Way of the World is
a stage play in the form of a comedy of manners, which satirizes the attitudes,
affectations, and foibles of the privileged classes. Witty dialogue and
romantic intrigue are among the characteristics of this genre. William
Congreve was among the pioneers of the comedy of manners in England. His
Majesty's Servants, an acting company, staged the play in 1700 in a theater
at Lincoln's Inn Fields, a public square in London.
of Manners: Characteristics
the elements of a comedy of manners are the following:
in gathering places for the upper classes (such as fine homes and exclusive
characters such as fops, country bumpkins, elegant young ladies, and older
persons attempting to recapture their youth.
hatching plots against their enemies.
(A character in a closet, behind a curtain, or in another room overhears
information that could embarrass or incriminate someone.)
or the threat of scandal.
conversations. But the wit is often contrived and artificial.
action takes place in Greater London, circa 1700. The scenes are set in
a chocolate house, in St. James's Park, and in the home of one of the main
characters, Lady Wishfort.
James's Park, consisting of ninety acres that include elaborate landscaping,
is in the Westminster borough of London.
houses, popular in London after 1650, attracted elite young males and usually
permitted gambling. One of the most famous of London's chocolate houses
Young Londoner and reformed womanizer. Mirabell, the protagonist, is in
love with an attractive, intelligent, and witty young woman.
Mirabell's beloved. She is to receive an inheritance of £12,000 (more
than $1 million in today's money). She lives in the home of her aunt, Lady
Guardian and aunt of Miss Millamant. Wishfort, a wealthy widow, controls
half of Millamant's inheritance£6.000.
If Millamant does not marry the man of Wishfort's choice, Wishfort can
withhold from her the £6,000.
Double-dealing husband of Lady Wishfort's daughter. Fainall attempts to
extort money from Lady Wishfort and others.
Wife of Fainall and daughter of Lady Wishfort. She once had an affair with
Mirabell. Mrs. Fainallwhose
first husband, Mr. Languish, died
despises her scheming second husband.
Mistress of Fainall. She loves Mirabell but turns against him and supports
Fainall in his extortion scheme.
Servant of Mirabell. He marries Lady Wishfort's servant, Foible.
Waitwell in disguise. As Sir Rowland, Waitwell woos Lady Wishfort as part
of a scheme to dupe her.
Maid of Lady Wishfort. She marries Waitwell.
Petulant: Suitors of Miss Millamant. They have no chance to win her,
since it is Mirabell whom she loves.
Anthony Witwood's bumbling half-brother from the country. Lady Wishfort
attempts to match him with Miss Millamant.
Servant of Miss Millamant.
Waitress at the chocolate house.
Bearer of a letter from Sir Wilfull Witwoud to his half-brother.
Man who summons Petulant to leave the chocolate house with three women
in a coach.
Servant of Lady Wishfort.
Primly: Acquaintance of Miss Millamant. She is a woman with a big belly.
Mrs. Primly has no onstage role in the play.
Acquaintance of Miss Millamant. She has no onstage role in the play.
Footmen Dancers Mrs.
Curate's wife, whom Lady Wishfort says is "always breeding." Mrs. Qualmsack
has no onstage role.
Husband of Mrs. Qualmsack. He has no onstage role.
author maintains a playful and good-natured tone while lampooning the defective
characters that populate his play. However, the author doubles his gunpowder
when targeting the villainous Fainall, who resorts to blatant extortion
to enrich his coffers.
two Latin quotations preceding the play are from the first book of the
of Horace (65-8 BC)
Audire est operae pretium,
Qui maechis non vultis.
(second satire, lines 37-38)
You who seek retribution
against adulterers will be happy to learn that they are impeded on all
Metuat doti deprensa (second
satire, line 131)
[She is] afraid for the dowry.
plot of The Way of the World is complex and intricate. The following
background on the characters and their activities may help the reader better
understand the play.
young man named Mirabell once wooed Lady Wishfort, 55, in order to be close
to her niece and ward, Miss Millamant. He and Miss Millamant are in love.
