The Way of the World Summary by William Congreve

This article needs revision. Please watch the video before going through it.

Marriage of Servants

Play starts in the chocolate house where Mirabell and Fainall are sitting. A man comes and tells Mirabell that Whitwell, the servant of Mirabell and Foible, the female servant of Lady Wishfort were married that morning.

Mirabell tells Fainall about his love of Millamant and is encouraged to marry her. Mirabell is informed that if Lady Wishfort marries, he will lose £6000 of Millamant’s inheritance. He will only get this money if he can get Lady Wishfort’s blessings to his and Millamant’s marriage.

In Act 2, Mrs Fainall and Mrs Marwood are discussing their hatred of men. Fainall appears and accuses Mrs Marwood of loving Mirabell. Meanwhile, Mrs Fainall tells Mirabell that she hates her husband, and they begin to plot to deceive Lady Wishfort into giving her consent to the marriage.

Sir Rowland – a Trap

Next acts are all set in the home of Lady Wishfort. Lady Wishfort is introduced. She is encouraged by Foible to marry the supposed Sir Rowland – Mirabell’s supposed uncle– so that Mirabell will lose his inheritance.

Sir Rowland is, however, Whitwell, the servant of Mirabell and the plan is to trap Lady Wishfort in a marriage which cannot go ahead because it would be bigamy and social disgrace because Whitwell is only a servant, and Lady Wishfort is an aristocrat.

Mirabell will offer to help her out of the embarrassing situation if she consents to his marriage. Later, Mrs Fainall discusses the plan with Foible, but this is overheard by Mrs Marwood. She later tells the plan to Fainall, who decides that he will take his wife’s money and go away with Mrs Marwood secretly.

Mirabell Proposes Millamant

Mirabell proposes Millamant and, Millamant accepts. Mirabell leaves as Lady Wishfort arrives, and she lets it be known that she wants Millamant to marry her nephew, Sir Wilfull Witwoud.

Lady Wishfort later gets a letter telling her about the Sir Rowland plot. Sir Rowland takes the letter and accuses Mirabell of trying to damage their wedding.

Lady Wishfort agrees to let Sir Rowland bring a marriage contract that night. She has found out the plot, and Fainall has had Whitwell arrested. Lady Wishfort appears with Mrs Marwood, whom she thanks for telling the plot.

Fainall Blackmails Lady Wishfort

Fainall then appears and uses the information of Mrs Fainall’s previous affair with Mirabell and Millamant’s contract to marry him to blackmail Lady Wishfort, telling that she should never marry and that she must transfer her fortune to Fainall.

Lady Wishfort offers Mirabell her consent to the marriage if he can save her fortune and honour. Mirabell calls on Whitwell who brings a contract from the time before the marriage of the Fainalls in which Mrs Fainall gives all her property to Mirabell.

This stops the blackmail attempts, after which Mirabell restores Mrs Fainall’s property to her possession and then is free to marry Millamant with the full £6000 inheritance.