THE WAY OF THE WORLD REFLECTS THE SOCIAL LIFE OF THE RESTORATION AGE IN ENGLAND. DISCUSS
William Congreve is the best and finest writer of the comedy of manners. His ' The Way of the World' is considered as a pure comedy of manners. Here we find an ironic commentary on the ways of the society of the time. Here Congreve has depicted the social life of the fashionable men and women of the Restoration Age. During this period gravity, spiritual zeal, moral earnestness and decorum were thrown to winds. This was a peculiar age. The king was thorough debauch. He had a number of mistresses and numerous children. He was surrounded by corrupt and degenerate courtiers. There was no moral code for them.
Corruption was rampant in all walks of life. The ladies and gentleman of upper classes were busy in love and lust. The pursuit of women was the main business of men. The man had become licentious animal. The ideal of love was corrupt. There was complete absence of sexual morality. The fond of fashion created a unique type of culture. There was complete freedom among the women. They were like jolly butterflies that fluttered from one flower to another to satisfy their passions. The married women had unfair relations with other men. Their husbands were cuckold. People of this age were frequent visitors of the parks, play houses and hotels. These were the centres of love affairs and love intrigues. The coffee houses were overcrowded. This was the picture of Congreve's age.
In 'The Way of the World Congreve has presented the true picture of the contemporary society. Here he has described the infidelity of married women, the fashionable life of ladies and gentleman and the intrigues of lovers. All the characters of this play are fond of fashion. Lady like Wishfort uses heavy cosmetics to hide her faded beauty and wrinkles. Public places like Chocolate house and St. James' park are mentioned here. These places provide an opportunity for the lovers to enjoy their games of love, lust and intrigues. The play opens with the scene of a chocolate house. Here Mirabell and Fainall arte playing cards.
In ' The Way of the World' we find that male characters are pursuing female characters. He female characters have unfair relations with other men. They cuckold their husbands. Mrs. Marwood is enjoying sensual pleasure with Mr. Fainall. Mrs. Fainall hates her husband and she has soft corner for mirabell. Millamant loves Mirabell but she has soft corner for Petulant and Witwoud. Mirabell has had an affair with a young widow but he persuades her to marry Fainall. Marriage has no sanctity at all. Thus there is an atmosphere of free love in this play.
Love intrigues occupy an important place in 'The Way of the World'. The entire play deals with the intrigues of Mirabell to win the hand of Millamant. To achieve his aim, he pretends to make love to Lady Wishfort, an elderly lady. When he fails, he hatches a deeper plot. He knows that she is desirous of marrying again. Thus he sends his servant to her as Sir Rowland to deceive her. Mr. Fainall has illicit relation with Mrs. Marwood. He is also busy in an intrigue to grab the property of his wife's mother. In this way Congreve has presented the spirit of the age.
Millamant's bargain with Mirabell is an important feature of the fashionable society. It shows the true picture of the morality of the age. She thinks that her liberty would be crushed by marriage. Thus before marriage, she wants Mirabell to agree that she would be free to do anything even after marriage.
Thus 'The Way of the World' presents a true picture of the Restoration Age. It reflects the social life of the day. Here the upper class manner is central target of Congreve's attack.