Born Yokshire, Congreve went to Kilkenny and to Trinity College and met his lifelong friend Swift. Studying law in London, he turned to a writer. First written novel is Incognita which appeared in 1691. He achieved fame through his four comedies: The Old Bachelor, The Double Dealer, Love for Love, The Way of the World. He mastered the Restoration Comedy of manners with its wit, sexual intrigue and added a delicacy of exploring the basic feelings; the plays are frequently revived. His plays are still performed in stages and Congreve is considered to be the greatest dramatist of Restoration era.
Of all critical man of letters born after the Restoration, the prior to distinguish him was William Congreve and it is said that, in certain sense, with him the literature of eighteenth century began. William Congreve was a Playwright and poet of Restoration age. He is known for his brilliant satirical discourse and impact on the comedy of manners of that age. He was also a member in British Whig Party. Congreve was the most brilliant of the dramatist of the Restoration comedy of manners. . He molded the English comedy of manners through his use of satire and well-written dialogues. Congreve composed five plays before he was turning 30. His first play, The Old Bachelor, was a great success at Drury Path in 1693. Congreve composed plays to entertain him during convalescence. Congreve was by all accounts a man who won the affection and regard of his numerous companions. John Dryden called his writings equal to Shakespeare and Pope devoted his translation of the Iliad to him in 1715. Congreve was among ‘The Big Five’ of restoration comedy.
Congreve was born in Bardsey near, Ledston, Yorkshire. His father was a soldier and a relative of an old English family which owned some property in Staffordshire. In 1681, Congreve was sent to Kilkenny School, where he met his lifelong companion Jonathan Swift. In 1686 Congreve joined Trinity College, Dublin. In Dublin Congreve visited many theatres and was subjected to the most famous plays and dramas such as Ben Jonson’s Volpone and Thomas Durfey’s The Boarding House. Congreve became familiar with the theatres and plays in a very young age than his contemporaries.
Congreve and his family returned to their home in Staffordshire after the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and remained there for two years. Congreve entered the Middle Temple, London in 1691 to study law as he says that, ‘the literary community in London proved to be more appealing to him.’ By publishing the novel Incognita or Love and Duty Recouncil’d under the pseudonym Cleophil in 1692 and established himself as a brilliant and gifted writer, he soon became John Dryden’s legal advisor, literary guide and later became a good friend. Congreve’s Educational standard helped him to make contributions as a translator to Dryden’s editions. Dryden recognized Congreve’s talent and predicted that Congreve would become a great gifted writer.
Congreve never married and was famous for his love with popular actresses and noblewomen in his times. One of these was Anne Bracegirdle, a prominent actress in his plays and it is for her he wrote the major parts in all his plays. He was also romantically linked with Henrietta Godolphin, 2nd Duchess of Marlborough and daughter of John Churchill. Henrietta gave birth to his sole offspring, a daughter, Mary.
Congreve was also a minor political figure in Whig party and Tory party alike was counterbalanced by the physical weakness of gout and failing sight. He suffered from both gout and cataract in eyes. In 1728, he met with a carriage accident from which he never recovered. And it is said that from this accident he received internal injuries. He died due to this injuries and internal wounds on January 19th 1729.
Congreve’s first play The Old Bachelor was published in 1693. It had been revised by Dryden and was produced at the Theatre Royal in Dury Lane with the leading actors and actresses ( Betteron, Mrs. Mary and Bracegridle) participating in it. This play had a great success and ran for two weeks. Congreve felt so motivated by seeing the success of his first play and he hastened to put forward a second play, The Double Dealer. This play was very complex. It had been designed and shaped better than the first play but it was not received well.
When Congreve was writing his third comedy play Love for Love, the leading actors of his age revolted against the Theatre Royal, as it was the only theatre in London and they gave permission to construct a new theatre at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The theatre opened with the production of the play Love for Love in 1695, considered as one of his best play. This play had an excellent impact in his career and placed Congreve among the major dramatists of his time. He also became the manager of the new theatre and agreed to give a new play for the theatre. He was unable to give the play to the theatre.
But in 1697 he gave the company a tragedy ‘The Mourning Bride’. It had witty dialogues and brilliant plot. It exposed the social values, martial practices and deceits prevailed in the high society. This play is considered to be the most famous tragedy during the Restoration period.
In the same year he published an unsuccessful counterstrike on Collier’s charges against the stage. In 1700 he produced the comedy The Way of the World. It failed and Congreve left the stage. This was his last play.
