The Way of the World

The Way of the World

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Lady Wishfort Character Analysis

A wealthy, old widow, mother to Arabella Fainall, and aunt to Millamant, Witwoud, and Sir Wilfull, Lady Wishfort is a vain and silly woman who tries to act younger than she actually is. As a result, she comes off as quite foolish and annoying. Lady Wishfort is eager to remarry and quickly falls in love with Sir Rowland. She wears a lot of makeup to hide her wrinkles, which calls attention to her age. Though throughout much of the play, she claims to hate Mirabell and seeks revenge against him for pretending to flirt with her, her hatred is really fueled by her unrequited love. She is the leader of “cabal-night,” a club that consists of mostly women who gather at her house to gossip about how much they hate men, particularly Mirabell. Easily fooled, she trusts the opinion of her best friend Marwood, who is betraying her. Foible, her lady-in-waiting, is actually working for Mirabell. As matriarch, she is in charge of arranging her niece’s marriage and protecting her dowry until she gets married. This role, of course, is threatened by Fainall, who she later claims is not the man she wanted her daughter to remarry.

Lady Wishfort Quotes in The Way of the World

The The Way of the World quotes below are all either spoken by Lady Wishfort or refer to Lady Wishfort. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Jealousy, Deceit, and Intrigue Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of The Way of the World published in 1993.
Act 3, Scene 5 Quotes

Poison him? Poisoning’s too good for him. Starve him, madam, starve him; marry Sir Rowland, and get him disinherited.

Related Characters: Foible (speaker), Mirabell, Lady Wishfort
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

Foible has told Lady Wishfort that she has given Wishfort's portrait to Sir Rowland, who has fallen in love with her. However, Foible has also pretended that Mirabell claimed that Wishfort is planning to marry for money. Wishfort, infuriated, declares that she will poison Mirabell. In this passage, Foible suggests that instead of poisoning him, Wishfort should "starve him" by marrying Sir Rowland and depriving Mirabell of his inheritance. Foible's words show the many kinds of violence to which the characters subject one another, some more literal and vicious than others. Of course, Foible needs to make sure that Wishfort doesn't actually poison Mirabell; her way of doing this, by claiming that "poisoning's too good for him," is humorous given her duplicity.

This passage also shows the extremes to which the characters take their manipulation and deceit. Ordinarily, it might seem rather absurd to marry someone simply in order to seek revenge on someone else––yet in the world of the play, the suggestion is not implausible.

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Let me see the glass. Cracks, say’st thou? Why, I am arrantly flayed: I look like an old peeled wall. Thou must repair me, Foible, before Sir Rowland comes, or I shall never keep up to my picture.

Related Characters: Lady Wishfort (speaker), Foible
Related Symbols: Masks
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Lady Wishfort has been tricked by Foible into seeking engagement to Sir Rowland that night, so she can marry him the next day and prevent Mirabell from receiving his inheritance. Thinking that Sir Rowland has fallen in love with her from her portrait, Wishfort looks in the mirror only to find that, in her excitement, she's spoiled her makeup and now looks "like an old peeled wall." She asks Foible to help fix her face so she resembles her picture. The fact that Wishfort frets over her likeness to her own picture highlights the absurdity of the false pretenses that dominate the social world of the play. Indeed, Wishfort's makeup becomes a kind of mask, representing her duplicitous and manipulative personality. 

The humor in this scene is further increased by the fact that Wishfort's makeup is not a very good mask, and in her excitement ends up "arrantly flayed." Furthermore, Wishfort is foolish in her shortsightedness and denial of the passing of time; it is inevitable, of course, that she would grow old and come not to resemble her younger self, just as it is inevitable that no amount of makeup will convince people that she retains her former youthful appearance. 

Act 3, Scene 16 Quotes

Sheart, I was afraid you would have been in the fashion too, and have remembered to have forgot your relations.

Related Characters: Sir Wilfull Witwoud (speaker), Lady Wishfort, Witwoud
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

Wishfort and Mrs. Fainall have joined the group of Sir Wilfull, Witwoud, and the others, and Wishfort has introduced the other men to Sir Wilfull. Wilfull remarks that he was afraid Wishfort would have followed the fashion of pretending to forget one's relations, just as Witwoud did in the previous scene. Wilfull's words emphasize the absurdity of this trend, particularly his use of the oxymoronic phrase "remembered to have forgot." This phrase highlights the complete illogicality behind many social customs, and the foolishness of people who follow such trends even when they contradict common sense knowledge about decency and reason.

