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MonkeyNotes-The Way of the World by William Congreve
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In the prologue, or the introduction to the play, Congreve
categorizes poets as those who fare the worst among Nature’s
fools, for Fortune first grants them fame and then "forsakes"
them. Congreve laments this unfair treatment meted out to the
poets, who are Fortune’s own offspring. Poets have to risk the
fame earned from their previous work when they write a new
work. If his new endeavor fails, the poet must lose his seat in
Parnassus. (Parnassus was a mountain near Delphi in Greece,
sacred to Apollo and the Muses. Apollo was the sun-god and
patron of the arts, while the Muses were the nine goddesses of
the arts. Parnassus was regarded as the seat of learning, poetry
and the arts.)

Congreve states that although he has worked hard to write this
play, if the audience does not like it, they should not spare him
for his trouble but damn him all the more. He tells the audience
not to pity him for his stupidity. He promises that he will blame
the audience if they heckle any scene. He proceeds to state that
his play has "some plot," "some new thought," "some humor" --
but "no farce." This is regarded as a fault by some. He
comments wryly that the audience should not expect satire since
they have nothing for which to be reproached. Nobody can dare
to correct them. His sole aim has been to "please" and not to
"instruct," since this might offend the audience. If he should
accidentally expose a knave or a fool, his audience will not be
hurt, as there are no knaves or fools among them. He takes the
role of a passive poet who has left everything to the judgment of
the audience. He bids the audience to "save or damn" him
according to their own discretion.


A prologue was a convention of the plays of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. It is normally written in verse and states
the writer’s aim and theme. It is usually spoken by one of the
characters. This prologue was delivered by the actor who played
the part of Fainall.

Congreve was among the rare group of writers who possessed
the ability to stand back and objectively reflect on their work.
His prologue is therefore not a mere convention but expresses
some important points. Although Congreve describes the
unfortunate condition of poets, the prologue is not remorseful in
tone. Rather, Congreve urges the audience to "save or damn"
him according to their own discretion and judgment. He knows
that he cannot rely on his past good fortune and that he is
risking everything on this new venture. He promises that he will
not resent it if the audience judges his work harshly.

In truth, Congreve was extremely bitter about the poor response
towards this play when it first appeared. His remark in the
dedication about the poor taste of the multitudes who favor the
"coarsest strokes of Plautus" to the purity of Terence’s style is
an indication of his resentment. Some critics have suggested
that Congreve did not write any other plays after The Way of the
World because he was so disheartened by its failure.

Congreve states that plot, new thought and humor are the
ingredients of his play. He emphasizes that he has not included
farce (satirical comedy that usually involves farfetched plot
turns). Many people in his time considered this exclusion to be a
fault. He ironically tells the audience not to expect satire, since
nobody can dare to correct such a reformed society. (Satire is
typically employed by an author to expose human vice.)
However, satire abounds in The Way of the World. Congreve
criticizes false wit or affectation through the characters of
Fainall, Witwoud, and Petulant, exposes the knavery of Fainall
and Mrs. Marwood, and also condemns woman’s inconstancy in
general terms. He says that his sole intention is to please the
audience and not to instruct. If he should accidentally expose
some knave or fool, the audience will not be hurt, since it is
composed of better people. He leaves his fate entirely to the
judgment of the audience, but he has also gently warned the
viewers that if they are offended by his depiction of a certain
character, they are admitting that they may resemble that type.

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MonkeyNotes-The Way of the World by William Congreve

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