Miss Millamant stands to receive an inheritance of £12,000,
half of which Lady Wishfort controls.
welcomed Mirabell's attentions until an acquaintance of hers, Miss Marwood,
informed her that Mirabell was only pretending to love her so that he could
be near Millamant. The news enraged Lady Wishfort. She then declared that
she would never approve a Mirabell-Millamant union. If Millamant defied
her wishes and married Mirabell anyway, Lady Wishfort would withhold the
falling in love with Miss Millamant, Mirabell had a mistressLady Wishfort's
daughterwho became concerned one day that she might be pregnant. To protect
her from scandal, Mirabell arranged for her to marry a man named Fainall.
Although she did not love him, she married him. After becoming Mrs. Fainall,
she continued to see Mirabell until he fell in love with Miss Millamant.
tattletale Marwood became the mistress of Mr. Fainall. Fainall has designs
on the portion of the Millamant inheritance that Lady Wishfort controls
(£6,000). He also seeks to claim his
wife's fortune and become the sole heir of Lady Wishfort. His plan is to
threaten to reveal that his wife was once Mirabell's mistress. Such a revelation
would not only open his wife to scandal but also Lady Wishfort, since she
is the mother of Mrs.Fainall. Fainall believes Wishfort will give him what
he wants as the price of his silence.
to Mirabell. To win Millamant and preserve her entire fortune, he sets
in motion a scheme that would force Lady Wishfort to approve of his marriage
a chocolate house in London, Mirabell loses at cards to Fainall. When they
rise from the table, Fainall guesses that Mirabell lost because he was
preoccupied with his visit the previous evening with Miss Millamant, Fainall's
cousin. She and Mirabell are in love.
some coxcomb came in, Fainfall says, and was well
received by her, while you were by? (1.1).
says Witwoud and Petulant both showed up. They seek the attentions of the
beautiful Miss Millamant, although she has exhibited no interest in them.
But even worse, Lady Wishfort came in. (She is Miss Millamant's aunt and
the the mother of Fainfall's wife.) The fifty-five-year-old Lady Wishfort
despises Mirabell because he once pretended to love her so that he could
gain access to Millamant, who lives in Wishfort's home. Now Wishfort has
erected herself as a barrier against a Mirabell-Mallamont marriage. What
is more, since she controls half of Millamant's £12,000
inheritance, she will refuse to release £6,000
if Mirabell marries Millamant. Wishfort herself is promoting a marriage
between Millamant and Sir Wilfull Witwoud, a country bumpkin.
Lady Wishfort were Miss Marwood and Fainfall's wife, as well as several
others. Mirabell knew they all resented his presence. For that reason,
he was determined to remain. After a long silence, Wishfort delivered a
tirade against long visits, and Miss Millamant supported her. At that point,
Mirabell said it was easy to know when one has overstayed his welcomecausing
Millamant to blushand left.
then tells Mirabell that he understands why Lady Wishfort and the others
wanted Mirabell to leave: They all gather three times a week in a closed
meeting to discuss about murdered reputations (1.1). The members of the
groupfounded by Lady Wishfort, who now hates mentake turns hosting the
meeting. Mirabell acknowledges that he may have gone too far in his false
relationship with Lady Wishfort, telling her that the malicious town took
notice that she was grown fat of a sudden; and when she lay in of a dropsy,
persuaded her she was reported to be in labour (1.1). However, in his
wooing scheme, he says, he never went so far as to debauch her (1.1),
one who revealed his scheme to Lady Wishfort was Miss Marwood.
footman arrives at the chocolate house to inform Mirabell that his valet,
Waitwell, has married and bedded (1.2) Miss Foible, Lady Wishfort's maid.
Waitwell's marriage is part of a scheme that Mirabell is executing to win
the hand of Miss Millamant.
another room in the chocolate house, Squire Witwoud receives a message
that his half-brother, Sir Wilfull Witwoud, will soon arrive in town to
woo Millamant with Lady Wishfort's approval. Witwoud and Petulant also
hope to win the favor of Millamant, primarily because it exalts their reputation
to be seen with a beautiful woman.
