The Way of the World By William Congreve Character Analysis Millamant

Millamant is generally conceded to be the most charming heroine in Restoration comedy. She is a fitting partner-antagonist to Mirabell. She maintains the same self-control to the very end of the proviso scene. She too loves but shows no sentiment. She is airy, teasing, light, beautiful, tantalizing, and infuriating. Mirabell is aware of her faults — and comes to love them. The reader is aware of her faults and comes to love them too. She is affected, coy, and arch, and we would have her no other way. She can be sweet and charming, but there can be acid and irony in her wit.

Millamant appears significantly in five scenes: her first appearance, her dialogue with Mrs. Marwood, her scene with Sir Wilfull, the proviso scene with Mirabell, and the drunken scene immediately following. The first and fourth are the most important for revealing her character.

Millamant's first appearance is prepared for carefully. When she arrives, trailing her court, Mincing and young Witwoud, she automatically takes the center of the stage as if it is her right, as indeed it is. Her character is outlined in the passage about putting up one's hair: Prose would never do, only poetry, a piece of flippancy in which Mincing immediately abets her. Here she is revealed as the complete belle. She is affectation that is fully conscious of itself, and flippancy that delights in its own irreverence. She is completely sure of her feminine power, and Congreve has given her the lines to justify her assurance. The lines concerning suitors — one makes them, one destroys them, and one makes others — are all flippant. She knows her power and can laugh at herself, just as she can tease Mirabell.

Within the limited world where she operates, she is intelligent. She sees through the forced false wit of young Witwoud's humor and handles him gracefully and efficiently. "Truce with your similitudes" and "Mincing stand between me and his wit" are deft lines which give Witwoud precisely the attention he merits; incidentally, they gracefully dispose of the small deer, for Millamant stalks more worthy game. She is shrewd enough to see through Mrs. Marwood:

That Mirabell loves me is no more a secret than it is a secret that you discovered it to my aunt, or than the reason why you discovered it is a secret.

Above all, Millamant's character is Millamant in love. She and Mirabell are worthy partners. She, too, will not admit her love to him, for to do so would be to give up one's position of vantage in the game. It is the control of the skillful Restoration wit, which overlays her love, and through which it must operate, that makes the proviso scene so completely successful.

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