The Way of the World

The Way of the World


William Congreve

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The Way of the World: Act 1, Scene 3 Summary & Analysis

Shortly after the messenger leaves, Fainall rejoins Mirabell and notes his improved mood. Mirabell responds only that he is engaged in a matter of “some mirth” that he is not yet prepared to divulge. Mirabell also mentions that he’s glad that tonight isn’t a “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 because most of the women are relatives, like Millamant, his wife’s cousin, and the men are pathetic. Mirabell disagrees with Fainall, suggesting that scandal arises precisely when women hang around with fools. Fainall responds by asking Mirabell whether that means he is jealous that Millamant often entertains their foolish friend, Witwoud.
The two men’s verbal jousting continues, in which they seek to prove their wit while also ferreting out “dirt” on each other. Fainall doesn’t realize that Mirabell’s good news actually foretell Fainall’s defeat and Mirabell’s victory. Mirabell realizes it, however, and secretly finds it very funny to be congratulated by his opponent. Note how women and men have separate social circles where they gossip and talk about at each other—the women at Wishfort’s cabal, the men at the chocolate house. Mirabell understands human nature better than Fainall. He knows that smart women, like Millamant, only surround themselves with fools for attention. But he also recognizes the way such behavior can harm a reputation.
Jealousy, Deceit, and Intrigue Theme Icon
Wits and Fools Theme Icon
Rather than arguing further with Fainall, Mirabell describes his love of Millamant. He explains that he loves the entirety of Millamant, both her charms and her flaws. This admission seems to surprise Fainall, who encourages him to marry her. However, Fainall warns Mirabell that when he becomes a married man, he should focus more on Millamant’s faults than on her charms, if he wants to maintain his independence.
Mirabell’s love for Millamant is mature and deep: he sees her for what she is and accepts her shortcomings. The depth of Mirabell’s love for Millamant show that he is more than just a witty, charismatic trickster. Though the play is driven by his schemes, those schemes are driven by love. Fainall lacks such love, and in fact sees love not as a positive but as something that threatens to “capture” a man.
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Love and Money Theme Icon
Literary Devices