St. James's Park, Miss Marwood and Mrs. Fainall discuss the ever-changing
ways of men. Both avow that they hate them. Miss Marwood says she despises
them so much that she would consider marrying a man just to make his life
miserable. One way she would bedevil a man is to make him think she has
thou wert married to Mirabell, Mrs. Fainall says.
I were (2.1) Miss Marwood says.
Mrs. Fainfall asks why Marwood despises Mirabell, Miss Marwood says he
is insufferably proud (2.1). Mrs. Fainfall says the reason she has given
suggests that she is not telling the truth. Even Mirabell's enemies would
agree that he is not proud, she says.
and Fainfall happen onto the scene. Mrs. Fainall and Mirabell go for a
walk after she asks him to tell her about what happened after her mother
(Lady Wishfort) interrupted his visit with Miss Millamant.
Marwood suggests that she and Fainall follow his wife and Mirabell, hinting
that his wife loves Mirabell. But Fainall tells Miss Marwood that she and
his wife both love Mirabell. The audience then learns that Fainall
and Miss Marwood have been having an affair:
for my ease to oversee and willfully neglect the gross advances made him
[Mirabell] by my wife, that by permitting her to be engaged, I might continue
unsuspected in my pleasures, and take you oftener to my arms in full security,
Fainall says (2.3).
desiring Mirabell, Fainall says, Miss Marwood has been an unfaithful mistress.
Miss Marwood denies that she loves Mirabell and challenges Fainall to prove
otherwise. As evidence, Fainall cites her disclosure to Lady Wishfort that
Mirabell was only pretending to love her. This disclosure, he says, was
designed to motivate Lady Wishfort to oppose a marriage between Mirabell
and Millamant, providing an opening for Miss Marwood to step in and take
her place. Miss Marwood, however, maintains that she made the disclosure
out of friendship for Lady Wishfort.
their conversation, Fainall says he married his wife only for her money
so that he could spend it on Mrs. Marwood..But
Mrs. Marwood remains angry and tells Fainall that she hates him. Fainall
then apologizes to her and says, Pray forbearI believe you; I'm convinced
I've done you wrong; and any way, every way will make amends . . . I'll
part with her, rob her of all she's worth, and we'll retire somewhere,
anywhere, to another world (2.3).
the conversation between Mirabell and Mrs. Fainall reveals that he arranged
for her to marry Fainall after she thought she might be pregnant. Mirabell
tells her that he also arranged the marriage between his servant, Waitwell,
and Lady Wishfort's maid, Foible.
marriage is part of an elaborate scheme. Waitwell is to woo Lady Wishfort
in disguise, identifying himself as Mirabell's uncle and calling himself
Sir Rowland. If she agrees to marry him and signs a marriage contract (as
expected), Mirabell will seek to marry Millamant. Then, when Lady Wishfort
objects, he can reveal that Rowland is an impostor and declare the marriage
contract between her and Rowland invalid. She would not want to endure
the scandal that would ensue if the public learned that she sought to marry
a man who was already married. In exchange for Mirabell's silence on the
matter, she would be required to approve of Mirabell's marriage to Millamant.
Millamant appears with Witwoud and her attendant, Mincing. Millamant is
about to apologize to Mirabell for the interruption of their visit the
previous evening by Lady Wishfort and her group. But instead she says she
is glad that I gave you some pain (2.5). Mirabell says it is not in her
nature to be cruel but instead to please.
cruelty is one's power, she says, and when one parts with one's cruelty
one parts with one's power, and when one has parted with that, I fancy
one's old and ugly (2.5).
and Foible meet with Mirabell to update him on the execution of Mirabell's
plan. First, Waitwell informed Lady Wishfort that he will be seeing Sir
Rowland, then told her that he will show him a picture of Wishfort. Next,
he will tell Wishfort that Rowland was captivated by her beauty and burns
with impatience to lie at her ladyship's feet and worship the original.
