William Congreve was born in Bardsey near Leeds on January 24, 1670. His father was a soldier and a descendant of an old English family that owned property at Staffordshire. His family moved to Ireland where Congreve received all his education and where he met his friend Jonathan Swift, a satirist at Kilkenny school. Congreve followed Swift to Trinity College, Dublin, which is where he is thought to have written Incognita; or, Love and Duty Reconciled, which he published under the name Cleophil in 1692. (Gosse, Life of William Congreve)After the revolution of 1688, Congreve’s family moved to Staffordshire where he wrote The Old Bachelor while he was recovering from an ailment. It was a great success and ran for a fortnight. The best Restoration actors were in the cast, such as Betterton, Mrs. Barry and Mrs. Bracegirdle, who played the lead in all of Congreve’s plays. He soon wrote The Double Dealer within a year, but it was not as well-received. In 1697, he wrote the tragedy The Mourning Bride, which was the most popular English tragedy for almost a century. He followed it up with The Way of the World in 1699, but the change in tastes for Restoration comedy had changed so much that he decided to leave the stage because he could not counterattack critics such as Jeremy Collier. He died on January 19, 1729 due to a carriage accent that left him with internal injuries that never healed. (Gosse, Life of William Congreve) The Way of the World, considered Congreve’s most brilliant Restoration comedy, premiered on Christmas of 1699 at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. At first, it was a failure, with Congreve himself saying in his dedication before the play in the script “that it succeeded on the stage was almost beyond my expectation, but for little of it for that general taste which seems now to be predominant in the palates of our audience.” The general tastes of audiences had changed, and Congreve left the stage. (Gosse, Life of William Congreve) The Restoration itself was marked by the death of Cromwell and the return of Charles II as king. There was colonization and more trade overseas, but there were also the Dutch wars and the Bubonic plague in 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666 as well. So while this was a period that England flourished, there was great destruction as well during the Restoration period.  (Ogg, England in the Reign of Charles II) This was also quite a satirical time, as most Restoration comedies satirized common themes of the period, such as class, wealth, property, and gender. There were also plays where an inversion in power took place, such as people in power suddenly losing it and vice versa. Restoration comedies were also very sexual, which can be seen in some of the jokes and all the affairs that take place in The Way of the World. (Ferreira and O’Berry, “Restoration Theatre”) The Way of the World is a play that is a reflection of the Restoration period itself. There are multiple affairs and characters sneaking behind each other’s backs. There is even money at stake since half of Mrs. Millamant’s fortune belongs to her aunt, Lady Wishfort, and she has to marry a man she doesn’t love to get it. However, Mirabell and Mrs. Millamant have secret meetings where they confess their love to each other and lay out terms on which they are ready to marry the other, also known as the “Proviso scene”, which is the scene in The Way of the World where Congreve shows that he knew the ins and out of the Restoration period itself and what the common themes of the time were. Overall, the play ends with Fainall, the man in power having an affair and is close to getting Mrs. Millamant’s fortune being tricked by Mirabell, and he ends up marrying Mrs. Millamant and she gets the other half of her fortune. The Way of The World is an intricate play with stock characters that reflect the period and language of the time that wasn’t appreciated at the time. (Congreve, The Way of The World) In conclusion, William Congreve was a Restoration man that lived during a tumultuous time. Even though not all of his works were appreciated while he was alive, his works are brilliant and reflect what the Restoration period was really all about: struggles with class, money, gender and sexuality, and a country trying to get back on its feet during the restoration of the English monarchy.


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