Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*London. Capital city of England that provides the world in which the play is set—a world of coffeehouses, periwigs, and elaborately formal dress. It is an upper-class world of gallants and fine ladies, as opposed to would-be gallants and merely attractive ladies. The world of trade and agriculture surrounds this world but is not a part of it except by way of contrast.


Chocolate-house. Setting for act 1. Such houses as Will’s near Covent Garden and White’s near St. James Park were the fashionable meeting places of young gallants and wits. Often gaming was associated with them.

*St. James Park

*St. James Park. Large park in central London in whose fashionable Mall act 2 is set. The Mall was a long tract in St. James that was formerly used for playing pall-mall. It is often confused with Pall Mall, another park close by to the north.


Country. Although no scene in the play occurs in the country, the country is always in the background. Sir Wilful Witwoud is a country bumpkin who serves as the butt of ridicule for all. His half brother, Witwoud, has done all he can to eradicate traces of the country from his manners, dress, and speech but without success. No character in the play is associated in a positive way with the country. Millamant, perhaps the most regular character in the play, loathes the country.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

The period in English history from 1670 to 1729, when Congreve lived and worked, was marked by a dramatic political event, which gave its...

(The entire section is 583 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

Restoration Comedy
Congreve's plays belong to a genre known as Restoration comedy. The Restoration refers to the reestablishment...

(The entire section is 1815 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1600s: The patronage of a wealthy aristocrat or noble is an important source of income as well as inspiration for artists of all...

(The entire section is 536 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

The seventeenth century was a time of great political upheaval in England. Research the period dating from the Civil War in the 1640s, which...

(The entire section is 356 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

The Mourning Bride was Congreve's only dramatic tragedy. Performed in 1697, it was a triumphant success and ran for thirteen days at...

(The entire section is 407 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Birdsall, Virginia Ogden, Wild Civility: The English Comic Spirit on the Restoration Stage, Indiana University...

(The entire section is 325 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Holland, Norman. The First Modern Comedies. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1959. This remains required reading for any student of English comedy written between the Restoration and the eighteenth century. Holland’s discussion of The Way of the World does justice to the play’s many complexities. Highly recommended.

Muir, Kenneth. The Comedy of Manners. London: Hutchinson University Library, 1970. A handy little book that provides an overview of the principal writers of stage comedy in England between the Restoration and the early eighteenth century. The chapter on Congreve contains a fine discussion of one of his best-known plays, The Way of the World.

Novak, Maximillian E. William Congreve. New York: Twayne, 1971. Probably the best general introduction to Congreve, with an act-by-act discussion of The Way of the World and an extensive annotated bibliography.

Powell, Jocelyn. Restoration Theatre Production. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984. A delightful and very readable account of Restoration drama—from a “production” angle. Powell discusses music, acting styles, and scenery, provides many wonderful illustrations, and concludes with a particularly sensitive and informed discussion of The Way of the World.

Williams, Aubrey L. An Approach to Congreve. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979. Williams stresses the “common ground” of Christian belief shared by Congreve and his audience. Controversial, but clearly and persuasively written. The chapter on The Way of the World focuses on Mirabell, the play’s hero, whom Williams would exonerate of the charges of Machiavellianism so often brought against him.