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Money Is the Way of the World

The Way of the World is a comedy play written by William Congreve, which premiered in

1700 with mildly success due to the intricate plot that the play presents. This plot is designed

by Edward Mirabell with the help of his previous mistress, Arabella Languish (later Mrs.

Fainall), and a pair of servants in his attempt to acquire Millamants love and fortune,

which is withheld by Lady Wishfort. It is important to point out the significance of money in

the play as it cannot be separated from love and the moral of the characters because the

ambition for it is what motivates them to act. As a result, in The Way of the World, one of

the ways of the world is how money, class, and reputation play a central role in the characters

lives, from their names to their perspectives of love.

About the former, names are very self-explanatory of the characteristics,

personality, and moral of the characters. First, the servants characteristics and morals concur

with their names. All of them are loyal to their masters; however, Waitwells name suggests

that he is a good servant not only in the simplest meaning of waiting but in that he follows

Mirabells orders without question even if those involve fooling Lady Wishfort he would

rather be a chairman in the dog days than act Sir Rowland (IV, xiv); Foibles implies a

slight weakness of judgement and ambition which allows her to be seduced by Mirabells

words to conspire behind Lady Wishforts back; she is a poor ignorant and that the wealth

of the Indies [had] bribed [her] (V, i). Both servants are also driven by the money Mirabell

promised them than for love. Lastly, Mincing presents a contraposition to her mistress,

Millamant, as she tries without success to pretend a refinement that is unreachable to people

of her class and status, thus, resulting in an affected elegance that reflects in her speech:

MINCING. Till I had the cramp in my fingers, Ill vow, mem. And all to no purpose.

But when your laship pins it up with poetry, it sits so pleasant the next day as

anything, and is so pure and so crips.

WITWOUD. Indeed, so crips?

MINCING. Youre such a critic, Mr. Witwoud. (II, v)

Waitwell and Foible fall into the same economical ambition that characterizes Mirabell,

Fainall and Mrs. Marwood. Mincing, on the other hand, desires to have a refinement in a

similar way in which Witwoud aspires for an effortless use of wit. However, the longing in

these three characters result unsophisticated because of their low social class.

Second, Petulant and Witwoud are the fops that serve as amiable [foils] for the

rake, [and] a vivid and crucial part in the plot structure and satire (Casey 211). On the one

hand, Witwoud is the would-be wit that acts as the opposite of Mirabell since the former is

unable to use wit as successfully as the protagonist. On the other, Petulant comes off as

hostile and offensive as his name conveys.

FAINALL. [] he has something of good nature, and does not always want wit.

MIRABELL. Not always; but as often as his memory fails him, and his

commonplace of comparisons. He is a fool with a good memory, and some few

scraps of other folks wit. He is one whose conversation can never be approved, yet

it is now and then to be endured. (I, v)

PETULANT. Sir, I presume upon the information of your boots.

SIR WILFULL. Why, tis like you may, sir: If you are not satisfied with the

information of my boots, sir, if you will step to the stable, you may inquire further

of my horse, sir.

PETULANT. Your horse, sir! Your horse is an ass, sir!


SIR WILFULL. Do you speak by way of offense, sir? (III, xv)

In contrast, Sir Wilfull is the one that appears comical although his name points out to the

decisive nature he has; for instance, traveling the world despite his age or marrying his cousin

against his desires: But if you would have me marry my cousinsay the word and Ill

dotWilfull will dot, thats the wordWilfull will dot, thats my crestmy motto I have

forgot. As a result, Witwouds and Petulants attempts at wit and humor appear unsuccessful

and insulting when compared to Mirabell or Sir Wilfull respectively.

Third, the construction of the women is consistent with their respective types. Lady

Wishfort corresponds with the type of woman that still thinks of herself as youthful and able

to seduce younger men; in a sense, she wishes to have those features and maintain her

reputation as her name indicates. In words of Mrs. Fainall, Lady Wishfort would do anything

to get an husband (II, iv). Because of that is easy for her to despise Mirabell for fooling her:

once by pretending interest in her and later for Sir Rowlands scheme. Mrs. Fainall and Mrs.

Marwood are at the same level since they are divided between their love for Mirabell and

their marriage and affair with Fainall respectively. The only difference can be attributed to

money: Mrs. Fainall has money whereas Mrs. Marwood does not; thus, the latter can only

rely on Fainalls scheme to acquire his wifes money (II, iii). Lastly, Mrs. Millamants name

translates to a thousand lovers (Prologue note 1) which hints at her beauty, education, wit,

and reluctancy to marry as noted in her expectation to be followed to the last moment.

Though [she is] upon the very verge of matrimony, [she expects Mirabell] should solicit [her]

as much as if [she] were wavering at the grate of a monastery, with one foot over the

threshold (IV, v). Moreover, there is a clear contrast between the three women: although

Mrs. Fainall has money, she does not have the grace and education of Millamant; Mrs.

Marwood, on the other hand, may have the courtesy but not the money that graces Millamant.

