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A Marriage That Contradicts the Way of the World
by Alex Andy Phuong

In a comedy of manners, social ranking plays a major role that determines who marries whom in the social hierarchy.  People also had to conform to strict social boundaries.  In spite of such restrictions, people still did their best to meander through the complexities of the social hierarchy in order to marry for love instead of merely for financial stability.  In William Congreve’s The Way of the World, the marriage agreement between Mirabell and Millamant reveals how social boundaries inhibit the ability for two people to fully love each other, and suggests that such boundaries are inconsistent with the emotions of people in love.

Part of the nature of the way of the world is that some people marry only for money rather than for true love. Specifically, Mrs. Fainall says that she hates her husband.  The conflict between Mrs. Fainall and her husband reveals how the way of the world at that time involves financial security rather than true love.  This bleak fact reveals that people change over time, including the relationships between married people.  The marriage agreement between Mirabell and Millamant is similar because they do not necessarily love each other, but instead have to reach a sort of compromise in order to deal with the restrictions that the way of the world places upon them.

Millament also reveals how power plays an important role in the way that the world operated during that time.  The way of the world at that time dealt more with power instead of love, and that created repercussions between the relationships that people shared.  The subjective qualities of the marriage agreement between Mirabell and Millamant reflects the nature of jealousy that can exist within a relationship.

Near the end of the play, Fainall summarizes the unusual nature of the world by suggesting that the chaos in the world suggests that the world is operating correctly.  Fainall has a perception that the world simply does what it does, and might include elements that appear to be ludicrous superficially, but reveal underlying truths.  Ultimately, the marriage agreement between Mirabell and Millamant might not be perfect, but it represents how the way of the world can never be ideal.  Nothing in life is ideal, and that is just the way of the world.