In William Congreve's "The Way of the World”, why does Millament read Suckling and Waller in Act4?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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In the play The way of the World, Millament reads verses from Suckling andWaller in Act 4 because she is under a profound level of stress due to her own feelings about how she connects with men, particularly, in the aspect of intimacy. The poem that she is reciting is supposed to come from a 17th century ballad, ‘‘Ballad upon a Wedding’’, which is a satire of the conventional, super-serious ceremonies of marriage.

Basically, Millament is a female character who is archetypal in that she is consumed by her thoughts, and tormented by her upbringing. She is consistently battling the ideas put upon her as a child, versus the conclusions about men that she is beginning to develop now that she is a woman. Hence, with a pending marriage in the future, her disdain for it, and her inner wishes for freedom, she exists in a conundrum where she tries to find herself. The compulsive recitation of the poem was a way to cope with her stress and anxiety.