Way of the World

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A comedy by Congreve, produced 1700. This is the most finished of Congreve's comedies, but it was not very well received.

Mirabell is in love with Millamant, a niece of Lady Wishfort, and has pretended to make love to the aunt in order to conceal his suit of the niece. The deceit has been revealed to Lady Wishfort by Mrs Marwood to revenge herself on Mirabell, who has rejected her advances. Lady Wishfort determines to disinherit her niece if she marries Mirabell. Mirabell contrives an elaborate plot to trick Lady Wishfort into consent to his marriage: the counterplots of Mrs Marwood (who threatens to reveal Mirabell's past intrigues with Lady Wishfort's daughter Mrs Fainall) at first prevail, but eventually her own intrigue with Fainall is exposed, and Mirabell is forgiven.

Congreve enlivens the action with a fine gallery of fools, including Sir Wilfull Witwoud, Lady Wishfort's boisterous and good‐natured country nephew; they serve to highlight the central contrast between the passionate and grasping relationship of Fainall and Mrs Marwood and the delicate process by which Mirabell persuades Millamant that even in such a mercenary society, love can survive into marriage. The dialogue is exceptionally brilliant, and many critics also consider the play a study of the battle between good and evil, rather than of the characteristically Restoration conflict between the witty and the foolish.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

William Congreve (1670—1729) playwright and poet

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