After leaving the stage he wrote librettos for two Operas (The Judgment of Paris and Semele). He was the member of Whig Kit- Kat club and his career shifted to political sector. He was appointed as the commissioner for wines in 1705 and remained in this post until 1714. In 1714 he was appointed as the secretary of Jamaica. During his life in Jamaica he started writing poetry and in 1710 he published three volumes of poetry. He made translations of Homer, Ovid, Horace and Juvenal.
Congreve was a playwright who had one of the shortest literary careers. However, as the public sentiments and taste of comedy changed, his plays appeared to be immoral for the audience. So he decided to quite the stage and shifted into political sector. After that he wrote many poetry and translations but he is not remembered for his later works.
Style of Presentation
Congreve is without doubt the most prominent of the Restoration Comedy-writers. In his work the comedy of manners comes to flawlessness. His plays are a loyal reflection of the upper class life of his time but their undoubted immorality is spared from being offensive by counterfeit mind, a hard- finish and lack of realism. Congreve’s prose is brief and pointed and shows an amazing ear of beat and cadence. In all means he is a polished writer, whose unmistakable quality is brilliance.
The worth and vitality of Congreve’s comedies depends generally upon the charm of fashion, the unobtrusive adjustment of dialect to character and circumstances and the intrigue of comedian discourse. In each page of Congreve’s play is full of brilliant conceits, conundrums and antithesis that are a delight to the audience.
All Congreve’s play except The Way of the World had a prompt victory, and it is amusing that this one ought to be singled out by descendants as his magnum opus. Free from the periodic nostalgic touches with mac The Double dealer, it is the best example of comedy of manners adroit in characterization, and totally free from the coarseness and authenticity which ruin the work of his contemporaries.
Congreve is the greatest dramatist of the English comedy of manners, uniquely distinctive in numerous regards from others of this period of the dramatization. Taking as its main theme the habit and conduct of the class to which it was addressed, that is the anti-puritanical theatre gathering of people drawn to a great extent from the court, it managed with imitators of French Customs, conceited minds, and great people of all kinds; but its main theme was the sexual life driven by the courtiers, with their logic of flexibility and experimentation. Restoration Comedy was satirical and sometimes skeptical. Congreve rises over other writers of his times in both delicacy of feeling and the flawlessness of phrasing.
The last mentioned is strikingly shown within the opening speeches of The Old Bachelor, a play that appealed to the audience because it dealt with themes they were familiar with. Some of the repartee could seem shallow to the present day reader, but that was the way of the time. As Congreve advanced, his discourses got to be more balanced, more melodic, but made sure that it was in rhythm. Congreve goes more profound than any of his contemporaries, has more feeling for persons and is far subtler.
Congreve set extraordinary significance on character sketches and the themes of role play, conditional adore, blended with the love for cash and the requirement for intrigues in almost every feature of life, this can be noticed his plays. Here we too discover the quality of recently created English composition.
The Way of the World
The play is considered as his magnum opus. It is about the absurd presumptions that controlled the general public of his age, particularly those concerning affection and marriage. It is still performed today but was very offensive and questionable in its time due to the bawdy topics and sexual explicitness, which had fallen out of favour in its time. This play serves as a satire on its culture. This play is a classic example of comedy of manners. The play shows the real picture of the society of his times.
The Way of the World is probably the wittiest plays at any point composed, a play to peruse gradually and relish. Like a specialist gem dealer, Congreve cleaned the Restoration satire of habits to its definitive shimmer and gleam. The discourse is epigrammatic and splendid, the plot is perplexing riddle, and the characters sparkle with shockingly complex features. However the play isn’t all stunning surface; likewise has profundities. Most Restoration Comedies starts with the battle for influence, sex, and cash and end with a marriage. The Way of the World mirrors that standard plot; it is a fight more over a heritage than over a lady, a fight wherein sexual fascination is utilized as a weapon. However Congreve, composing late in the period, uncovers the shortcoming of the individuals who treat love as a war or a game.
