The Way of the World: Act Three
Summary – Act Three
The setting is in a room in Lady Wishfort’s house. She is ‘at her Toilet’ and Peg is waiting on her. Lady Wishfort is impatient and demanding, and Peg tells her Foible has the key for the item she requires.
Mrs Marwood enters and tells Lady Wishfort that she has seen Foible in conference with Mirabell. Lady Wishfort is angry and calls him a traitor and says she sent Foible to negotiate an affair ‘in which if I’m detected I’m undone’ and thinks Mirabell might wheedle information out of her. If this happens, Lady Wishfort will be, she says, ruined.
Lady Wishfort hears Foible enter and sends Peg for her. She asks Mrs Marwood to retire to her closet so she can ‘examine’ Foible with more freedom. Mrs Marwood leaves, and Foible enters.
Lady Wishfort asks Foible if she has betrayed her to Mirabell, as she has been seen with him. Foible says he insulted her and Lady Wishfort. Lady Wishfort replies that she will have him murdered, will have him poisoned. Foible says this would be too good for him and should starve him instead. She adds that if she marries Sir Rowland he will be disinherited (and so would starve).
Lady Wishfort tells Foible that news of Mirabell has fretted her so much she cannot recompose her features and Foible agrees that she has frowned a little too rashly. Lady Wishfort looks in the mirror and compares her face to an old peeled wall and asks Foible to repair it before Sir Rowland appears. She talks about ‘Decorum’ and hopes she will not have to advance, but will not be too coy either. She then exits.
Mrs Fainall enters and tells Foible that Mrs Marwood saw her in the park with Mirabell and is afraid she will ‘discover to my Lady’. Foible feigns ignorance and Mrs Fainall tells her she knows the ‘whole Design’ and that Foible is married to Waitwell and that he is impersonating Mirabell’s uncle. Foible apologizes for not admitting to this and says how Mrs Marwood has already told ‘my Lady’ and she had to tell her that Mirabell ‘rail’d’ at Lady Wishfort. She says she is now so angry with him she will be ‘contracted to Sir Rowland to Night’.
Mrs Fainall leaves and Mrs Marwood enters. Lady Wishfort reappears and says how she is expecting her nephew, Sir Wilfull, who is set to travel for improvement. Mrs Marwood says she would have thought of marrying rather than travelling at his age, of 40. Lady Wishfort says she is against him marrying too young and Mrs Marwood says she thinks he and Millamant would make ‘a very fit Match’. Lady Wishfort says she will think about it.
Foible enters and tells Lady Wishfort that Witwoud and Petulant have come to dine with her. Foible and Lady Wishfort leave to finish the dressing of the latter and Millamant and Mincing enter.
Millamant tells Mrs Marwood that Petulant has provoked her ‘into a Flame’ and Mrs Marwood tells her she can no longer conceal her feelings for Mirabell. Mrs Marwood tells her she hates him, and Millamant says she does too. A song is then sung, about love being the ‘frailty of the Mind’, as Millamant wanted one sung to keep up her spirits.
After this, Petulant and Witwoud enter and they talk about their ability to contradict each other. Millamant and Mincing leave and Sir Wilfull is shown in.
He does not recognize his brother, Witwoud, just as Witwoud does not recognize him. On Mrs Marwood’s direction, he finally realizes who he is and they acknowledge each other. Witwoud says it is not the fashion in town to ‘slabber and kiss’ when they meet and Sir Wilfull says fashion is ‘a Fool’ and he is ‘a Fop’.
Lady Wishfort and Fainall enter and she greets Sir Wilfull. Mrs Marwood and Fainall talk alone before dinner and Fainall says it is ‘the way of the world’ that he is a ‘rank Husband’ and his wife is errant. He adds that he was born ‘a Cuckold’, ‘with budding Antlers’. Mrs Marwood says he has often wished for an opportunity to part from his wife and now he has it, but first he must prevent the plot (of Mirabell marrying Millamant and getting the fortune). He says this could have been his and it would have added lustre to his horns. Mrs Marwood suggests he tells ‘my Lady’ of his wife’s conduct and threaten to leave her.
He asks how they will proceed and she says she will have a letter delivered to ‘my Lady’ when ‘that Rascal who is to act Sir Rowland’ is with her and will be written in an ‘unknown hand’ to distance her from it. Fainall says that if the worst comes to the worst, he will put his wife out to grass. She says she hopes he is now convinced that she hates Mirabell and will not be jealous of him anymore. He says he will not, and adds that this emotion is for husbands.
Analysis – Act Three
Adultery and trickery are dominant concerns once more, and these prevail as intertwined themes when Fainall and Mrs Marwood plot to expose that Waitwell is a servant and not Sir Rowland.
Just prior to this, Fainall also discusses cuckoldry, and how he was born with ‘budding Antlers’. This refers to the horns of the cuckold, and to his belief that his wife has been adulterous (which is what makes him a cuckold). His hypocrisy is, however, made certain as he relates this information to his mistress.