If all goes well, Wishfort will be only too happy to receive the attentions
of Sir Rowland.
and by, Mrs. Marwood overhears Mrs. Fainall and Foible discussing Mirabell's
plot against Lady Wishfort. Mrs. Fainall says,
I am privy to
the whole design, and know that Waitwell, to whom thou wert this morning
married, is to personate Mirabell's uncle, and, as such winning my lady,
to involve her in those difficulties from which Mirabell only must release
her, by his making his conditions to have my cousin and her fortune left
to her own disposal. (3.4)
comments on what a sweet man Mirabell is and says that Mrs. Fainall remains
dear to him. Foible then says the plot is working well. My Lady is so
incensed [at Mirabell] that she'll be contracted to Sir Rowland to-night
. . . I warrant I worked her up that he may have her for the asking. .
. (3.6). .......Foible
asks Mrs. Fainall to acquaint Mirabell with her success. She would do it
herself, she says, but she fears that she is being observed by Mrs. Marwood,
adding that Mr. Mirabell can't abide her [Marwood] (3.6). After they
exit, Marwood realizes the great power she now wields with the information
she possesses and calls herself a very master-key to everybody's strong
box (3.7). .......Sir
Wilfull Witwoud arrives from the country to court Millamant. He is a shy
bumpkin, gets drunk, and has no success at all with the sophisticated Millamant.
But his drunkenness makes him an irritating presence in the household. .......Mrs.
Marwood tattles to Fainall that his wife has been cheating on him with
Mirabell. She also tells him about Mirabell's scheme against Lady Wishfort
to win the hand of Millamant. The two of them then begin plotting to thwart
Mirabell's plans and extort money from Millamant, Wishfort, and his wife. .......After
Mirabell and Millamant agree to conditions for their marriage, Millamant
accepts Mirabell's proposal. Meanwhile, Lady Wishfort receives an unsigned
letter (written by Mrs. Marwood) saying that Sir Rowland is really Mirabell's
servant, Waitwell. But Rowland (Waitwell) persuades her that Mirabell sent
her the letter to forestall her marriage to Rowland. Wishfort then goes
ahead with plans to marry Rowland. The latter says he will bring her a
marriage contract to sign, as well as documents proving his identity. .......Later,
when she is alone with Mrs. Fainall, Millamant says, Well, if Mirabell
should not make a good husband, I am a lost thing: for I find I love him
violently (4.7). .......Mr.
Fainall, with the support of Marwood, then threatens to reveal publicly
that his wife once had an affair with Mirabell. Such a revelation would
not only embarrass Mrs. Fainall but also her mother, Lady Wishfort. Fainall
says he will remain silent only if Wishfort gives him Millamant's £6,000
and the rest of Mrs. Fainall's inheritance. In addition, Wishfort is to
make Fainall the heir to her fortune. .......But
Millamant now says she will marry Sir Wilfull. In so doing, she would meet
Wishfort's condition that she marry a man of her guardian aunt's choice.
Therefore, she would be legally entitled to the £6,000.
Of course, Fainall still has the option of claiming his wife's inheritance
and extorting Wishfort's money. However, Mirabell now reveals that before
Mrs. Fainall married her husband she signed a parchment ceding control
over all of her money to Mirabell. Witwoud and Petulant were witnesses
to the signing. Mirabell produces the document, which says: "A DEED OF
CONVEYANCE OF THE WHOLE ESTATE REAL OF ARABELLA LANGUISH, WIDOW, IN TRUST TO EDWARD MIRABELL"
says, 'tis the way of the world, sir; of the widows of the world (5.13). .......Fainall
and Marwood walk off defeated. .......Wishfort
forgives Waitwell (Sir Rowland) and Foible and approves Mirabell's marriage
to Millamant. Mirabell gives the deed of conveyance to Mrs. Fainall. .
