The Way of the World

The Way of the World


William Congreve

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Masks Symbol Icon
Throughout much of the Restoration period, masks were often considered part of a fashionable ensemble for ladies and gentlemen attending evening theatre performances. In many early Restoration plays, masks symbolize flirtatious behavior and covert love affairs. In Congreve’s late Restoration play, however, the mask no longer seems to be quite the fashion statement it once was. Mirabell forbids Millamant from wearing a mask to the theatre in their marriage contract and she is outraged that he thinks she would ever wear such an unfashionable article. According to Witwoud, the foolish Petulant wears a mask to disguise his true identity when he goes around and tries to make himself look popular by asking people about Petulant’s whereabouts. But during the play, only Marwood actually wears a mask, wearing it at the park in full daylight to hide her tears from those who might see her with Fainall and begin to speculate. But the mask doesn’t do what typical Restoration masks are supposed to do, like make her seem more fashionable or prevent her from being recognized by Mrs. Fainall and Foible. Finally, it does not even provide cover for what Marwood really wants to hide: her affair with Fainall. If anything, wearing a mask, particularly in daylight, suggests to other characters her lack of innocence and, throughout the course of the play, comes to symbolize her role as betrayer and adulteress, someone whose own face is a kind of mask for her double-dealing behavior.

Masks Quotes in The Way of the World

The The Way of the World quotes below all refer to the symbol of Masks. 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
Act 3, Scene 5 Quotes

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:
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:
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Masks Symbol Timeline in The Way of the World

The timeline below shows where the symbol Masks appears in The Way of the World. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 2, Scene 3
Jealousy, Deceit, and Intrigue Theme Icon
...his wife approaching. He urges Marwood to compose herself and hide her face behind a mask she has with her. Then, he guides her down a different path to avoid Mirabell... (full context)