The Way of The World: Comic Drama - Summary

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      The Way of The World (1700) is a famous comedy by the Restoration dramatist, William Congreve. In it Congreve reaches near perfection in construction, characterisation and dialogue. The story of the play counts for little. It is a tale of love intrigues, character assassinations, discomfiture and ultimate union of lovers. Mirabell is in love with Millamant, a niece of Lady Wishfort, who has in her keeping the inheritance of the niece. Mirabell to conceal his love for the niece, pretenas to make love With the aunt. The deceit is exposed by Mrs. Marwood, who revenges herself on Mirabell for rejecting her advances. Mirabell contrives that his own servant, impersonating an uncle of his, Sir Rowland, make love to Lady Wishtort. The purpose is to win the consent of the aunt to the marriage of the niece.

The Way of The World (1700)
The Way of The World

      This plot, too, is discovered by Mrs. Marwood. Another conspiracy is hatched by Mrs. Marwood, who now loves Mr. Fainfal, the son-in-law of Lady Wishfort. The two give out Mirabell who had in the past a secret intrigue with Mrs. Fainfall. Fainfall threatens to divorce his wife unless he is given possession of the property of his wife and also of Millamant. The scheme fails through the instrumentality of Mirabell. Lady Wishfort now forgives Mirabell and consents to his marriage with Millamant. The plot is thus a string of confused and often impossible situations. But there are some animated and entertaining scenes, where reputations are murdered and these give the dramatist ample opportunity for displaying witty and lively dialogues, which are the chief excellence of the play. The portrait of Millamant, "finely tempered in sense and intellect" is Congreve's most brilliant creation.

      The play has no plot, but is a series of scintillating dialogues full of wit. Its wit combats between Millamant and Mirabell and Petulant and Witwould are its greatest charm. It has false loves, affectations, intrigues and conspiracies - these are the ways of the world. But the play goes beyond it suggests the rational basis of love and marriage. The proviso-scene between Mirabell and Millamant is important as much for its sparkling wit as for indicating the serious theme of the play. Mirabell who begins as a rake becomes a true lover. Millamant in spite of her affectations is a sincere loving woman. It provides the manners of the time and at the sametime suggests a deeper theme of love and marriage based on mutual understanding and acceptance of the norms of behaviour between husband and wife.

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