Life Beneath the Veneer
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
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 bumpyand full of twists and turns. But in the end,
when Mirabell and Millamant pledge their love for each other, true love
and Millamant compromise on conditions of their marriage, with the astute
and resourceful Millamant first establishing her conditions. She tells
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 pragmatical an air. Ah, I'll never marry, unless I am
first made sure of my will and pleasure. (4.5)
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
humour, without giving a reason. To have my closet inviolate; to be 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)
that you admit no
confidant or intimate of your own sex; no she friend to screen her affairs
under your countenance, and tempt you to make trial of a mutual secrecy.
No decoy-duck to wheedle you a 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 endeavour 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 also
tells Millamant to
to native and simple tea-table drinks, as tea, chocolate, and coffee. As
likewise to genuine and authorised tea-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 healths, or toast fellows; for prevention of which, I banish all
foreign forces, all auxiliaries to the tea-table, as orange-brandy, all
aniseed, cinnamon, citron, and Barbadoes waters, together with ratafia
and the most noble spirit of clary. 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
love of money is the root of all evil, as the Bible points out (1 Timothy
6:10). Fainall proves the truth of this biblical adage with his lust to
enrich himself at the expense of Miss Millamant, Lady Wishfort, and his
section under Satire focuses on other themes in the
the targets of Congreve's satire in The Way of the World are the
once had an affair with Mrs. Fainall, who despises her husband. Fainall
is having an affair with Mrs. Marwood.
and Sneaky Schemes
once pretended to love Lady Wishfort in order to gain access to Miss Millamant.
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
and Marwood scheme to extort money from Lady Wishfort, Miss Millamant,
and Fainall's wife.
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
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'll lie down. I'll receive him in my little dressing-room; there's a couchyes,
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)
characters pretend to be models of virtue while secretly taking part in
schemes to undo other characters.
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.
Thou hast uttered volumes, folios, in less than decimo sexto, my dear Lacedemonian.
Sirrah, Petulant, thou art an epitomiser of words.
are an annihilator of sense.
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.
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.
Thou dost bite, my dear mustard-seed; kiss me for that.
kiss no more malesI
have kissed your Twin yonder in a humour of reconciliation till he [hiccup]
rises upon my stomach like a radish. (4.9)
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.
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.
FAIN. Does your lady or Mirabell know that?
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)
of the Upper Classes
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 familiesand
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
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)
climax occurs when Mirabell, with the support of Mrs. Fainall, thwarts
the villainous Fainall's scheme to extort assets belonging to Millamant,
Lady Wishfort, and his own wife, Mrs. Fainall. This action not only saves
everyone's money, but it also earns Mirabell Lady Wishfort's approval to
main conflict pits Mirabell against Lady Wishfort, who opposes Mirabell's
marriage to Miss Millamant. Other important conflicts exist between Fainall
and Mirabell, between Fainall and the three women with money, between
Marwood and Mirabell, and between Marwood and Millamant. Following is an
example of the venomous dialogue that Millamant and Marwood exchange.
The town has found it? What has it found? 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.
MAR. You are nettled.
You're mistaken. Ridiculous!
MAR. Indeed, my dear, you'll tear another fan, if you don't mitigate
those violent airs. (3.11)
are examples of figures of speech in the play. For definitions of figures
of speech, see Literary Terms.
accuses Miss Marwood of being unfaithful to him. Fainall himself is being
unfaithful to his wife.
the following passage, Miss Marwood says she would like to be married to
Mirabell because she hates him.
FAIN. Ingenious mischief! Would thou wert married to Mirabell.
MAR. Would I were.
FAIN. You change colour.
