” audience (fashionable high society) that disappeared at the turn of the century. The argument is that new playgoers were middle class or bourgeois in their tastes, and they demanded a new style, hence the rise of “sentimental” comedy popular after 1700. As Virginia Ogden Birdsall writes in Wild Civility, The English Comic Spirit on the Restoration Stage, the “conditions and circumstances in which English civilization had to grow” led to “a new and not inconsiderable ally in the cause of repressive sobriety-namely, an increasingly influential middle-class mentality almost invariably hostile to the comic or play spirit.”

Recent studies by such scholars as Emmett Avery, Harold Love, and Pierre Danchin have demonstrated that the late seventeenth-century London theatre-going audience (at the time only two theatres, Drury Lane and Lincoln’s Inn Fields, were in operation in London) was perhaps more heterogeneous than modern audiences. Robert Hume calls the audiences of the period between 1697 and 1703 “cranky” and for reasons not completely understood, they “damned” the new plays of the Restoration while continuing to enjoy the older, stock dramas of the period that expressed similar sentiments. In the 1697-1698 season, writes Hume, “fifteen out of seventeen new plays failed.” Jeremy Collier’s attack on the theatre and the consequent controversy over the theatre world’s morality probably added to the troubles that plagued the theatre at this time, but as Hume observes, audiences were “revolting” prior to Collier’s scathing denouncements. Here, it is worth quoting Hume at length:

Why audiences were so difficult in the years around 1700 we frankly do not know. Authors were baffled: in prologue after prologue they lamented the fickleness of the audience, and in prefaces and dedications they tended to blame actors and managers for their misfortunes. If authors were puzzled and indignant, managers were frantic. They imported foreign singers at inflated prices, tried entr’acte dancers, animal acts, acrobats, and vaudeville turns. They cannibalized favorite scenes from plays and popular operas. They kept changing the starting time of performance.

Whatever the reasons for the minimal success of The Way of the World in 1700, it was revived to popular acclaim in the eighteenth century: it was performed over two hundred times in London. Professor Avery, writes Hume, concluded that Congreve’s play flourished and “gained popularity steadily over a period of some forty years, achieving his greatest share in the repertory around 1740.” When Garrick, who was indifferent to Congreve, took over management of Drury Lane, performances of the play diminished. During the nineteenth century, as Herbert Davies notes in The Complete Plays of William Congreve, it was performed “with considerable cuts and alterations to suit the taste of the times.” It was revived in 1904 and continues to be performed today.

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