Act 4, Scene 15 Quotes

Oh, what luck it is, Sir Rowland, that you were present at this juncture! This was the business that brought Mr. Mirabell disguised to Madam Millamant this afternoon. I thought something was contriving, when he stole by me and would have hid his face.

Related Characters: Foible (speaker), Lady Wishfort, Sir Rowland
Related Symbols: Masks
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

Lady Wishfort has begun to read the letter aloud, thereby almost discovering that Sir Rowland is in fact not a real person. However, at the last minute Waitwell (still pretending to be Sir Rowland) starts reading the letter himself and manages to convince Wishfort that it is from Mirabell. In this passage, Foible remarks that it is lucky that Sir Rowland is present, reinforcing the notion that the letter is all some elaborate plot of Mirabell's. Although only seconds previously everything seemed to be on the brink of disaster, it has in fact been comically simple to persuade Wishfort that the letter was a false scheme concocted by Mirabell. This simplicity emphasizes the extent to which people are blinded by their prejudices against others. 

Foible's comment that Mirabell "stole by me and would have hid his face" alludes to the symbol of masks. Her words highlight how easy it is to accuse people of behaving duplicitously, while Wishfort's gullible reaction shows how difficult it is to know if someone is telling the truth. 

Act 5, Scene 6 Quotes

… I will be endowed, in right of my wife, with that six thousand pound, which is the moiety of Mrs. Millamant’s fortune in your possession, and which she has forfeited (…by the last will and testament of your deceased husband…) by her disobedience in contracting herself against your consent or knowledge, and by refusing the offered match with Sir Wilfull Witwoud

Related Characters: Fainall (speaker), Lady Wishfort
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

Fainall has entered the parlor in order to announce his demands to Lady Wishfort. In this passage, Fainall declares that he "will be endowed" with the full amount of Millamant's fortune, which Millamant has sacrificed by refusing the hand of Sir Wilfull and getting engaged without Wishfort's "consent and knowledge." Fainall is clearly in a rapture of triumph in this passage. After endlessly complicated manipulations, and having been thwarted in his scheme several times, Fainall clearly feels confident that everything will now turn out exactly how we wants, a sentiment conveyed by his use of the future tense ("I will be endowed"). Rather than bask in his joy graciously, however, Fainall behaves in a ruthless, domineering manner, evidently pleased by the opportunity to control and humiliate Lady Wishfort. 

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Lady Wishfort Character Timeline in The Way of the World

