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MonkeyNotes-The Way of the World by William Congreve
Table of Contents

Act I
Summary

Act I opens in a fashionable chocolate-house (similar to a café),
a conventional theatrical setting. Fainall has just defeated
Mirabell at cards. Both of them rise and begin to converse.
Fainall notices Mirabell’s indifferent attitude towards his defeat.
He tells Mirabell that his indifference to losing the game lessens
his pleasure in winning. Fainall then charges him with being
preoccupied by thoughts of Millamant. Mirabell avoids
answering his questions, and they start talking about the events
of the previous evening. Mirabell tells Fainall that last night
when he was with Millamant, Witwoud and Petulant had come
in and were favorably received. To make matters worse, his
"evil genius," Lady Wishfort, had also arrived. Mrs. Fainall,
Mrs. Marwood and a few other ladies were also present. When
they saw Mirabell, they all put on grave faces and whispered to
one another. Then they fell into a profound silence. Lady
Wishfort then began to complain about the tediousness of long
visits, and even Millamant joined in the tirade. Mirabell left
after telling Millamant that it is easy to know when one is not
welcome.

Fainall blames Mirabell for resenting what Millamant said,
since she was only complying with her aunt, Lady Wishfort.
Mirabell replies that Millamant is mistress of herself and should
not cave in to outside pressures. Fainall reminds him that
Millamant’s wealth depends on the goodwill of Lady Wishfort.
Fainall tells Mirabell that the preceding evening had been one of
their "cabal nights," when the ladies discuss the weekly
intrigues within their circle of friends. Witwoud and Petulant
are the only male members admitted, and so they would
naturally turn away Mirabell.



It seems that the discovery of Mirabell’s "sham addresses" to
Lady Wishfort, a widow of fifty-five, in order to conceal his
love for her niece, Millamant, has turned Lady Wishfort against
him. Mirabell then talks of his efforts to "please" Lady
Wishfort. He had written a song in her honor and persuaded a
friend to write a lampoon complimenting her on an affair with a
younger man. He had gone so far as to tell her that there was a
malicious rumor in town that she had become pregnant.
Mirabell says that all his efforts were wasted by Mrs.
Marwood’s discovery of his true love for Millamant. Fainall
suggests that Mrs. Marwood exposed Mirabell because he had
not returned her overtures. Her vanity was thus wounded.
Mirabell hints in return that Fainall is having an affair with Mrs.
Marwood. Fainall refutes this charge and leaves for a moment to
meet Witwoud and Petulant, who are playing cards in another
room.

In the meanwhile a footman arrives with the news that his valet,
Waitwell, has married Foible, Lady Wishfort’s maid. Mirabell is
happy because Waitwell’s marriage appears to be a necessary
part of his scheme, the details of which are not yet revealed.
Mirabell asks the footman to tell Waitwell and Foible to meet
him at one o’clock by Rosamond’s Pond.

When Fainall re-enters, Mirabell does not reveal this secret
information, and their conversation returns to the topic of
Millamant. Mirabell has carefully analyzed her character and
continues to love her despite her faults. He stresses that her
follies are so natural that they suit her, and those affectations
which would render another woman hateful only make her all
the more pleasing.

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MonkeyNotes-The Way of the World by William Congreve
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