Places: The Way of the World

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1700

First produced: 1700

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Comedy of manners

Time of work: Seventeenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*London

*London. Way of the World, TheCapital city of England that provides the world in which the play is set–a world of coffeehouses, periwigs, and elaborately formal dress. It is an upper-class world of gallants and fine ladies, as opposed to would-be gallants and merely attractive ladies. The world of trade and agriculture surrounds this world but is not a part of it except by way of contrast.


Chocolate-house. Setting for act 1. Such houses as Will’s near Covent Garden and White’s near St. James Park were the fashionable meeting places of young gallants and wits. Often gaming was associated with them.

*St. James Park

*St. James Park. Large park in central London in whose fashionable Mall act 2 is set. The Mall was a long tract in St. James that was formerly used for playing pall-mall. It is often confused with Pall Mall, another park close by to the north.


Country. Although no scene in the play occurs in the country, the country is always in the background. Sir Wilful Witwoud is a country bumpkin who serves as the butt of ridicule for all. His half brother, Witwoud, has done all he can to eradicate traces of the country from his manners, dress, and speech but without success. No character in the play is associated in a positive way with the country. Millamant, perhaps the most regular character in the play, loathes the country.

BibliographyHolland, Norman. The First Modern Comedies. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1959. This remains required reading for any student of English comedy written between the Restoration and the eighteenth century. Holland’s discussion of The Way of the World does justice to the play’s many complexities. Highly recommended.Muir, Kenneth. The Comedy of Manners. London: Hutchinson University Library, 1970. A handy little book that provides an overview of the principal writers of stage comedy in England between the Restoration and the early eighteenth century. The chapter on Congreve contains a fine discussion of one of his best-known plays, The Way of the World.Novak, Maximillian E. William Congreve. New York: Twayne, 1971. Probably the best general introduction to Congreve, with an act-by-act discussion of The Way of the World and an extensive annotated bibliography.Powell, Jocelyn. Restoration Theatre Production. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984. A delightful and very readable account of Restoration drama–from a “production” angle. Powell discusses music, acting styles, and scenery, provides many wonderful illustrations, and concludes with a particularly sensitive and informed discussion of The Way of the World.Williams, Aubrey L. An Approach to Congreve. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979. Williams stresses the “common ground” of Christian belief shared by Congreve and his audience. Controversial, but clearly and persuasively written. The chapter on The Way of the World focuses on Mirabell, the play’s hero, whom Williams would exonerate of the charges of Machiavellianism so often brought against him.
Categories: Places