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Discuss William Congreve's play The Way of the World as a comedy.

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alihasan | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 8, 2010 at 12:30 AM via web

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Discuss William Congreve's play The Way of the World as a comedy.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted February 8, 2010 at 2:20 AM (Answer #1)

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The Way of the World is developed as a comedy, written by William Congreve, in keeping with the conventions of the Restoration comedy of manners. These comedies, following Cromwell's government and the restoration of a king in England upon the return of Charles II to the throne in 1660. George Farquhar was another Restoration comedy playwright. Restoration comedy, seeming to be a backlash to Cromwell's rigid religiosity, features sexual adventures and misadventures; marriages of convenience within strict constraints of behavior; affairs, jealousies and coy coquettes. Congreve wrote neither to alter nor condemn but to give an accurate glimpse of the background villainy underpinning superficially impeccable social deportment.

He uses the comedic dramatic devices of counterplot, the foil, comic relief, hyperbole and impersonation with disguise. His settings allow views of men collected together; couples in public places with private conversation; and a house in which private places allow for hiding from and spying on the social relationships that are conducted within its walls. Counterplots repeat the theme of the main drama. The foil stands in contrast with the hero making the hero's virtues look better in light of the foil's bad qualities. Comic relief interrupts the tragedy at the heart of good comedy by reducing the danger or tension to a point of ridicule or hilarity. Hyperbole works with understatement, the former being exaggeration and the latter being ironic restraint, to expose the ridiculousness of social convention and cultural stereotypes. Impersonation is familiar as a standard Shakespearean device in which one person pretends to be another for the purpose of manipulating events to reach their own desired ends (e.g., Shakespeare's Viola, Rosalind, Hero).

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