The Way of the World By William Congreve Character Analysis Mirabell

He is the ideal Restoration beau, a combination of the cynical and the gracious. He has the vices and the virtues of his kind. In his day, he has been a successful woman-chaser. As a cover for an affair, he cynically arranged for the marriage of his mistress to a man presumably his friend. He cynically flattered Lady Wishfort, for whom he feels contemptuous amusement. He devises a plot that would blackmail Lady Wishfort into consenting to her ward's marriage; it would also humiliate her grossly. And he has no faith in his assistants in his plot; before Waitwell can masquerade and woo Lady Wishfort, he makes certain that Waitwell be married, for he "would not tempt [his] servant to betray [him] by trusting him too far." It is easy to see why he would trust very few people; he has only to consider how he would act under similar circumstances. He can anticipate treachery on Waitwell's part. He can distrust Fainall and forestall his villainy to protect Mrs. Fainall's future.

Yet the character is made acceptable even from the point of view of a generation that disapproves. Mirabell handles the situation with dignity and the style of his period. The irony in his comments on other people reveals his common sense; his judgment of Fainall is ruthless, but it is clear-eyed. The comments on young Witwoud are shrewd and accurate, and it is worth observing that he directs little irony against Sir Wilfull Witwoud. On the other hand, his ironic self-criticism leads him to realize that he is indeed in love with Millamant.

In the play, we are most interested in Mirabell as lover. He never loses his control, despite provocation, in his affair with Millamant. He laughs at himself — but his speech indicates the depth of his feeling. He accepts Millamant's mischievous mistreatment with some resentment, but he still manages to remain the polished courtier. Even though he loves her, he does not lose sight of the importance of her money.

His love must be seen within the context of the play. Neither he nor Millamant can sink into any sentimental act or mood. The depth and sincerity of the emotion must be conveyed by the manner which is a necessary part of the ideal gentleman. He is in love — but he is still the completely accomplished gallant.

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Lady Wishfort, who is __________ years old, is vain and susceptible to false flattery.




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