The Way of the World (1700)
Witty, ironic Mirabell is in love
with the coquette Millament. But to marry her he must first win over her lovesick old
aunt, Lady Wishfort and the estate she holds for the girl. He pretends to make love to the
old woman who is receptive to his advances. Things go well until Mrs. Marwood, rejected
earlier by Mirabell, threatens to expose his scheme. The plot is revealed and Lady
Wishfort says that Millamant may marry Mirabell, but only half of the estate will go with
her. More strategems by Miravell, more revelations by Mrs. Marwood. Mirabell then reveals
an earlier indiscretion by Mrs. Marwood. This elicits eternal gratitude from Lady Wishfort
to Mirabell for saving her from the scandal of a divorce of her daughter. In the end she
agrees to the marriage of Mirabell and Millamant.
1. The Way of the World is not only the title but also
one of the major themes of the play. Point out
passions and obsessions by which characters of the play are obsessed, especially notice
how the eye for advantage is common to all of them.
2. The play's social milieu
is a world of worth. In addition to
contributing to the sheer comedy of the play, wit is used as weapon of defense and attack,
flirtation and deception. Find examples and explain them.
3. The basis of all the rhetorical figures (similes, conceits, epigrams,
antitheses) in Act II, Scene 1, is comparison: characters find apt correspondences between
unlike things and develop metaphors. Find examples and show how the metaphor works within
the context of this scene.
4. Millimant and Mirabell
differ from the other characters of the play whose end is sexual or economic advantage.
These two are playing the social game for a
more serious and nobler purpose. Find passages that support this statement. What is the
aim of these two characters.
5. To Millimant and
Mirabell wittiness is means to develop a definition of true marriage. Find the passage(s); what is their
concept of marriage?
6. Millimant satirizes the marriages of convenience common in
Restoration society. Find passages that support this statement and point out what she
expects of a marriage partner. By criticizing feminine vices Mirabell indicates what he
regards as feminine virtues; what are they?
7. The names of Congreve's characters are symbolic,
linking each character with a specific idea or quality. Find passages that show how
Witwoud "would be witty," Lady Wishfort is "wishing for" favors from
men, Fainall "feigns all," Mrs. Marwood "would mar" etc.
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