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The Way of the World

by William Congreve

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What is the significance of the proviso scene in The Way of the World?

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The significance of the proviso scene is that it shows that marriage in the society depicted in the play is more of a business transaction than a love match.

In this very important scene from The Way of the World, we see Millamant and Mirabell discuss their possible marriage. During their discussion, Millamant demands from her would-be husband an equal amount of love and affection. In other words, she wants some kind of guarantee from Mirabell that her love for him will be fully reciprocated during their married life.

One of Congreve's satirical targets in the play is the attitude of the English upper-classes towards marriage. And his satire is most in evident in the proviso scene. As well as insisting on being given equal love by Mirabell, Millamant demands that she retain her independence after they are married. Among other things, this means that she should be allowed to lie in bed for as long as she likes.

For good measure, she demands that she will not be addressed as “wife,” “spouse,” “love,” or any other conventional terms of endearment. If Millamant gets her own way, then there will be some emotional and physical distance between herself and Mirabell, even though they will formally be man and wife.

The purpose of the proviso scene is undoubtedly satirical. Congreve wants to show us that, for the English upper-classes, marriage is little more than a business arrangement, hedged about with all kinds of absurd conditions.

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