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William Congreve's Play - the Way of the World

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Essay title: William Congreve's Play - the Way of the World

William Congreve's play The Way of the World is a somewhat confusing comedic play about relationships and deceit. It is a play about money and the manipulations of various characters as they seek a sort of conquest of one kind or another. One of the characters in this story is Mrs. Fainall. She is the only woman married in this play and also a woman whose husband seems less than loving. The following paper examines the level of happiness seen in the character of Mrs. Fainall. The paper argues that although she remains married to Mr. Fainall in the end, presumably stuck in this relationship because of lack of wit and the society of the day, she wins because her husband has no power over money she already signed over to another.

In days gone by the best a woman could hope for was to be married to a relatively stable man in relationship to society and wealth. The better she married the better her chances were at living well and being able to provide for children. In the society of days gone by a woman's possessions were generally also her husbands and any wealth she had became the property of a patriarchal society.

In many ways that is the foundation of this story by Congreve for one particular man, Mr. Fainall, is constantly trying to obtain money through devious means. One of those means involves his wife Mrs. Fainall, the only woman married in the story. Mrs. Fainall is disgruntled at the fact her husband is unfaithful and she, like her husband, engages in deceitful and manipulative behavior to seek her own gain, although her gain is more personal rather than monetary. This is the only power she has for she exists in a man's world where she has little control over events.

As Mr. Fainall pursues an avenue that would prove his wife unfaithful and seeks her fortune, and the fortune of others if possible, Mrs. Fainall can well prove that she is innocent and while she cannot really get out of the relationship, without losing financial security, she actively chooses to accept this in light of the fact that he cannot have her money which was previously signed over to another man so that her husband would never get it. Without being able to prove that she is unfaithful Mr. Fainall loses.

While much of this story seems deceptive and very wrong in terms of relationships, Mrs. Fainall is less than ignorant, for she understands much about relationships and men:

“Ay, ay, dear Marwood, if we will be happy, we must find the means in ourselves, and among ourselves. Men are ever in extremes; either doting or averse. While they are lovers, if they have fire and sense, their jealousies are insupportable: and when they cease to love (we ought to think at least) they loathe, they look upon us with horror and distaste, they meet us like the ghosts of what we were, and as from such, fly from us” (Congreve II i).

In this it is quite obvious that she does not lack wit, and that she is not a simpleton. She is a woman well aware of her situation, well aware of men, and very independently natured for she knows she must rely

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