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The Way of the World

by William Congreve

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What does The Way of the World reveal about the fashionable society of its time?

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Congreve's comedy of manners The Way of the World is quite illustrative of its genre in that it uses salient character traits to portray a so-called fashionable upper class society which is otherwise hypocritical, superficial, vindictive, facetious, and oblivious to the world outside their realms.

Fainall and Mrs. Marwood are at the epicenter of a circle of greed, social destruction, and self-aggrandisement. As lovers, they are the key schemers and double dealers of a wider so-called circle of friends that include Fainall's wife, her former lover Mirabel, his friend Petulant and Sir Wilful Witwoud, among the most influential

What is most salient about the dynamics and dealings of this circle of spoiled and scheming aristocrats is the fact that they hold no loyalties; they tend to move with the changing tides of favor, and use their wit to back-stab, cheat, or steal from one another. The key goal is to catch Fainall and Marwood in their tricks and beat them at their own game. This is Mirabel's ultimate goal as the "hero" of the play.

In the meantime, the play ties and unties tangled-up relationships such as Millamant and Mirabell, Mirabell versus Lady Wishfort, and the former relationship of Mirabell and Fainall.  There are also declared "wars", and never ending feuds, all covered under the guise of politeness, good manners, and witty jokes. One can very well see how this "fashionable set" operates under a shallow and and mechanical group of dynamics all design to serve themselves as best as they can.

Therefore, the goal of entertaining is highly accomplished by Congrave in presenting us with a group of so-called friends of a social stratum that holds a strong sense of entailment and which is supposed to be refined and quite polished. In reality, they are just as shrewd, scheming and low as any other peasant. This is what Congrave ultimately wishes to satirize.

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