Question: Comment on Congreve’s deft handling of his major themes love, marriage, and money.
Introduction: “The Way of the World” by William Congrevefocuses on sundry themes. Love, marriage, and money are the prime which has been deftly handled by the inaugurator of the comedy of humor.
Congreve’s deft handling of his major themes love marriage and money
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Equality and independence
Central to The Way of the World is the romantic relationship between Millamant and Mirabell. To modern readers, their relationship may seem confusing, even strange, but their witty exchanges and the seeming absence of physical affection characterize the ideal relationship felt during the Restoration Period. Ideal relationships in the Restoration Period, such as Mirabell and Millamant’s, were characterized by equality and independence—although society still judged women’s purity more harshly than men’s, as seen in the unbalanced treatment of Mrs. Fainall and Mirabell’s affair, as Mrs. Fainall needed to be protected against “scandal” while Mirabell was essentially free to do as he pleased.
Well-matched wit and humor
Mirabell matches Millamant’s wit and humor in ways her other suitors, Petulant, Witwoud, and Sir Wilfull, do not. Their pithy exchanges highlight society’s desire for wit, particularly when contrasted with the banal crudeness of her other suitors, who are at various times described as drunk, vain, ignorant, and salacious. Millamant, as the archetypal heroine—she’s beautiful, strong, clever, and independent—has no time for bumbling suitors like Sir Wilfull and stands in strong contrast to Lady Wishfort, who comically falls all over herself to impress Sir Rowland.
Revolt against the contemporary concept of marriage
Unlike Mrs. Fainall, who submits to the demands of a cruel husband, Millamant does not let Mirabell control anything. She lists all her demands in the proviso scene of Act 4 before accepting Mirabell’s proposal, including that:
- she may wear what she pleases.
- she must have the rights to socialize and communicate with whomever she chooses.
- she will never be forced to entertain his dull relations and eat when and what she pleases
- she must be allowed privacy in her room.
These relationship demands would have been very fashionable and controversial during the Restoration Period (1660-1700) as society fought against the conservative, traditional gender expectations that had so long existed.
Universality of avarice
As the play purports, greed is “the way of the world.” One cannot live without money, but the pursuit of it often corrupts relationships. None of the play’s characters live without some level of greed. Each makes decisions to protect, earn, or steal fortunes. The central conflict of the play revolves around Millamant’s sizeable inheritance and how it can be protected through marriage. As a stipulation of her guardianship, Lady Wishfort refuses to pass on Millamant’s inheritance unless she marries a man of her approval. When Mirabell falls out of Lady Wishfort’s good graces, he must concoct a complicated plan to both earn Millamant’s hand and protect her inheritance. Even Millamant clearly loves Mirabell but could not marry him without her money.
Deception and threats
Fainall and Mrs. Marwood’s greed casts them as the play’s villains because they seek to steal what is not theirs. Fainall marries Lady Wishfort’s daughter for her money, which he spends on his mistress, Mrs. Marwood. He concocts plots to blackmail Lady Wishfort out of her own fortune and Millamant’s inheritance, threatening to divorce his kindhearted wife should Lady Wishfort not comply with his demands. When his plans are discovered, Fainall remarks that “’tis the way of the world,” suggesting that greed makes the world go around. Dedication to money with no love present would seem highly distasteful and unacceptable in the realm of the play; dedication to love without money would be difficult and impractical given their lives.
Triumphant of love and money
Congreve is praiseworthy since he has shown that love and money have the winning power. Mirabell wins Lady Wishfort’s love and Millamant’s too. Mrs. Fainall gets the right to control her chaotic husband by dint of her wealth. This is natural that nobody can live without money and love.
Now we can sum up that “The Way of the World” is a play that represents the worldwide concept of love, marriage, and money.