The timeline below shows where the character Lady Wishfort appears in The Way of the World. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
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...visiting his love, the popular and beautiful Millamant, both Millamant and her fifty-year-old aunt, Lady Wishfort, asked him to leave in front of their other guests, members of a semi-secret and... (full context)
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Fainall also reminds Mirabell that he has only himself to blame for Wishfort’s low opinion of him. Up until recently, Mirabell had been hiding his advances toward Millamant... (full context)
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Mirabell refuses to blame himself for what happened. He notes that Wishfort only discovered the truth because it was revealed to her by Mrs. Marwood, a close... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 3
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...“cabal-night.” He asks Fainall whether he allows Mrs. Fainall to attend these “cabal” gatherings of Wishfort’s. Fainall responds that he’s not jealous of the company his wife meets at these parties... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 5
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...conversation, Mirabell learns that Sir Wilfull is related to Mrs. Fainall and Millamant—his mother is Wishfort’s sister. Fainall remarks that if Mirabell were to marry Millamant, then he, too, would be... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 9
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...then, jokes that the three women are Witwoud’s cousins and aunt: Mrs. Fainall, Millamant, and Wishfort, respectively. Rather than being offended, Witwoud laughs off Petulant’s insult toward his family. (full context)
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...threat to Mirabell’s courtship of Millamant. Mirabell presses Petulant for details. Petulant explains that at Wishfort’s “cabal” the night before, he learned that Mirabell’s uncle is coming to stay at Wishfort’s... (full context)
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...For instance, she expressed interest in Mirabell’s uncle at the cabal. Witwoud also reveals that Wishfort knows that Mirabell and his uncle don’t get along and is planning to use this... (full context)
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...stay and wait for his half-brother. Witwoud responds that Wilfull is going to arrive at Wishfort’s house that evening, at which point Mirabell gets to the point: he doesn’t want to... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
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...is surprised by Marwood’s philosophy, as it stands in contrast to the anti-men ideology of Wishfort’s cabal. She accuses Marwood of hiding her true beliefs to appease Mrs. Fainall’s mother, Wishfort.... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
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...that she wants to hear more about the subject he was discussing last night before Wishfort asked him to leave the cabal. (full context)
Act 2, Scene 3
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Marwood again denies this, saying that her “obligations” as a friend to Wishfort, someone she could not stand seeing Mirabell toy with, led her to reveal to Wishfort... (full context)
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...expenses. He explains that if Marwood hadn’t intervened, and Mirabell and Millamant had married without Wishfort’s consent, Wishfort would’ve been so upset that she would’ve disinherited Millamant. Millamant’s fortune would then... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 4
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...get married because he feared that Waitwell might try to betray him. Mirabell worried that Wishfort might try to marry his “uncle” in order to cut him, Mirabell, off from his... (full context)
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Mirabell adds that Wishfort would have to consent to his marriage to Millamant and release Millamant’s fortune before he... (full context)
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...promising because her mother “will do anything to get a husband.” Mirabell agrees, joking that Wishfort would marry “anything” resembling a man even though he were nothing more than “what a... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 8
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...on her marriage. Foible, though, is worried: she is “ashamed” because she left her lady, Wishfort, without telling her where she was going or what she was doing. Waitwell affirms that... (full context)
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...at hand: Mirabell’s plan to marry Millamant. She tells Mirabell that she promised to bring Wishfort a picture of Mirabell’s (fake) uncle, Sir Rowland. She also plans on lying to Wishfort... (full context)
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...She asks if he has any more directions for her before she heads back to Wishfort, whom she guesses is waiting for help to get dressed for dinner. Just then, she... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 1
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At home and sitting at her dressing table, Wishfort asks her servant, Peg, if she’s heard from Foible yet. When Pegs says no, Wishfort... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 2
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Peg has left to get the brandy. Alone in her dressing room, Wishfort again criticizes the paleness of her skin. She yells for Peg, “the wench,” to hurry... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 3
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Peg returns, explaining that she was looking for a cup. Wishfort complains about the size of the cup she brings, saying that Peg must think her... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 4
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Marwood greets Wishfort and says she’s surprised to see her still wearing her morning clothes. Wishfort replies that... (full context)
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Wishfort is shocked, exclaiming that Mirabell makes her so angry that just the sound of his... (full context)
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Marwood reassures Wishfort of Foible’s integrity. But Wishfort replies that integrity is no match for Mirabell’s cunning. She... (full context)
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While talking to Marwood, Wishfort hears Foible approaching. She urges Marwood to hide in a closet while she, Wishfort, interrogates... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 5
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When Foible enters, Wishfort rushes to question her about what kept her away so long and whether she’s told... (full context)
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Wishfort vows to murder Mirabell by poisoning his wine. Foible proposes that Wishfort instead “starve him”... (full context)
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Foible also informs Wishfort that Rowland longs to see her, but Wishfort can’t stop talking about her revenge against... (full context)
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Wishfort wonders how Rowland will try to court her. Will he be obvious about his love... (full context)
Wishfort is not done talking, however. She goes on to say that acting tenderly, with “a... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 6
