The Way of the World

Contrasting the Roles of Women in Restoration and Early 18th Century Dramas

When studying Restoration and early 18th century drama, a predominant theme that appears is the suppression of women. Plays from Vanbrugh’s The Relapse to Etherege’s The Man of Mode utilize humor, wit, and satire to criticize the imprudence and vulnerability of women. Furthermore, not only do playwrights cast women figures as weak and insufficient, they also emphasize the dependency women place on men as they cannot rise in a society restricted by legal and social biases. In Congreve’s The Way of the World, however, the heroine named Millamant seems to rise above the inequality between men and women. Cast in a new light, Millamant differs from other heroines like Etherege’s Harriet and Vanbrugh’s Amanda. By portraying Millamant as a more feminist heroine, one who has not only wealth and wit but also social grace and intelligence, Congreve shows a transition of the fashionable society at the turn of the 18th century.

By examining the love relationships between Amanda and Loveless in Vanbrugh’s The Relapse and Millamant and Mirabel in Congreve’s The Way of the World, it becomes transparent that Millamant is more of a feminist heroine than Amanda. The names of the two characters, Amanda and Loveless, is already an indication of...

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