The Way of the World is set in late 17th-century London. Everything happens over the course of one day, and the action takes place in a chocolate house, in a park, and in Lady Wishfort's house. All these places are important to high society. The chocolate house was a place where men could go meet with one another in public, all while consuming chocolate, an expensive delicacy. The park, as Mrs. Fainall makes clear in a biting remark to her husband, is a public place where people walk about talking to one another and also watching one another: you could start a scandal by walking with the wrong person in the park. Lady Wishfort's house is where all these rich people go to gossip with one another at their "cabal" nights. Because Lady Wishfort's wealth is largely consolidated in her estate, it is also the physical manifestation of the fortune everyone is so concerned with. The caper mostly takes place right on top of the wealth everyone is fighting over.
Congreve draws the audience's attention to how getting along in these wealthy public spaces requires people to know the right manners and customs, including a sharp wit. In Act 1, scene 5, Fainall and Mirabell discuss how Sir Wilfull Witwould is coming to Lady Wishfort's house from out of town before he goes to travel abroad. They make clear that Sir Wilfull doesn't know all these manners and customs:
FAINALL: No matter for that; ’tis for the honour of England, that all Europe should know we have blockheads of all ages.
MIRABELL: I wonder there is not an act of parliament to save the credit of the nation, and prohibit the exportation of fools.
FAINALL: By no means, ’tis better as ’tis; ’tis better to trade with a little loss than to be quite eaten up with being overstocked.
Mirabell worries here that other Europeans will see Wilfull's foolishness as representative of England. Fainall argues that at least Wilfull's travels will mean one less fool in England. By making Wilfull the butt of this joke, Congreve plays into a trope of Restoration comedy: laughing at poor or "uncultured" people from outside London high society as fools. Wilfull does provide some comic relief when he arrives, but Congreve also goes on to hint that Wilfull's way might be better. Ultimately, the play is more critical than many earlier Restoration comedies of how manners and wit can be a mask that gets in the way of people behaving genuinely.