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After Wishfort leaves the room, Mrs. Fainall enters to warn Foible that Marwood saw her with Mirabell... (full context)
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...and adds that Mrs. Fainall still “has his heart.” Foible also updates Mrs. Fainall on Wishfort’s eagerness to get married. (full context)
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Before leaving the room, Foible asks Mrs. Fainall to give Mirabell an update about Wishfort’s interest in Rowland and that Marwood seems to be watching them. Mrs. Fainall exits with... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 7
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...suspicion that Mirabell and Mrs. Fainall were once lovers has now been confirmed. She spies Wishfort coming back. (full context)
Act 3, Scene 8
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Wishfort apologizes to Marwood for forgetting her in the closet. Marwood responds that she has been... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 9
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Foible reenters the dressing room to announce the arrival of Witwoud and Petulant for dinner. Wishfort implores Marwood to entertain the men, while she finishes getting dressed. (full context)
Act 3, Scene 10
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Marwood leaves Foible and Wishfort to entertain the guests but finds, not Witwoud and Petulant, but rather a very angry... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 11
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...a secret than it is a secret that Marwood revealed his love for her to Wishfort because Marwood is in love with Mirabell herself. Mrs. Marwood retorts that Millamant is upset... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 14
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The footman delivers Wilfull to the company of friends and tells him that Wishfort is dressing. When Wilfull asks the footman whether his aunt has eaten dinner, the footman... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 15
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...it. She asks him if he is Sir Wilfull Witwoud. Witwoud then introduces himself as Wishfort’s niece. With a little prodding from Marwood, Wilfull suddenly recognizes his half-brother (whom he calls... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 16
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Wishfort and her daughter, Mrs. Fainall, join the group. Wishfort welcomes Wilfull and he greets his... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 17
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Mincing enters, and tells Wishfort that dinner is “impatient.” Wilfull overhears her and asks if dinner can wait until he... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 18
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While everyone else is at dinner, Marwood and Fainall meet alone in Wishfort’s house. She has just finished telling Fainall everything she has learned, from Foible’s involvement with... (full context)
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...then complains that the fortune would easily have been his if Marwood had not told Wishfort that Mirabell was using her. For, if Mirabell had married Millamant without Wishfort’s consent, Mirabell... (full context)
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Fainall likes this plan. Marwood then apologizes for suggesting to Wishfort that Millamant should marry Wilfull, as that might pose an obstacle to this new plan.... (full context)
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...plot. Marwood suggests that she could write an anonymous letter that will be delivered when Wishfort is with Sir Rowland. The letter will reveal the truth of Sir Rowland’s identity and... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 1
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At Wishfort’s house, Wishfort and Foible are waiting for Sir Rowland. Suddenly, Wishfort sees a coach approaching... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 2
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...that Mirabell has been waiting the last half hour to talk with her alone but Wishfort has ordered her to talk with Wilfull. Millamant says to tell Mirabell that she’s busy... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 6
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...house. She also reveals that things seem to be going well between Sir Rowland and Wishfort. She urges Mirabell to slip out the back and wait for news from Foible. He... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 10
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Wishfort joins Millamant, Mrs. Fainall, and Witwoud. She has dragged along a very drunk and, apparently,... (full context)
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Wishfort tries to smooth over Wilfull’s outrageous behavior, saying that he’s been drinking to her health.... (full context)
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...Willful’s stench. She urges Mrs. Fainall to leave with her. The two women exit, leaving Wishfort behind with Wilfull and Witwoud. (full context)
Act 4, Scene 11
Wishfort, exasperated with Wilfull, tells him he stinks and to get out of her sight. Meanwhile,... (full context)
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...a cockfight. Wilfull agrees to this idea and asks whether there will be wenches there. Wishfort, hearing all of this, resignedly admits to herself that Wilfull, at the moment, is not... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 12
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Wishfort rejoins Waitwell, who is disguised as Sir Rowland, in her dressing room. She apologizes for... (full context)
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When Wishfort tells him about all the ways that Mirabell has wronged her, Waitwell pretends to be... (full context)
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Rowland quickly agrees to follow her plan instead. Wishfort, happy they have decided to take this course of action, goes back to flirting with... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 13
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Suddenly, Foible arrives in the dressing room and interrupts the exchange between Sir Rowland and Wishfort. She informs Wishfort that the dancers hired to entertain Rowland have arrived and one of... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 14
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...tired out by “panting” his love and lying to a lady. Waitwell tells her that Wishfort is “the antidote to desire” and that Foible herself will suffer for it. He says... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 15
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Wishfort returns holding an unopened letter from the dancer and calls the dancers to begin. She... (full context)
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...knows that it can contain nothing good. She whispers to Waitwell to take it from Wishfort. Sir Roland exclaims that he recognizes the handwriting and that the letter is from his... (full context)
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Wishfort believes Foible and tells her that she remembers that her niece left rather quickly when... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
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...evening of the day in which all the events up to now have taken place. Wishfort and Foible are still in the dressing room. However, Wishfort is yelling angrily at Foible... (full context)
