The Way of the World

The Way of the World

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Themes and Colors
Jealousy, Deceit, and Intrigue Theme Icon
Wits and Fools Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Female (In)dependence Theme Icon
Love and Money Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Way of the World, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Wits and Fools Theme Icon

Congreve opens The Way of the World with a prologue that outlines the general struggle of playwrights to satisfy the audience and please all the critics. He suggests that this is a foolish endeavor and that it is better to instead write a play that instructs audience members on what characterizes a fool versus a wit.

This type of instruction is exactly what he proceeds to give through the repartee, or witty dialogue, of the fools of the play, mainly Witwoud, Petulant, and Sir Wilfull. These comedic minor characters often don’t fully grasp the significance of the drama going on between Mirabell and Fainall but provide comedic relief with their well-timed puns and “raillery,” or good-humored teasing, of other characters.

Additionally, the foolish characters Sir Wilfull, Petulant, and Witwoud model qualities the Restoration gentleman should not have and are personality types that a true gentleman should not surround himself with. All three men are unintellectual, “foppish” (excessively concerned with fashion), and at times, vulgar. By contrast, Mirabell is the foil to all three men, and represents the highest standards of decorum and wit. Importantly, though the three fools can at times seem like witty fools when they crack jokes, the opposite relationship between wits and foolishness does not hold true in Congreve’s play. Instead, Congreve makes it clear that true wits, like Mirabell, are never foolish and never fooled. Hence Fainall, neither quite a wit nor quite a fool, occupies his own category as the villain or rogue of the play and is consequently undone by Mirabell and his team of half-wits, Sir Wilfull, Petulant, and Witwoud.

Wits and Fools ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Wits and Fools appears in each scene of The Way of the World. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Wits and Fools Quotes in The Way of the World

Below you will find the important quotes in The Way of the World related to the theme of Wits and Fools.
Act 1, Scene 9 Quotes

Where modesty’s ill manners, ’tis but fit
That impudence and malice pass for wit.

Related Characters: Mirabell (speaker), Witwoud, Petulant
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Witwoud has told Mirabell about Lady Wishfort's plan to sabotage him by setting Millamant up with Mirabell's uncle. Dejected, Mirabell has asked Fainall to leave the chocolate house and take a walk on the Mall with him. Witwoud and Petulant have tried to invite themselves along, leading Mirabell to eventually tell them directly that he doesn't want them to come because he doesn't like the way they harass women in public. In the final lines of this scene, Mirabell denounces Witwoud and Petulant's "ill manners," "impudence," and "malice." He suggests that they are not even that witty, despite being the fools of the play. This statement confirms MIrabell's moral righteousness relative to the other characters, who are rude and disrespectful to women. 


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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.