Questions: Discuss “The Way of the World” as a comedy of manners. The Way of the World as a comedy of manners.
Comedy of manners is a play that gives a satirical portrayal of behavior in a particular social group. This genre of drama was popularized in the Restoration Period (1660-1700). William Congreve (1670-1729) is certainly an influential writer of comedy of manners. His famous play “The Way of the World” is one of the most remarkable works of the comedy of manners.
Special features of the comedy of manners
Although the comedy of manners becomes very popular because of its artistic presentation, the chief specialty of this form is related to its technical aspect. The main target of the writers of the comedy of manners was the social follies prevalent in their time. Comedy of manners is primarily satirical in its approach. The way of the world contains satirical elements including love, marriage, treacherous persons, romantic dialogues, wit, and humor which are essential ingredients of the comedy of manners.
The mirror of contemporary time
“The Way of the World” is the most appropriate example of the comedy of manners. This comedy contains almost all the qualities of a Restoration comedy. It presents a huge picture of contemporary social ethics and principles. This play maintains a satirical tone from beginning to end. It gives us valuable information about the sophisticated class of society in England at that time. How they were involved in their lifestyle; and how women of that period were crazy about fashions and love affairs, such kind of things has been brilliantly depicted in “The Way of the World”.
The illicit love-affairs
The play is engulfed with extramarital love affairs. When we minutely observe the plot of the play, we notice that Mr. Fainall ignores the dishonesty or treachery of his wife because he is no better than her. He has an illegal love affair with Mrs. Marwood. But when this immoral affair is exposed, he faces it without any feeling of shame and puts his arguments in order to defend himself. We can judge Mrs. Marwood’s moral dishonesty because she is still involved with Mirabell despite having a love affair with Mr. Fainall. Here we can laugh at Mr. Fainall’s condition because he thinks himself an over-intelligent fellow, but he himself is being deceived by his wife and Mrs. Marwood.
The Affectations for fashionable society
“The Way of the World” depicts a wonderful picture of the affectations of the people particularly women of fashionable society. The dramatist ridicules them for their obsession with fashion. We get a clearer picture when we read the “Proviso-scene”. Mirabell presents a broad analysis of women’s habit of visiting theatres without their husband’s consent, extra-marital affairs and tea parties and so many other habits which were common or in vogue in the fashionable circle of that society.
Domination of intrigues
There was absolute domination of intrigues in the Restoration society. Men and women were deeply involved in plotting and scheming. Such kind of intrigues was in vogue and young men wanted to marry rich women to acquire a maximum fortune. In “The Way of the World”, we find that Mr. Fainall is not very interested in Mrs. Fainall. He does not love her, but he marries her only to achieve her property. He also wants to take over the entire property of Lady Wishfort on the basis of an illegal document. But Mirabell foils Mr. Fainall’s attempt and saves the property and reputation of Mrs. Fainall and Lady Wishfort.
Witty and humorous dialogues
The most remarkable feature of the comedy of manners is the witty and humorous dialogues. “The Way of the World” contains this feature in a unique manner. The playwright has portrayed the characters of Petulant, Witwoud, and Wilfull only to maintain this trend. A magnificent display of witty dialogue between Mrs. Fainall and Mirabell is here:
Mrs. Fainall: While I only hated my husband,
I could bear to see him, but since I have despised him, he is too offensive.
Mirabell: O, you should hate with prudence.
To sum up, it is transparent that “The Way of the World” presents a vast vista of contemporary society. It satirizes the follies of the people of upper-class society. The subject matter of the play is domestic that is in vogue for such plays. So, Congreve has perfectly proved his capability as a writer of comedy of manners.