The Way of the World by William Congreve Essay

The Way of the World by William Congreve Essay

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One of the most intriguing and seemingly irrelevant scenes in the play The Way of the World by William Congreve occurs when Lady Wishfort deliberates upon the manner in which she should receive the imposter Sir Rowland. Lady Wishfort is discussing the imminent arrival of Sir Rowland and she says,
“Well, and how shall I receive him? In what figure shall I give his heart the first impression? There is a great deal in the first impression. Shall I sit? No, I won't sit, I'll walk,—ay, I'll walk from the door upon his entrance, and then turn full upon him. No, that will be too sudden. I'll lie,—ay, I'll lie down. I'll receive him in my little dressing-room; there's a couch—yes, yes, I'll give the first impression on a couch. I won't lie neither, but loll and lean upon one elbow, with one foot a little dangling off, jogging in a thoughtful way” (Act IV Scene I).

This passage on the surface seems extremely strange and peculiar but in a way the passage symbolizes three key identities seen in three of the main female characters in the play, Mrs. Millamant, Mrs. Fainall, and Lady Wishfort. These three women take on the three positions that Lady Wishfort addresses in the passage above, sitting, walking, and laying. These positions strongly correlate to the type of identities and roles that each of the aforementioned women occupy in the play. The identities of not only these women but in most if not all of the other characters in the play seem to have some element of disguise or dishonesty about them which generates the question of what truly is “identity” in the play. Lady Wishfort’s identity is one of the more intriguing ones to analyze because of the unique and different ways in which she is connected to the other characters in the pla...

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... is hidden by her temporary independent or “walking” identity developing into a marriage or “siting” identity. Finally, Mrs. Wishfort’s slight resistance to social expectations, or “laying” identity, is completely eclipsed by the focal point of the play, which is whether or not Lady Wishfort will assume to a marriage or “siting” identity through her marriage to Sir Rowland. All three of these women seem to exist in these identities, but these identities do not seem to reflect their true character. Instead they seem to define and create their identities to hide their true nature and character. Identity becomes a shell to be filled with one’s true self instead of identity being an expression of one’s true self and nature.

Works Cited

"The Way of the World." The Project Gutenberg. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. .

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