Presentation on theme: "Unit Five: Drama and Reform Lesson 11: The Way of the World by William Congreve."— Presentation transcript:
Unit Five: Drama and Reform Lesson 11: The Way of the World by William Congreve
The Way of the World zGenerally considered the apotheosis of Restoration drama as well as its swan song.
Didn’t Meet Expectations zThe play didn’t do as well as expected on the stage. zCongreve had high hopes for the play, but it didn’t do as well as expected. zIt was revived within two years, but it took a while for its reputation to grow.
Literary Paradox zAnd this paradox shows us the difference between literature and stage craft. zThe Way of the World is a great read, and really, it needs to be read. zAs a play it is frankly boring. zThe wordplay is too fast and sometimes too subtle for the ear to catch and the stage action is barely existent.
Collier’s Influence zIt did all right in its own time because it was created during a time of great change for the English stage. zCollier’s attack on the stage, which we are reading for next week, coupled with more conservative currents in society, was creating a large change in what was happening on stage.
Change Pre-dates Collier zThe excesses on stage in the 70s had caused a backlash against licentiousness on stage. zWilliam and Mary’s ascension to the throne had changed the character of the Court as well. zThey were quite solidly middle class in their tastes and aspirations. zAnd neither was a huge fan of the theater, so playwrights had to woo another audience--the wealthy middle class.
Mary Pix’s The Beau Defeated zPut on around the same time as Way of the World. zIt wasn’t a blazing success as some of her later comedies would be, but it made a third night. zYet The Way of the World is the one anthologized, studied and read today.
Physical Comedy zThe Beau Defeated is full of broad physical comedy, the kind that makes us laugh in spite of ourselves. zAnd while a number of the characters are figures of fun (Lady Rich springs to mind), the comedy is more situational comedy. z We laugh because of what’s happening.
Literary Writer z“Wit is often mistaken for Humour….But there is a great Difference between a Comedy, wherein there are many things Humorously, as they call it, which is Pleasantly spoken; and one, where there are several characters of Humour…which naturally arise from the different Constitutions, Complexions, and Dispositions of Men….As Wit, so its opposite, Folly, is sometimes mistaken for Humour.” y(qtd. in Robert D. Hume, The Development of English Drama in the Seventeenth Century)
Satire or not? zWhile Congreve wrote that his play was not a satire, a contemporary wrote that the play was not as big a success as hoped for because it was “too Keen a Satire.” zBut we are left wondering, what is Congreve satirizing?
Critical Overview zClifford Leech wrote in the 1950s that Congreve “lacks the animus of the satirist….There is the appraisal in his mind, but acceptance, too.” zAlan Roper, writing in 1973 wrote that “The Way of the World is about the difficulty of identifying and following a decent private life while still participating fully in the public life of society.”
Hume’s View zHume argues that as viewers it’s more that we respond to the characters, especially Millamant, with Congreve “seeking to construct a serious comedy in the old mode which yet remained beyond moral reproach.”
Comedy of Manners zA comedy concerned with the intrigues, regularly amorous, of witty, sophisticated members of an aristocratic society. The actions of those who oppose or ineptly imitate the manners of that society are the subjects of much raillery and laughter.
Swan Song zThe Way of the World is one of the last of the Restoration comedies of manners to be performed. zThe poor response to this play and William Burnaby’s The Reformed Wife, which both appeared in March 1700, made the play dormant for many, many long years
Ridiculously Reduced Plot Summary zThe plot is set up in the first act: zMirabel wants Millamant and the money. zWe know he has a plot because he sets up his servant’s marriage.
What’s Important zMoney is significantly more important than love. zBUT, true love can overcome the way of the world, zIF there is enough money.
Our Hero zMirabel is the typical rake. zHe is promiscuous and a master of artifice, but he doesn’t want artifice.
Our Heroine zMillamant (a thousand loves) is careful of her behavior. zShe is the typical heroine who will get together with the rake when he reforms. zBut she wants the artifice. It’s safer for her.
Why She Interests Us zHer views of marriage have earned quite a bit of study over the years. zShe will allow herself to “dwindle into a wife”. zVery interesting.
Millamant’s Suckling zI PRITHEE spare me, gentle boy ; Press me no more for that slight toy, That foolish trifle of an heart : I swear it will not do its part, Though thou dost thine, employ'st thy power and art. zYou can see the rest on EngSite if I get my act together!
Other Types Represented zThe fop, zThe boor/country bumpkin, zThe cast mistress, zThe scheming woman, zThe old, foolish woman, zThe conniving servants yvery important in this play.
Other Aspects of Act I zIt’s entirely made up of men gossiping. zThey are friends, but there are tensions between them. Not really friends. zFainall wins at cards. yIt’s the only thing he wins at. zCards are a wonderful metaphor for the way of the world, but there’s also an old saying, “Lucky at cards, unlucky at love.”
The Rest of the Play zNow I’ll go through the play act by act. William Congreve
Mary Pix zUsually recalled as a playwright who specialized in intrigue comedy like this play, but this partial picture obscures many of Pix's actual accomplishments.
Quite Prolific zAlong with six comedies, she wrote six tragedies, a novel, and a verse translation of one of the tales of The Decameron, as well as a few poems. zAll in a brief 10 year literary career! zShe was a friend of the writers William Congreve, Catherine Trotter, Susmina Centlivre and close to the most famous actress of the day, Elizabeth Barry
The Beau Defeated zFrom the program of FJU’s production zThe action of this play revolves around plots--people plotting for either love or money,or sometimes both. zBecause of this it can seem complex, but hold on!
The Plot zThe chief plotter is the stylish fop, Sir John Roverhead.He is poor, and plots with his mistress Lady La Bassett and their friend Trickwell, to marry the silly window, Mrs. Rich, who, while rich, wants to have the title of "Lady," and is willing to marry for it.
More zNot one to stop at a rich older widow, he also woos her niece, the young Lucinda in case she has more money. z Lucinda wishes to be free from the restraints her society places upon her and views marriage as a quick way to freedom. She is helped in this by her drunken old Governess. zWatch for the surprising revelation about Sir John in the last act!
Still More zThe long-suffering City businessman, Mr. Rich is constantly embarrassed by his silly sister-in-law's attempts to be "better than the people of quality." zUnfortunately, he must spend time with her since she is the guardian of his daughter Lucinda's fortune. He tries to keep things in line with the help of the loyal and witty servant, Betty.
Yet More! zIn another plot, Mrs. Clerimont's cousin, the Young Clerimont has been accidentally disinherited by his father in favor of his country bumpkin brother, the Elder Clerimont. Because of his poverty he cannot pursue the unknown woman he loves. She is the young, rich widow, the Lady Landsworth, who wishes to marry a man who knows nothing of her wealth. So she in turn disguises herself as a kept woman and tries to tempt the noble Young Clerimont with promises of riches.
Still More! zAfter much confusion these two lovers are helped by another couple, Mrs. Clerimont and Young Clerimont's best friend, Belvoir. Part of their plot includes getting the Young Clerimont his share of his father's wealth by arranging a marriage between the Elder Clerimont and the Widow Rich!
Finally! zIn the last act, all the plots and subplots are straightened out with the help, and sometimes interference, of the loyal servants Jack, Chris and Toby and a friendly landlady, Mrs. Fidget. zSir John and his plotting mistress are put in their place, Mrs. Rich learns her lesson, Lucinda is returned to her loving father, and we are able to celebrate one almost happy and two happy weddings!
Photos from Fu Jen’s Production Lots of pretty girls! With big dresses!