In the prologue, though apparently pleading with the audience to give his play an adequate watch before judging it, Congreve ironically and sarcastically pokes fun at the foolish audience, writing "Satire, he thinks, you ought not to expect;/For so reformed a town who dares correct?/To please, this time, has been his sole pretence,/He'll not instruct, lest it should give offense./Should he by chance a knave or fool expose,/That hurts none here, sure here are none of those."(Prologue) In direct opposition to what the character says, Congreve does mean to satire many in the audience watching his show, and their response to the play, which he attempts to forewarn them not to have, is part of what he is parodying about them.
Hiding in the Closet
Dramatic irony abounds, perhaps as much or more than in any other Restoration Comedy, in the scene in which Ms. Marwood overhears Foible and Mrs. Fainall's conversation from inside Lady Wishfort's closet. This dramatic irony is not just comedic, in that Foible flippantly exposes Mirabell's lack of desire for Ms. Marwood, but foreshadows and leads to Ms. Marwood and Fainall's plot and the exposure of Mirabell's plot and prior relationship with Mrs. Fainall, all which comprise the escalation into the Act V climax.
Petulant's Waiting Coach
Petulant's waiting coach in Act I is a much simpler case of dramatic irony. In this scene, the characters onstage as well as the audience has just learned from Anthony Witwoud that Petulant often sends messengers and carriages to inquire after him to make himself seem respected and popular. However, when he has exactly this scenario happen, a messenger announcing the arrival of a carriage of ladies who wishes to see him, to which Petulant publicly tells him to dismiss them, his plan backfires in that it seems even more pitifully funny without his knowledge that others know of his ruse.
Mirabell's Romantic Scheming
There is irony in Mirabell's belief that more scheming - having his servant woo more women falsely, precisely one that reacted badly to him having done similar to her not long before, and going behind their backs - will fix the situation he has gotten himself into by carrying out this kind of secrecy and falseness before. And, even more ironically, he is correct - though it seems he will fail, he is able to use his charm and wit to solve his problems, and those of Lady Wishfort if only in the process, and gets his way with both love and money.
The Way of the World Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Way of the World is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.