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The Way Of The World Essay, Research Paper
Dr. Ross Wheeler
Paper1 Draft 1
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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