The Way of the World By William Congreve Act I



FAINALL, in love with Mrs. Marwood, — Mr. Betterton
MIRABELL, in love with Mrs. Millamant, — Mr. Verbruggen
WITWOUD, follower of Mrs. Millamant, — Mr. Bowen
PETULANT, follower of Mrs. Millamant, — Mr. Bowman
SIR WILFULL WITWOUD, half brother to Witwoud, and nephew to Lady Wishfort, — Mr. Underhill
WAITWELL, servant to Mirabell, — Mr. Bright


LADY WISHFORT, enemy to Mirabell, for having falsely pretended love to her, — Mrs. Leigh
MRS. MILLAMANT, a fine lady, niece to Lady Wishfort, and loves Mirabell, — Mrs. Bracegirdle
MRS. MARWOOD, friend to Mr. Fainall, and likes Mirabell, — Mrs. Barry
MRS. FAINALL, daughter to Lady Wishfort, and wife to Fainall, formerly friend to Mirabell, — Mrs. Bowman
FOIBLE, woman to Lady Wishfort, — Mrs. Willis
MINCING, woman to Mrs. Millamant, — Mrs. Prince

SCENE: London.

The time equal to that of the presentation.


A Chocolate-house.

MIRABELL and FAINALL rising from cards. BETTY waiting.

MIRA. You are a fortunate man, Mr. Fainall.

FAIN. Have we done?

MIRA. What you please. I'll play on to entertain you.

FAIN. No, I'll give you your revenge another time, when you are not so indifferent; you are thinking of something else now, and play too negligently: the coldness of a losing gamester lessens the pleasure of the winner. I'd no more play with a man that slighted his ill fortune than I'd make love to a woman who undervalued the loss of her reputation.

MIRA. You have a taste extremely delicate, and are for refining on your pleasures.

FAIN. Prithee, why so reserved? Something has put you out of humour.

MIRA. Not at all: I happen to be grave to-day, and you are gay; that's all.

FAIN. Confess, Millamant and you quarrelled last night, after I left you; my fair cousin has some humours that would tempt the patience of a Stoic. What, some coxcomb came in, and was well received by her, while you were by?

MIRA. Witwoud and Petulant, and what was worse, her aunt, your wife's mother, my evil genius — or to sum up all in her own name, my old Lady Wishfort came in.

FAIN. Oh, there it is then: she has a lasting passion for you, and with reason. — What, then my wife was there?

MIRA. Yes, and Mrs. Marwood and three or four more, whom I never saw before; seeing me, they all put on their grave faces, whispered one another, then complained aloud of the vapours, and after fell into a profound silence.

FAIN. They had a mind to be rid of you.

MIRA. For which reason I resolved not to stir. At last the good old lady broke through her painful taciturnity with an invective against long visits. I would not have understood her, but Millamant joining in the argument, I rose and with a constrained smile told her, I thought nothing was so easy as to know when a visit began to be troublesome; she reddened and I withdrew, without expecting her reply.

FAIN. You were to blame to resent what she spoke only in compliance with her aunt.

MIRA. She is more mistress of herself than to be under the necessity of such a resignation.

FAIN. What? though half her fortune depends upon her marrying with my lady's approbation?

MIRA. I was then in such a humour, that I should have been better pleased if she had been less discreet.

FAIN. Now I remember, I wonder not they were weary of you; last night was one of their cabal-nights: they have 'em three times a week and meet by turns at one another's apartments, where they come together like the coroner's inquest, to sit upon the murdered reputations of the week. You and I are excluded, and it was once proposed that all the male sex should be excepted; but somebody moved that to avoid scandal there might be one man of the community, upon which motion Witwoud and Petulant were enrolled members.

MIRA. And who may have been the foundress of this sect? My Lady Wishfort, I warrant, who publishes her detestation of mankind, and full of the vigour of fifty-five, declares for a friend and ratafia; and let posterity shift for itself, she'll breed no more.

FAIN. The discovery of your sham addresses to her, to conceal your love to her niece, has provoked this separation. Had you dissembled better, things might have continued in the state of nature.

MIRA. I did as much as man could, with any reasonable conscience; I proceeded to the very last act of flattery with her, and was guilty of a song in her commendation. Nay, I got a friend to put her into a lampoon, and compliment her with the imputation of an affair with a young fellow, which I carried so far, that I told her the malicious town took notice that she was grown fat of a sudden; and when she lay in of a dropsy, persuaded her she was reported to be in labour. The devil's in't, if an old woman is to be flattered further, unless a man should endeavour downright personally to debauch her: and that my virtue forbade me. But for the discovery of this amour, I am indebted to your friend, or your wife's friend, Mrs. Marwood.

FAIN. What should provoke her to be your enemy, unless she has made you advances which you have slighted? Women do not easily forgive omissions of that nature.

MIRA. She was always civil to me, till of late. I confess I am not one of those coxcombs who are apt to interpret a woman's good manners to her prejudice, and think that she who does not refuse 'em everything can refuse 'em nothing.

FAIN. You are a gallant man, Mirabell; and though you may have cruelty enough not to satisfy a lady's longing, you have too much generosity not to be tender of her honour. Yet you speak with an indifference which seems to be affected, and confesses you are conscious of a negligence.

MIRA. You pursue the argument with a distrust that seems to be unaffected, and confesses you are conscious of a concern for which the lady is more indebted to you than is your wife.

FAIN. Fie, fie, friend, if you grow censorious I must leave you:- I'll look upon the gamesters in the next room.

MIRA. Who are they?

FAIN. Petulant and Witwoud. — Bring me some chocolate.

MIRA. Betty, what says your clock?

BET. Turned of the last canonical hour, sir.

MIRA. How pertinently the jade answers me! Ha! almost one a' clock! [Looking on his watch.] Oh, y'are come!

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

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