The Way of the World is a comedy of humour and wit. It also exposes hypocrisy, affectation, and the removal of masks on certain characters’ faces. Pierpoint says that the play is a comedy of characters. Episodes and events have a small role and are of little importance, and they are the ones who bring life, charm, and force to the play.
Lady Wishfort as an old lady of status
Lady Wishfort is one of Restoration comedy’s most brilliant and consistently sustained characters. She is a fifty-five-year-old woman, wealthy and comfortable, living in an enormous mansion with many attendants. She is unhappy because she longs for love and marriage. She is so sexually powerful that she would marry anyone in her position.
Mirabell plays on it and befools him. He makes his servant wait to impersonate Sir Rowland to fall in love with the old lady. She is blinded by her sexual urge and falls prey to the charms of Mirabell. She is given to excessive use of cosmetics with the solitary aim to allure a member of the opposite sex to court her into marriage and confer upon her the privilege and pleasure of a conjugal bed. It is delightful to see Rowland’s intense passion and affectation.
Mrs Fainall is a woman with loose character
Wishfort’s daughter, Mrs Fainall is a widow. Her first husband, Mr Languish, had died. She married Mr Fainall for the second time. This marriage was not of love but convenience. Mirabell had illicit relationships with her, and she became pregnant. Mirabell assisted her in marrying Mr Fainall so the child could have a legal father. She and Mr Fainall have no affection. Even though Mr Fainall loves Mirabell and wants to marry her, Mrs Fainall still has Mrs Marwood as the mistress.
Mrs Fainall is a woman of the world. She appears to have a lot of experience with men and strong opinions about their character and nature. In her childhood she was taught to hate mankind by her mother Lady Wishfort. It is a psychological fact that such extremes result in their opposite extremes in human nature. When she grew up and became sex conscious, she went to the other extreme in her attitudes towards men.
Mirabell’s charm, captivating personality and persuasive tongue
Mirabell is a very attractive and impressive person. Mirabell is a charming young man. His charming personality is a magnet for women who meet him. His physical charm makes him a favourite of Mrs Millamant, Mrs Fainall, and Lady Wishfort. He is a centre of attraction for all women-folk who enjoy his charms.
Besides having a charming, attractive personality, he is also gifted with a high persuasive tongue. He knows how to win the hearts of others and convert them to his own way of thinking. Lady Wishfort is scared of his persuasive tongue and is certain that if Foible has met him, he would certainly succeed in getting out of her secret of Sir Rowland’s visit to her. Lady Wishfort falls for his charm and is deeply in love with him. She is disappointed when she learns that Mirabell loves her niece, but then she becomes silent. Mirabell’s fake courtship with Lady Wish fort and his illegitimate sexual relationships with Mrs Fainall is not to his credit.
The wit of Mirabell
Meredith considers Mirabell the most charismatic male figure in English comedy. Dr Johnson calls him an intelligent gladiator. His wit, the fine sparkling things which he says so often, show that he is intelligent and shrewd and knows how to hold his own. Mirabell might not be Millamant’s equal in playful, witty talk, but his unique ability to create short, sparkling, amusing, and imaginative sentences are unmatched.
The negotiation scene in which Mirabell formulates and puts forth conditions for acceptance by Millamant, showing what sort of a wife, he would desire her to be, also reveals his shrewdness and wit. Both he and she shine out in the words of a critic as the civilized man and the civilized woman, working out move by move and step by step, in the most straightforward language and with an appearance of great confidence, the insoluble problem of how to deal with an animal passion in a complex world.
Millamant is a beautiful, cultured lady
Millamant is a charming, cultured lady with great charm and fascination. Millamant is beautiful and is sought after by many gallants. She has received countless love letters. Numerous gallants wait for her and follow her. The fascinating thing about her is her physical beauty. She is also cultured and educated with refined tastes and polished manners. Her natural beauty is enhanced by her elegant and refined style and careful use of makeup. She also enjoys literature and loves to read the poetry of Suckling and other Restoration poets. She can quote verses from them and recite at length.
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All these graces, both natural and acquired make her a lady much loved and desired. But she keeps her lovers at an arm’s distance. She smiles at all of them but extends favour to none. She is in love with Mirabell passionately and with great devotion; however, even to him, she does not declare her affection. She says frankly that she would like her individuality, her otherness to be respected by her future husband. She is remarkable in all aspects.
The greatest proof of Congreve’s creative genius lies in the fact that Millamant, the bewitching heroine, portrays her entire character through her speeches. Almost all the characters in the play have been carefully designed and superbly drawn. Millamant and Mirabell are among the immortals of literature. Lady Wishfort is equally successful, at once a type and an individual and she remains UpToDate one of the greatest of comic creations in the whole range of English drama. Therefore, the Way of the World is undoubtedly a great comedy of characters.