With its cast of rakes, fops and aristocrats, The Way of the World is often presented as the quintessential Restoration comedy. In fact, it was a failure when first performed in 1700 and effectively put an end to Congreve's dramatic career.
The play's complex plot revolves around the relationship between two lovers, the protagonist Mirabell and the 'fine lady' Millamant, and Mirabell's attempts to secure Millamant's full dowry from her aunt, Lady Wishfort. It is set in iconic, fashionable London locations – St James's Park, the salons of rich ladies and the chocolate-houses that were dens of gossip and gambling – and its characters, relentless in their pursuit of financial and social power, can be difficult to sympathise with. Nevertheless, it is extremely acute in its depiction of a society in which capitalism is on the rise, and in which marriage is less about love than material gain.
- Article by:
- Diane Maybank
- Theatre and entertainment, Politics and religion, Satire and humour
Diane Maybank introduces the characters, conventions and historical context of Restoration comedy, and explores what the genre has to say about gender, courtship and class.
- Article by:
- Andrew Dickson
- Theatre and entertainment
Andrew Dickson charts the growth of 18th-century theatre, looking at the new venues, stage technology, audiences, playwrights and great actors of the age.