In William Congreve's "The Way of the World”, what are Mirabell and Millamant actually negotiating in the contract of Act4?
In William Congreve's play The Way of the World Mirabell and Millamant, the main characters of the story, realize their feelings for each other after Mirabell completes the verses from Suckling that Millamant was reciting out of anxiety.
Reciting the poem together was an allegory to the archetypal love affair between two distressed lovers who cannot achieve the goal of being together. Yet, in a comical turning point, they suddenly begin to negotiate what each of them, separately, expects their significant others to be should they become married.
In the negotiation, they are basically making a "pre-nuptial" agreement on how their behavior will be. Millamant says that her freedom must be guaranteed before she is, in her own words, "dwindled" into becoming a wife. On his part, Mirabell said that before he is "enlarged" into becoming a husband, he wants a wife that is neither scandalous, nor "a slave of fashion". This, Millamant does not like because she cannot believe that Mirabell would think of her that way. However, the "negotiations" have to be hastened by the entrance of Mrs. Fainall on stage.
Now a days it can be seen from the point of Identity crisis. Millament was stern to retain her identity. In those days, the rakes like Mirabel were in search of women having fortune to marry to run a smoothly life on their wives' fortune. We see this in the behavior of Mr Fainall and Mrs Fainall. Inspit of knowing that Mrs Fainall had relationship with Mirabel yet he paid the least attention. He even did not pay heed to the comments made by Mrs Marwood about their relationship. Rather he was interested in her fortune and relationship with Mrs Marwood. Mrs Millament did not want to be a play thing in the hands of Mirabel after marriage. At the same time she loved Mirabel with all his faults, she finds him somewhat different and suitable for her. So is the case with Mirabel and he agrees to her all conditions.