MAR. Because I hate him. (2.1)
Dramatic irony occurs frequently
in relation to Lady Wishfort. She is unaware of what the audience well
she is a vain and self-serving and that she is the target of a scheme executed
by Waitwell (disguised as Sir Rowland).
there a worse disease than the conversation of fools? (2.6)
of conversation to a disease
Wishfort] hates Mirabell worse than a quaker hates a parrot. . . .(1.9)
of the intensity of Lady Wishfort hatred to that of a quaker for a parrot
Wishfort] loves cater-wauling better than a conventicle.
of Lady Wishfort love for caterwauling to her love for a conventicle
you would but appear barefaced now, and own Mirabell, you might as easily
put off Petulant and Witwoud as your hood and scarf. (3.10)
of putting off Petulant and Witwoud to that of a hood and scarf
generally agree that
The Way of the World is an outstanding play,
mainly because of its brilliant dialogue. But many these same critics find
fault with the play because of its convoluted plot. Consider the following
That it was a failure
on the stage is not remarkable, for it is still a failure on the stage.
That Millamant sails triumphantly into our hearts and that the dialogue
is written with dazzling brilliance cannot hide the harsh facts that the
story (if it can be called a story) is unintelligible and that the action
(if there can be said to be any action) is feeble. But, failure though
it is, The Way of the World touches a height that Congreve nowhere else
attained. Some of it is comedy perfectly brilliant; some of it is near
to tragedy almost poignant. It shows possibilities of dramatic excellence
that Congreve, with his indolence, failed properly to exploitSampson,
George. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature. 3rd
ed. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1970, page 352.
and his Fair:
Bartholomew Fair, held each summer in London.
Flat wooden paddle used to hit a shuttlecock in a game similar to badminton.
French for fashionable society. Beau monde literally means
Spanish (borachoe or borrach'o), drunkard.
Fabric made of Angora wool or camel's hair.
hour: In the Church of England, any hour between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.
for the performance of a wedding ceremony; in Roman Catholicism, a time
when certain prayers are said.
Herb of the mint family.
(69-30 BC): Seductive and cunning Queen of Egypt in the Macedonian dynasty.
Illegal assembly of Protestants who contested the authority of the Church
Conceited fellow preoccupied with fashionable clothes.
A hen in "The Nun's Priest's Tale" in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.
Mirabell uses this term in the second scene of Act 1 to refer to Foible.
In printing, a book leaf measuring about 4½ by 6¾ inches.
Preparations that induce sleep.
Drap de Berry, woolen cloth made in Berry, France.
Edema, a condition in which fluid accumulates in the body and causes swelling.
(epitomizer): One who outlines, condenses, or summarizes.
In Greek mythology, any of three sisters with snakes for hair. The gaze
of a Gorgon could turn an observer into stone.
Latin for in wine there is truth. (Alcohol consumption lowers inhibitions
and often makes the drinker reveal the truth about himself or others.)
Medieval knight who wandered in search of adventure.
Follower of Islam; Muslim.
In Cervantes' Don Quixote de la Mancha, a servant woman at an inn.
She is short, ugly, and blind in one eye.
(AD 22-48): Third wife of the Roman emperor Claudius (10 BC-AD 64).
Interpreter of Islamic religious law.
Follower of Islam; Muslim.
Saint Pancras, a section of London.
In Greek mythology, queen of the Amazons, a race of warrior women living
near the Black Sea.
nolle prosequi, Latin legal term meaning not willing to proceed
with a prosecution.
Wild, riotous, disorderly, reckless, rakish.
was the wife of Suleiman the Magnificent ((1494-1566), a ruler of the Ottoman
Muslim who fought against Crusaders; desert nomads of Syria and Arabia
in ancient times.
Sir John Suckling (1609-1642), British poet. For an example, Suckling's
poetry, click here.
Wife of a sultan.
In Greek mythology, a prophetess.
Shepherd in Idyll I,
a poem by the ancient Greek writer Theocritus (310?-250? BC)
Questions and Essay Topics
Who is the most admirable character
in the play? Who is the least admirable?
Milliamant's money important to Mirabell?
plot of The Way of the World too complicated? If you answer yes,
explain how you would simplify it?
strictly for love (rather than for money, social status, and power) commonplace
in England in 1700?
an essay comparing and contrasting Mirabell and Fainall.
an essay comparing and contrasting Millamant and Mrs. Fainall.