Marriage within Congreve's Way of the World After Charles II revived theater in 1660, a new kind of comedy, the comedy of manners exploded onto the English drama scene and remained the preferred style of theater for the rest of the century. The aim of these plays was to mock society, or rather to hold it up for scrutiny by those very people whose social world was being characterized on stage. The Way of the World reflects Congreve's personal view of Restoration society and city life, full of its artificiality, rigidity, and formality. As is typical of Restoration Theater, this play's main themes are centered around that of marriage and the game of love. However, unlike the relationships depicted in earlier works, the couple at the heart of World, that of Mirabell and Millamant, have the potential to become a true partnership even by modern standards. The love and trust shared between two intelligent and independent characters, set against the tableau of falsehoods, greed, and jealousy that was exemplified by the social world around them, was revolutionary for Restoration comedy. By comparing and contrasting Mirabell and Millamant with the characters and relationships surrounding them, Congreve reveals his view of the true meaning of marriage and how it should be seen by Restoration society.
The strength of character of our two protagonists is crucial to their status as an almost ideal couple. The stark contrasts set up between them and the secondary characters, especially the contrast between Fainall and Mirabell, allow Mirabell and Millamant's individual characters and the ensuing relationship to hold that much more merit in the eyes of the audience. At first glance, Fainall and Mirabell appear to be similar, but even as their first conversation progresses at the beginning of Act I, their distinct personalities emerge. Both are witty and rakish. It is only by the gradual revelation of their inner natures that one is able ...
Congreve, William. The Way of the World. Six Restoration Plays. Ed. John Harold
Wilson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1959. 317-390.