June 2019 ~ All About English Literature

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Wednesday, 12 June 2019

William Congreve’s play the Way of the World as a typical Restoration Comedy of Manners or anti-sentimental comedy



“The Restoration comedy of manners reached its fullest expression in The Way of the World (1700) by William Congreve, which is dominated by a brilliantly witty couple.” The themes of the Restoration comedy of manners are love, marriage, adulterous relationships amours and legacy conflicts; and the characters generally include would be wits, jealous husbands, conniving rivals and foppish dandies.

The society depicted in The Way of the World is the upper class fashionable society of London. The action of the play takes place in three places. The first is the chocolate House which was used for socializing and entertainment during the Restoration. The second is St James’s Park in London where the upper class people walked before dinner. The third is the house of Lady Wishfort, an aristocratic woman.

Most of the male and female characters of the play are cultured, talented, formal, artificial, fashionable, depraved, ‘cold’ and ‘courtly’. Their qualities are actually a part of Restoration age culture.

The Restoration period was an age of loose morals and, and was devoid of moral values. The Way of the World contains this current through the illicit love and adulterous relations – e.g. relation between Fainall and Mrs. Marwood, between Mirabell, the hero, and Mrs. Fainal.

Love intrigues occupy an important place in the plot of comedy of manners. It is the major theme of the play. The Way of the World follows this convention. The entire play deals with the intrigues of Mirabell to gain the hand of Millamant. To achieve his aim, he pretends to make love to Lady Wishfort, an aged lady. When he fails, he hatches a deeper plot. At any cost Lady Wishfort wants to have a husband. Thus he gets her servant married to Lady Wishfort's maidservant.

In The Way of The World, we are acquainted with the vanities, affectations and fashions of the time. Mirrabell satirically remarks in the proviso scene on women’s fondness of wearing masks, going to the theatre with or without their husbands’ knowledge, idle gossip, slandering the absent friends etc.

The Way of The World brings before us witty Restoration ladies and gentlemen even their servants and fools are witty. As a result, the dialogue is throughout witty which is something unrealistic. Therefore the play, like other plays of its kind, is called an ‘artificial’ comedy.

The characters in the comedy of manners are of a set pattern. They are largely types. Sometimes their names show their characteristics. In such comedies we find fops and gallants in the company of gay ladies and butterflies of fashions. We find giddy girls, lustful women, deceived, jealous and impotent husbands. Fops and ladies spend their time to conspire against their rivals in love. 

Thus, Congreve’s The Way of the World has all the ingredients and flavor of a perfect comedy of manners.


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A Comparative Study on Blake’s two “Chimney Sweeper Poems”

A Comparative Study on Blake’s two “Chimney Sweeper Poems”


The poem “The Chimney Sweeper” is set against the dark background of child labour, a crude horror of the Industrial Revolution that was well known in England in the late 18th century. The poems (Chimney Sweeper in innocence and Experience) are meant to convey two different views of human life, the view of innocence and the view of experience. Here we see the naturalistic world of childhood against the world of corruption. Blake writes these poems to let the reader knows that many kid’s lives are being exploited in the cities of England. He expresses his disgust about the plight of the majority of the chimney sweepers and how the society and church turn a blind eye of their sufferings. In the society they live in, innocent children are in anguish because of the harsh treatment of the adult population.

The “first poem” highlights the life of Tom Dacre, a chimney sweeper who is born to a world of abject poverty.  His mother is dead. His father sold him as a chimney sweeper, making him little more than a slave. Yet this boy still manages the type of optimism. Here is an immense contrast between the death, weeping, exploitations and oppression that Tom Dacre endures and his childlike innocence that enables him to be native about his grave situation and the widespread injustice in society. Tom Dacre’s imagination takes him on a lovely journey with his ultimate hope of being nurtured and cared for by his Father in Heaven. Despite the sadness of this poem a hint of hope still lingers. The same cannot be said of “The Chimney Sweeper” in Songs of Experience. The boy was abandoned by his hypocritical parents to die as a chimney sweeper while they go to church to pray.

The symbolism and pictorial beauty is textured by the warp and woof.  Tom’s hair is described as “curl’d like a lamb’s back”. A lamb is a common symbol of innocence and is one that Blake uses often in Songs of Innocence. While comforting Tom, the narrator says now “the soot cannot spoil your white hair”. The narrator is saying that the horridness of their situation cannot taint Tom’s purity and innocence as a child. However, by having his head shaved, Tom’s innocence is symbolically forcibly stolen. “Coffins of black” symbolizes their death in the chimney. Through their deaths, the boys actually regain their innocence because they become “naked & white,” which are symbols of purity and innocence. A line that rings of experience is “They clothed me in the clothes of death”. This child is acknowledging that he is going to die soon. 

The poem ends with the sentiment, “If all do their duty, they need not fear harm”.  Even though they both are living terrible existences, there is still hope in death. They want an Angel to come save them and bring them to green pastures where everything will be perfect. His faith in God is so strong that it becomes his only constant source of hope and inspiration. The optimistic outlook, which is real to Tom, is revealed to be unrealistic on earth.

William Blake’s two Chimney Sweeper poems from the Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience show a progression in the awareness of a young chimney-sweeper, from an innocent child clouded by childhood euphoria to a mature one whose awareness of his own life reveals a stark contrast between the privileged and the downtrodden. The first provides a lingering sense of hope. Tom and his friends can look forward to being at peace in heaven even though the hope of death is disturbing. The second does no such thing. Instead, it depicts a child whose innocence was stolen and replaced with experience.

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