Way Of The World By Congreve Essay

, Research Paper

The Way of the World is a comedy of manners in five acts by William Congreve.

Performed and published in 1700 the play ridicules the assumptions that governed

the society of his time, especially those concerning love and marriage. The plot

concerns the efforts of the lovers Millamant and Mirabell to obtain the

permission of Millamant’s aunt, Lady Wishfort, for their marriage. Despite a

scheme that goes wrong and after several misunderstandings are cleared up, the

two finally obtain her consent. This essay will discuss the actions of Mrs.

Marwood. Though she is a minor character, her motives in the play lead her to

help in the distruction of Mirabell?s scheme. In the second act we find that

Mrs. Fainall and Mrs. Marwood both hate men. As they begin to conspire, we see

Marwood’s manipulative abilities going to work, convincing Mrs. Fainall that she

should divorce her husband. In Public the Fainall’s seem to get along, they even

seem to be able to tolerate one another. However, following their short

interactions, both husband and wife go off with a lover, either past or present.

Fainall went off with Mrs. Marwood, the woman he loves, and Mrs. Fainall went

off with Mirabell, one of her long time lovers before her marriage. This pairing

off did not truly bother either of the Fainall’s in that since niether loved the

other, they did not feel loyal to each other. Their marrage was based solely on

image and in no way love. Therefore they did not feel guilty about being with

the person they loved most in the world. Through these conversations, the plot

to wed Mirabell and Millamant is revealed to the audience. This seems to be a

long and intricate plan with a lot of things depending on the reactions of Lady

Wishfort and the secrecy of the plot. Unfortunately, Mrs. Marwood sees Foible

conversing with Mirabell and for a moment, all seems lost, but Foible convinces

Lady Wishfort that she did not speak to Mirabell volutarily and that he coerced

her into speaking with him. She also told Lady Wishfort that Mirabell had

insulted her, which made Lady Wishfort extremely mad and so she desired to seek

revenge on such a bold and stubborn man. She was willing to do almost anything

to keep Mirabell from inheriting his uncle’s fortune, even go so far as to marry

the unknown uncle herself. Ironically, the plan is almost foiled again when Mrs.

Marwood overhears the entire plan as Mrs. Fainall speaks with Foible. In order

to work against the plot without directly coming out and uncovering it, Marwood

plants opposing thoughts into the mind of Lady Wishfort, and so in this way,

undermining the efforts of Mirabell and Foible. Mrs. Marwoods intention are to

help Fainall extort money out of Lady Wishfort. In addition to advising Lady

Wishfort, Marwood plans to use Fainall to get back at Lady Wishfort, Millamant,

and Mirabell. She writes a letter that reveals to Lady Wishfort the entire plan

including Waitwell’s impersonation of Sir Rowland, and even Millamants

involvement with the unapproved contract. However, during this time, Lady

Wishfort is encourageing Millamant to become involved with Sir Wilfull, but

Millamant is only interested in Mirabell. Finally, Lady Wishfort is courted by

Sir Rowland, all is going well until the letter arrives. When Lady Wishfort

reads the letter, she is confused and shocked at first. Waitwell tries to

justify the letter and so offers to prove his identity as Sir Rowland. However,

since Fainall knew about Marwood’s plan to use the letter, he was waiting to

arrest Waitwell. Lady Wishfort in turn was scolding Foible and proceeded to

basically throw her out of her home. Over the next few moments, all of the

inter-relationships that had been hidden throughout the play were uncovered as

Fainall attempted to legally pressure Lady Wishfort into turning over her

fortune to her daughter and therefore giving the money to him. Without fail,

Mirabell comes to the rescue with a legal document that turns over all moneys to

himself, signed and witnessed by persons who were present. So in the end,

Mirabell is allowed to marry Millamant as a reward for saving Lady Wishfort’s

fortunes. This play was very interesting and difficult to understand in the

beginning, but as the plot began to unfold and the relationships began to be

discovered, the story was a little more understandable. The characters

themselves were not necessarily deep, but the inter-relationships were important

to the overall storyline. The characters that worked together tended to have

some type of loyalty to the other character(s). For example, Fainall worked with

Mrs. Marwood because he loved her. These alliances seemed stronger because there

was a bond between them. Mrs. Marwoods action overall were not honorable. Her

chracter was not a likeable one because of her willingness to foil Mirabell?s

scheme. Her action were motivated by her love for Fainall.

The Way of the World, William Congreve Lynch, Kathleen M.(Ed.) (1965). The

Way of the World. Nebraska: University of Nebrask Press.


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