Mirabell, a womanizer wishes to marry a young girl he adores, Mrs. Milamant. Sadly, her aunt, Lady Wishfort holds control over the bequest and inheritance and hates Mirabell because he once claimed to love her. Mirabell and Mrs. Millamant makes a plan in which Milanmant’s servant, Waitworth, will marry Lady Wishfort’s maid, Foible, and then seek favour of Wishfort by impersonating as Mirabell’s uncle, Sir Rowland. The strategy proceeds as planned until Ms. Marwood, who desires Mirabell, finds the plan when Foible fills in Lady Wishfort’s girl, Mrs. Fainall. Mrs. Marwood tells the man to whom she is wife, Mr. Fainall, about the plan and the fact that Mirabell was also once romantically linked with his wife, Mrs. Fainall. Madden by this situation, the two plans to oppose Mirabell’s plan. Sir Wilfull, relative of Lady Wishfort’s. Lady Wishfort wishes for him, though a blundering man he wishes to marry Ms. Millamant. The situation becomes critical when Lady Wishfort, while chatting with ‘Sir Rowland,’ receives a letter from Mrs. Marwood revealing Mirabell’s plan. Fainall tries to use Lady Wishfort and her daughter’s strong social situation as grip to gain Ms. Millamant’s legacy and all the money of Lady Wishfort’s through control of his wife’s legacy and inheritance. However, he was foiled by Ms. Millamant by declaring she will marry Sir Wilfull and Mirabell declaring that he had claimed to Mrs. Fainall’s legacy since before her marriage to Fainall. When Fainall and Ms. Marwood left, Ms. Millamant revoked her declaration to Sir Wilfull and she and Mirabell got blessing from their aunt for their marriage.
Major Themes in The Way of the World
- Social Conventions
- Dowries and Marriages
- Love and Romance
- Money and Greed
- Jealousy and Intrigue
- Men vs. Women
“The Way of the World” as a Restoration Comedy of Manners
The Way of the World uncovered the issues of cash, adore, sex, marriage and brief the behavior of the individuals of the time within the dialect of prose. The rakes, dudes, gallants and minds are the essential sorts managed with in a language that are apparently brilliant but required the philosophical and enthusiastic or mental profundity. This makes the play a normal restoration comedy of manners. The mode utilized is satiric and sarcastic which befits the social reality of the time.
Within the restoration period there was a rich course with relaxation. Interest of sexual pleasure and cash was the main concern of the individuals. Marriage was not rather like an institution for multiplication or for giving strength to social life. It was seen as a soldier of fortune wander. The Way of the World contains characters which resort to sexual innuendos and indecent jokes. Humor and mind are the key fixings of this play.
Use of wit could be a surprising viewpoint of Restoration Comedy. The characters utilize dialect in an awfully dubious and intelligent way. Use of repartee fundamentally alludes to fast answers whereas the report is related to sharp return in discourse. Wit was a sharp weapon within the late seventeenth century, to be used for the entertainment of those cleverly sufficient to take after the trade. The entire plot of the play rotates around the issues of infidelity, marriage and fortune chasing. As we see the plot unfurl the characters uncover themselves through their interests and behavior. Congreve is satirizing the immorality of the people at that point of English society.
This gives a best example of Restoration Comedy of Manners. It has all the imperative characteristics of it. Here Congreve has presented interests and illegal love. But his discourse has wit. On the whole play could be a loyal reflection of the upper course life of the day. The characters are well drawn. Its exposition is clear and pointed. Congreve is without a doubt the most prominent of the Restoration comedy writers. In ‘ The Way of the World’ the comedy of manners has come to its flawlessness.
Congreve is without question one of the extraordinary scholars of the English comedy of manners which takes as its main theme the manners, indiscretions and flaws of the class to which it was tended to. Congreve appears special among the comedy writers of the world. He is likely, of them all, the one whose plays are composed with the foremost unflagging mind and scholarly charm. The fashion of Congreve lifts him tall over all his English rivals. Hazlitt has said that Congreve’s comedies “are a solitary treat to those who have developed a taste for the niceties of English fashion: there’s an unconventional enhance within the exceptionally words, which is to be found in barely any other writer.” What we call his mind, that which makes his scenes so consistently astonishing, comprises, in an incredible degree, in this mystifying bliss of phrase, this constant determination of the startling and yet clearly the finest word. In this craftsmanship of phrasing he takes after none of his claim strong counterparts. He stands on the edge of the eighteenth century, and appears to have an instinct of all its unconventional graces.
However each admirer of Congreve has experienced the weariness that this very brilliance, this unflagging sparkle of fashion produces. It is inside and out past not validity as it were, but tolerance. The extravagance of mind gets to be wearisome, and at final as it were emphasizes the nonattendance of delicacy, effortlessness, and honest to goodness creative energy. What we need to appreciate in them is the clean, the elegance, the extraordinary specialized wrap up, the exhibition of judgment skills of uncommon development and control concentrating itself on the creation of a microcosm swarming with human volvox and vibrion. In the event that we are arranged to acknowledge this, and to inquire no more than this from Congreve, we should not resentment him his lasting station among the extraordinary scholars of this country.
- The History of English Language and Literature by Edward Albert.