The Way of the World

The Way of the World Summary and Analysis of Epigraph, Commendatory Verses, Dedication, and Dramatis Personae


Congreve uses two quotes, both from Horace's second Satire, as epigraphs to The Way of the World. These read "You who seek retribution against adulterers will be happy to learn that they are impeded on all sides." and "[She is] afraid for the dowry." These will be important to the conflict of the play.

On the next page, the reader encounters a commendatory verse written by Richard Steele. The verse praises Congreve's ability to write for the people, not only for the upper classes, which was a major concern for Restoration Comedy as it runs the risk in parodying the upper classes of only being accessible and understandable to those people. Steele references the skill of Congreve's prior shows and writings - Ode on Mrs. Arabella Hunt, Singing., The Mourning Muse of Alexis, The Mourning Bride, and a eulogy he wrote for William III - and speaks to Congreve's ability to interweave comedy and tragedy in a way that is moving and educational to the audience. The writer praises Congreve hyperbolically, for example writing, "On you from fate a lavish portion fell/In every way of writing to excel." which will be contrasted with the humility Congreve must show in the dedication.

Congreve's dedication is addressed "To the Right Honourable Ralph, Earl of Montague, Etc." The passage is highly flattering, which was the style of the time, but is well-written and seems heartfelt. Between his obsequious praise of the Earl's ability to add to the respectability of a piece, Congreve goes into the trials and tribulations of Restoration Comedy and its audiences. He writes of his show's characters, which are designed to appear ridiculous through false wit rather than through "natural folly," but he challenges that audiences who come in with a mind to immediately criticize will mistake these two things. He also challenges the existence of other authors who get laughs but base their characters on those in other plays.

Dramatis Personae refers to the (onstage) characters in the play, and is a useful reference throughout reading the play to remind oneself of the characters' relationships with one another.


Congreve's epigraph foreshadows the plot to come. The first adds a satirically moral tone of comeuppance to adulterers and the second foreshadows the theme of money that will taint both the marriages and adulteries of the plot. These quotes also prepare the reader for a Comedy of Manners since Horace's Satires is considered an early example of the genre. Congreve is also perhaps, as in his dedication, attempting to add respectability through reference to the established work.

Steele's commendatory verses are high praise for Congreve, and indeed praise for his accessible characters and plots undoubtedly carries over to its success today. However, like the dedication, this should be taken with a grain of salt as the formal etiquette of the time to some extent required them to be obsequiously positive.

Congreve's dedication foreshadows not only facets of the play (that is, its satirical nature and composition of characters built on common follies of the time rather than based on classic stock characters or created solely for foolish laughs) but also the play's reception. The play received a negative reception when first released, which Congreve proposes is because audiences come in ready to be critical and perhaps unwilling to accept characters based on people from their class, instead looking for specific people to pin the characters on or writing the play off entirely.

Congreve uses the dedication both to (unsuccessfully) attempt to ward off this criticism (as he does in the Prologue and Epilogue as well) as well as, as noted, to add respectability to his work in a time when, according to Congreve, seemingly anyone could masquerade as a playwright or poet. This cynical direction of thought, along with the play's reception in line with his fears, are likely what led the author to a life largely away from writing, never again producing a play.

These three sections would not have been heard at a production of the play, while everything that follows this section, even that which includes verse or directly addresses the audience - the Prologue, Acts I-V (including the verses that end them), and the Epilogue - would be heard and seen on the stage. In contemporary productions, the Epigraph, Commendatory Verses, and Dedication might be included in a program distributed to audience members for perusal before and perhaps during the play.

The Dramatis Personae is an indicator of social etiquette in itself, as rather than listing characters in order of appearance or importance, it lists them separated by gender (with men first and women following after the last man) and ranked by social class. This, along with the relationships written in, is a useful reference when attempting to understand the intricacies of the relationships and conflicts of characters in the play. A map of the relationships between the characters is provided here, with familial relationships in blue and desired or secret relationships in red.