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The Way of the World

by William Congreve

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Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 356

The seventeenth century was a time of great political upheaval in England. Research the period dating from the Civil War in the 1640s, which led to the dissolution of the English monarchy, to the "Restoration" of Charles II in 1660. In what ways did political change help shape ‘‘Restoration Drama?’’ In particular, how did political realities contribute to the rise and popular appeal of the "comedy of manners?''

Lady Wishfort is a central comic figure in The Way of the World. As the aging but still amorous dowager, the capricious yet tenacious holder of the purse strings, and the twice-duped lover so desperate to marry and so patently superficial in her disapproval of men, she amuses by the very nature of her naïve yet bold heart. How would you direct the pivotal opening of Act III, when we are introduced to Lady Wishfort for the first time? This will involve her interaction with Peg, Foible, and Mrs. Marwood up until her exit from the scene.

John Dryden is a major literary figure of the seventeenth century, and he was one of the most vocal supporters of Congreve's work. It was Dryden who helped Congreve polish his wildly popular first play, The Old Batchelour for the London stage. Research the life of Dryden and discuss the significance of his relationship to Congreve, in particular, and Restoration literature in general.

Read William Wycherley's The Country Wife. As an early example of Restoration comedy, how does it compare to Congreve's The Way of the World, written twenty-five years later? What are some common themes and comic devices? What are some essential differences?

Choose a major character in The Way of the World. Say why that character is important to the theme and plot. How is that character significant in relation to other characters in the play? How does the character's role add to the overall comic effect? Refer directly to dramatic lines of the text in your analysis.

It has been said that every good comedy contains an element of tragedy. Describe the tragic elements in The Way of the World. Does the play have a happy ending?

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