The Way of the World Study Guide

The Way of the World Study Guide

Original title:
The Way of the World

The Way of The World by William Congreve is a play that is mostly dedicated to displaying a single vice: lust and infidelity. The play starts from a classical plot: the two young people in love want to marry, but to do so Mirabell must get permission of Millamant’s aunt. Everything seems very clear, especially when we see the character of Lady Wishfort, the aforementioned aunt, seemingly bitter and prudish lady who has already arranged the marriage for her niece.

But as the story starts to unwind, we see that almost everyone in it isn’t as simple as it seemed to be before. The characters are haunted by their former extramarital affairs and entangled in the new ones. They are incredibly stressed and miserable because of the need to maintain their deception.

Mirabell and Millamant are shown as the only sane people in all the mess. Mirabell isn’t a saint himself, he had affairs before Millamant, but they find the courage to openly talk about it, forgive and forget the past and accept each other the way they are. The contrast between the constantly growing pile of lies and schemes and the sincerity of the couple is incredible. We, as the audience, are almost afraid of it, because Mirabell and Millamant are so out of the society that we can’t expect anything good after their refusal to play the game everyone else play. Their behaviour, that seems so normal for the modern people, is seen as unacceptable and scandalous by the rest of the characters, who prefer to maintain a pretty facade above all and consider that everything is normal and possible until it is well hidden.

The Way pf The World was received rather coldly by the critics. They considered the play amoral and encouraging the marital infidelity. Only years later the audience and the new generation of critics was able to give the author all the credits for showing the example of healthy - not idealized - relationship among the rest of the pretty looking but stressful and unsatisfying affairs around.

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