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Foible begs her forgiveness but Wishfort is unmoved. She tells Foible that she will end up back on the streets where... (full context)
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Wishfort doesn’t care. She is beyond furious that Foible would have destroyed her honor by marrying... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 3
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Mincing arrives in the dressing room with news: Waitwell has been released from prison, while Wishfort is terribly upset over something that Fainall has told her. He is shouting at a... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 4
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In the parlor, Wishfort praises Marwood as a true and good friend for all her help in revealing Mirabell’s... (full context)
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Mrs. Fainall enters. Wishfort condemns her daughter and tells her that because of her affair, she must now part... (full context)
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Wishfort apologizes to Marwood and scolds her daughter for her ungratefulness. Mrs. Fainall, however, sticks to... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 5
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With her daughter gone, Wishfort reveals to Marwood her doubts about her daughter’s guilt. After considering how carefully she raised... (full context)
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...would open up a private scandal to public debate. She mounts a convincing case to Wishfort that her name and reputation will be ruined if word of her daughter’s history gets... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 6
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Fainall has joined the women in the parlor to make his demands known to Wishfort. Marwood acts as the go-between and tries to make each concession seem more appealing to... (full context)
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Wishfort tries to object to this last stipulation by pointing out a loophole. She says that... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 7
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Once Fainall leaves, Wishfort again complains to Marwood. She asks whether she should agree to Fainall’s terms. Marwood insists... (full context)
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Wishfort complains that marrying Fainall was her daughter’s idea. She bemoans the loss of good and... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 8
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...his unbecoming behavior. He promises to marry his cousin to please her and make amends. Wishfort is surprised by the apparent change in Millamant’s attitude toward Willful and asks her if... (full context)
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...come witness the ceremony after he formally releases her from the engagement in front of Wishfort. Though pleased with the obedience of her niece and nephew, she is appalled that Mirabell... (full context)
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...entry that he might be inclined to insist on his engagement to her to spite Wishfort. Wishfort reluctantly agrees to let him in, as long as it’s the last time she... (full context)
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...and says to herself that Mirabell is up to something. She starts to leave but Wishfort, alarmed, asks her to stay. Marwood promises not to go far and to come back... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 9
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...that he will stand by him and support him in his efforts to win over Wishfort. He also tries to comfort Mirabell by telling him that the worst Wishfort can do... (full context)
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Mirabell apologizes profusely to Wishfort. He tells her that he only wants to be forgiven and that just looking at... (full context)
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Finally, Wishfort relents and forgives Mirabell, explaining that she does so because Wilfull wants her too. But,... (full context)
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Wishfort tells herself that Mirabell has “witchcraft” in his eyes and in his tongue but that... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 10
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Marwood returns to the living room, with Fainall following. Fainall addresses Wishfort and tells her that the time for her to deliberate has run out. He produces... (full context)
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Wishfort replies that even if she were ready to sign, she no longer needs to because... (full context)
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...meaning his sword, to slice through Fainall’s contract if he does not revoke his demand. Wishfort and Millamant both tell Wilfull to calm down. Fainall tells Wishfort that it doesn’t matter... (full context)
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Wishfort wails for a way to prevent Fainall from ruining her. Mirabell begins to answer that... (full context)
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Hearing this, Wishfort grows excited and hopeful. She tells Mirabell that she will forgive him for everything he’s... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 11
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...Fainall, Marwood instantly realizes that they are going to expose her affair with Fainall to Wishfort. She confides her fears to Fainall, who responds that they must bear whatever happens because... (full context)
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...under questioning, Foible and Mincing both swear that Marwood was having an affair with Fainall. Wishfort, angrily, turns to Marwood and asks her whether she has deceived her. Marwood asks Wishfort... (full context)
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...tells Mincing to get lost and reminds her that she has not profited by telling Wishfort the truth. He grows increasingly angry and calls his wife to come forward. He threatens... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 12
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When Waitwell enters the room carrying a box of papers, Wishfort asks him what he wants. Waitwell tells her that he has brought the papers at... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 13
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...signed. Mirabell now begins to unveil his trump card, but before doing so, again reminds Wishfort of her promise. (full context)
Act 5, Scene 14
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Once the two villains leave, Wishfort turns to her daughter and praises her prudence. Arabella gives all the credit to Mirabell,... (full context)
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...and asks if she can spare Petulant and Witwoud to serve as his travel companions. Wishfort is delighted by this turn of events and readily agrees. Petulant and Witwoud are still... (full context)
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Turning to the lovers, Wishfort blesses their engagement. Millamant complains good-naturedly about Mirabell not “taking” her. She asks him whether... (full context)
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...they’ll have time to make love later. He calls for a dance and a song. Wishfort excuses herself from the festivities, claiming that she is fatigued and worried that Fainall will... (full context)