Ilustration of a man kissing a woman's hand

The Way of the World

by William Congreve

Start Free Trial

Describe the role of servants in the development of the plot of The Way of the World.

Quick answer:

The servants play a key role in the development of the plot. For instance, Mirabell has Waitwell disguise as Sir Rowland to trick Lady Wishfort. Mrs. Marwood overhears Foible talking about Mirabell's plot, and gets Foible and Waitwell in trouble. But Foible and Mincing know about Mrs. Marwood's affair with Fainall and expose it. Because of the servants’ inside knowledge, Lady Wishfort finds out everything and Mirabell gains Mrs. Fainall's estate and Millament's hand in marriage.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The characters of the servants are central to the plot development of William Congreve’s play The Way of the World. Recall how the play centers are Lady Wishfort, who is trying to sabotage the marriage of her former lover Mirabell and her niece Millamant. Mirabell catches on to Lady Wishfort’s efforts and employs the help of his servant, Waitwell, to distract her. Waitwell disguises himself as a wealthy suitor named Sir Rowland and feigns interest in Lady Wishfort to distract her from interfering in the Mirabell and Millimant’s relationship. Mirabell plans to have Sir Rowland propose to Lady Wishfort so he can then blackmail Lady Wishfort into granting him Millimant’s hand in marriage.

Meanwhile, Lady Wishfort’s maid Foible (who is married to Waitwell) also plays a key role in the plot. She and Millamant’s servant Mincing witnessed the affair between Lady Wishfort’s friend Mrs. Marwood and Fainall, Lady Wisfort’s son-in-law but initially keep it a secret. Then, when Mrs. Marwood hears Foible talking about Mirabell’s plan, she devises her own plan with Fainall to blackmail Lady Wishfort. As a part of that plan, they expose Waitwell and Foible and get them in trouble. But Foible, with the support of Mincing, exposes Mrs. Marwood’s affair with Fainall. Once this comes to light, Mrs. Fainall conveys her estate to Mirabell. This makes Lady Wishfort happy and she forgives Mirabell and allows him to marry her daughter. Without the meddling of Waitwell, Foible, and Mincing, Lady Wishfort would never have found out who was plotting against her and why.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial