The Way of the World



  • William Congreve's finestcomedy of manners, which was initially such a failure that he retiredfrom the theater. It was first performed in 1700 at Lincoln's InnFields Theatre, which was managed by Congreve and Thomas Betterton.The play's cool reception was mainly owing to its convoluted plotand sophisticated dialogue, both of which were difficult to follow.Critical opinion has since recognized the skill of its constructionand its serious appraisal of sexual morality.

    Following the first production, which starred Betterton, TheWay of the World enjoyed only two revivals in the following 50years. Thereafter it was considered too old fashioned and too bawdyfor the public stage: it even shocked theatregoers as late as the1920s, when it was revived at the Oxford Playhouse to packed studentaudiences. A highly successful production was staged in 1953, withJohn Gielgud as Mirabell, Pamela Brown as Millamant, and MargaretRutherford as Lady Wishfort.

    Mirabell is in love with the witty and spirited Millamant,but conceals his pursuit by courting her aunt Lady Wishfort, who isopposed to the match. The lovers eventually agree to marry after thefamous 'bargaining scene', in which they negotiate an agreement asto their rights within marriage.