The Way of the World

The Way of the World


William Congreve

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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.

Jealousy, Deceit, and Intrigue

In Congreve’s play, jealousy, deceit, and intrigue are important and interrelated plot devices that drive the action of the play by creating conflict between characters. In many ways, the play can be thought of as a competition between Mirabell and Fainall to deceive the other by means of opposing schemes to gain control of Lady Wishfort and her fortune. Each man is assisted in his plan to outdo the other. Fainall has one helper, his…

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Wits and Fools

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…

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Men vs. Women

With its several references to sex taking place inside and outside the marriage, Congreve’s play would have riveted the attention of a Restoration audience very much interested to know the gossip of who’s sleeping with whom and what really goes on between married and unmarried men and women behind closed doors. Though often described as a sexual comedy-of-manners, The Way of the World does not merely titillate the audience with the possibilities of physical union…

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Female (In)dependence

The Way of the World is notable for its positive portrayal of independent, intelligent women. Several female characters are impressively independent and contribute their own helpful ideas to the schemes created by Mirabell and Fainall. The servant Foible is noted for her sharp wit and quick mind, which proves useful when she has to deceive Lady Wishfort. Mrs. Fainall is eager to destroy the plans of her adulterous husband even before she finds…

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Love and Money

Money is a distinct concern for several of the characters in Congreve’s play. Though greed does exist in the play—Fainall wants all of Wishfort’s fortune or as much as he can swindle—Congreve draws a more important connection between familial and romantic love and the desire for money as a means of financial security. This is an interesting coupling because it suggests that the sentiment of love itself is not enough to build a romantic relationship…

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