Lastly, on the one hand, Mirabells name suggests a physical fairness that allows

him to look good; moreover, his name also has an air of elegance that contrasts with the

antagonist man, Fainall, despite moving in the same social circles. On the other, Fainalls

name conveys two meanings that show explicitly the moral of the character: fain in the sense

of his eagerness to obtain his wifes money, and feign according to his false love for Arabella

(Mrs. Fainall) and pretended marriage as he is having an affair with Mrs. Marwood. The

same beauty that Mirabells name suggests also implies an exemplary morality that is

associated with physical attractiveness; however, he does not differ from Fainalls character

since both fall into the stereotype of the rake. For instance, in the beginning of act I, the

conversation between Fainall and Mirabell shows significant characteristics of the rake type:

gaming, economical ambition, and a libertine nature (I, i-iii). Finally, the protagonist couple

possess names that exalt or suggest a good quality in them: fairness; whereas, the names of

characters from a lower class identify with unpleasant adjectives.

According to David S. Berkeley, there are penitent and persistent rakes (The

Penitent Rake in Restoration Comedy), features that can be found in Mirabell and Fainall.

Nevertheless, the characteristics of the penitent rake in Mirabell are only noticeable towards

the end of the play. Because of this, the relationship between love and money in Congreves

comedy results ambiguous: does love really exists without money? Mirabell expresses a

desire to marry Millamant claiming to love her; however, his plan which moves the entire

play to ultimately marry her demonstrates the contrary.

Before the beginning of the play, Mirabell had planned the couples in order to

develop his plan to marry Millamant as he needed. As a result, what motivates the couples

arranged by Mirabell into marrying is money instead of love: Fainall desires Mrs. Fainall

wealth, and the servants expect the payment that Mirabell promised them. Moreover, the

Fainalls pretend to love each other but, in reality, they are having affairs with Mrs. Marwood

and Mirabell respectively. Consequently, these affairs describe the further ambition of Mrs.

Marwood and Mirabell. Although they do not love their lovers per se, both depend on them

to achieve their purposes: Mrs. Marwood wants to be wealthy and Fainall is her only chance

at securing that; Mirabell, on the other hand, gets advantage of his proximity to Mrs. Fainall

to make advances on Millamant. In the same way, the marriages of Lady Wishfort and

Millamant to Sir Rowland and Sir Wilfull respectively would have had the same destiny: an

union for convenience, for the former, and with money, for the latter, but without love.

On the one hand, the fact that Mirabell succumbs to Millamants flaws rather than

her charms although Berkeley writes that [the] more beautiful and virtuous a lady was,

the greater her power to conquer and convert [a penitent rake] (227) as well as his

inclination to accept most of Millamants conditions of marriage advocate for a potential true

love from Mirabells part. A virtue that cannot be granted to Fainall as there is no love in his

marriage and his wife is not as virtuous as Millamant. However, the revelation that he had

been the benefactor of Mrs. Fainall money the entire time indicates that his ambition was

greater. He is a hero who is handed all the rewards because he breaks all the moral codes

(Traugott 1): his plan relies heavily on the womens preservation of their reputation since it

includes arranged marriages, an illegitimate child, and a betrayal from Foible to her mistress

that would damage Lady Wishfort's and Mrs. Fainalls honor. Despite a suggestion that he

planned it in order to save Mrs. Fainall from losing her reputation and money, the plan

unfolded in a way that the play ended with him having all he wanted: the money, the

forgiveness from Lady Wishfort, and Millamant.

Towards the end of the play, Mirabell intentionally changes completely: he asks for

Lady Wishforts forgiveness ascribing his innocent [devices] (V, ix) to love and, at the

same time, renouncing to his love for Millamant and his desire to marry her in order to save

her fortune. However, as it is well noted by Lady Wishfort, he has a false insinuating

tongue he has witchcraft in his eyes and tongue (V, ix) and cannot be trusted on the

sincerity he pretends. Except Mirabell does not really change for good as he takes advantage

of the situation: despite Mrs. Marwood ruining his earlier plan to trick Lady Wishfort into

conceding him permission to marry Millamant, he sees a new opportunity to get what he

wants with the consent of the woman later in the fifth act. Mirabells resignation plays in his

favor when Lady Wishforts ruin is imminent: he offers to save her and, in exchange, she

would consent to any request from Mirabell; she would go as far as break [her] nephews

match [in order for Mirabell to] have [her] niece yet, and all her fortune, if [Mirabell] can but

save [her] from this imminent danger (V, x). Although in the end he returns Mrs. Fainalls

deed to her and, in a way, proves that he was not as ambitious as Fainall, the plot he made

cannot be regarded as a sincere evidence of his love for Millamant but as his ambition to

marry her for her money.

Finally, the play shows the way of the world in which money is the principal

motivation for the characters actions. It also portrays the difference between characters

morals through the meaning of their names. More importantly, the desire to be wealthy is a

constant component in the play and the reason behind the marriages. Although Mirabells

love for Millamant can be perceived as real and sincere, the whole plot he devised makes it

questionable. Moreover, in The Way of the World is not possible for love to exist without

the promise of money as it was the latter what ultimately set the play in motion.

Works cited

Berkeley, David S. The Penitent Rake in Restoration Comedy. Modern Philology, vol. 49,

no. 4, 1952, pp. 223233.

Casey, Moira E. The Fop. Apes and Echoes of Men: Gentlemanly Ideals and the

Restoration. Fools and Jesters in Literature, Art, and History: A Bio-

bibliographical Sourcebook, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998, pp. 207214.

Congreve, William. The Way of the World. The Norton Anthology of English Literature.

Gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. C. New York: Norton, 2012. pp. 2359-


Traugott, John. The Rake's Progress from Court to Comedy: A Study in Comic Form.

Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 6, no. 3, 1966, pp. 381407.

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