Restoration Comedy: The Way of The World
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Discuss The Way of the World as a brilliant example of Restoration Comedy.
Ans. Restoration as a historical period was a time when England was an established colonial power in the world. It was a time of materialism and commerce and the people of the period emphasized money, pleasure and sex. Love and marriage were judged in terms of money. Artificiality and immorality were the defining features of the age. People looked towards relaxation and pleasure and serious things mattered less to them. By highlighting these things, The Way of the World exposes the issues of money, love, sex, marriage and in short the behavior of the people of the time in the language of prose. The rakes, fops, gallants and wits are the primary types dealt with in a language that is outwardly brilliant but lacking philosophical and emotional or psychological depth. This makes the play a typical restoration comedy of manners. The mode employed is satiric and ironic which befits the social reality of the time.
In the restoration period there was a moneyed class with leisure. Pursuit of sexual pleasure and money was the main concern of the people. Marriage was not just liked at as an institution for procreation or for providing stability to social life. It was seen as a mercenary venture. The Way of the World contains characters who resort to sexual innuendos and vulgar jokes. Humor and wit are the key ingredients of this play. The characters represent many aspects of the society of the time and the aristocracy in particular. Mirabell is a wit and manipulator. He uses language in a very witty manner. The clever use of language makes his speech brilliant on the surface but it has no psychological depth underneath. He pretends to love Lady Wishfort so that he can move closer to Millament. His eyes are on her fortune. Love and marriage are guided by a desire for material gain. Fainall, the villain of the play is intent on laying his hand on Lady Wishfort’s fortune. He marries Mrs. Fainall not because his love for her is true but because he takes it as a mercenary venture. Millament is a typical Restoration Coquette and Mirabell, a representative beau. Petualant and Witwood are the typical fops of Restoration drama. They are more concerned with dress and appearance than with anything else.
Use of wit is a remarkable aspect of Restoration Comedy. The characters uses language in a very tricky and clever way. Use of repartee basically refers to quick replies while reposte is related to sharp return in speech. Wit was a sharp weapon in the late seventeenth century, to be used for the amusement of those intelligent enough to follow the exchange. While talking to Mrs. Fainall, Mirabell provides an example of wit as he comments on early eighteenth century marriage. He says, “You should have just so much disgust for your husband as may be sufficient to make you relish your lover.” The whole plot of the play revolves around the issues of adultery, marriage and fortune hunting. As we see the plot unfold the characters reveal themselves through their pursuits and behavior. The way they behave makes laughter inevitable. Through this Congreve is satirizing the behavior of the people of then English society. It is typical Restoration Comedy of Manners.
Book- A short history of English literature