The Way of the World
Season 08-09 Season
Mirabell tells his friend Fainall that he longs to marry the beautiful Millamant. But Millamant’s aunt, Lady Wishfort, holds a grudge against Mirabell for falsely wooing her. Without her aunt’s approval of the match, Millamant will lose half her inheritance. Fainall, meanwhile, is newly married to Lady’s Wishfort’s wealthy and recently widowed daughter. Mirabell plies Witwoud and Petulant, two foppish suitors of Millamant, for information about Millamant and Lady Wishfort. Witwoud is distressed to learn of the imminent visit of his boorish older step-brother, Sir Wilfull.
Mirabell and Fainall find Mrs. Fainall strolling in the park with the bitter and gossipy Miss Marwood. Fainall appears happy in his marriage to Mrs. Fainall, but we learn that he intends to rob her of her inheritance and run away with Marwood, his real lover. We also learn that Mirabell and Mrs. Fainall were once lovers. Mirabell tells Mrs. Fainall that he plans to send his servant Waitwell as a suitor to Lady Wishfort, in the guise of Mirabell’s fictitious rich uncle Sir Rowland. Mirabell hopes to use this phony match to win Lady Wishfort’s approval of his own marriage to Millamant. To guarantee success, Mirabell has married Waitwell to Lady Wishfort’s maid Foible. When the dazzling Millamant appears, she already knows about Mirabell’s plan and rejects his wooing until he has real news for her.
Meanwhile, Lady Wishfort girlishly awaits the arrival of Sir Rowland. When Marwood (who is secretly enamored of Mirabell) overhears Mrs. Fainall and Foible discussing the plot to fool Lady Wishfort, she immediately suggests to Lady Wishfort that Millamant would make a fitting match with Sir Wilfull. When Lady Wishfort’s nephew Sir Wilfull arrives at last, the fashionable Londoners all look down on his country manners. After the rest leave, Marwood tells Fainall about his wife’s affair with Mirabell; together, they conspire to send an anonymous letter to Lady Wishfort informing her of the plot. They hope to then use Mrs. Fainall’s affair to blackmail Lady Wishfort into giving them both Millamant’s and Mrs. Fainall’s inheritances.
The nervous and thoroughly inebriated Sir Wilfull fails to woo Millamant, as do the pathetic suitors Witwoud and Petulant. At last Mirabell presents his offer of marriage, and Millamant agrees despite her doubts. Waitwell arrives, disguised as Sir Rowland, to woo Lady Wishfort. Just then, Marwood and Fainall’s anonymous letter is delivered to expose Mirabell’s plot and Mrs. Fainall’s affair. Lady Wishfort is furious and vows to punish Foible’s deception.
Fainall declares that he will publicly shame his wife unless Lady Wishfort delivers to him both the rest of his wife’s inheritance and half of Millamant’s. Fainall pressures Lady Wishfort to sign over the property to him, but Mirabell produces Foible to testify to Fainall and Marwood’s affair. In a final stroke, Mirabell shows everyone a document in which Mrs. Fainall, before her marriage to Fainall, signed over her property to the safekeeping of Mirabell in case Fainall should prove unfaithful. This unexpected twist restores Mrs. Fainall’s reputation and leaves Mirabell and Millamant free to wed.
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