Restoration comedy by William Congreve (1670 -1729), produced in 1700, and picking up on all the usual conventions of the genre, wit versus artifice, intelligence versus stupidity, men versus women and so on. It has a famously hard to follow plot. It may be an urban myth but the question on The Way of the World on a finals paper of a UK university was 'Explain, in detail, the plot of this play'. (The convoluted nature of the plot is, at least in part responisble for the breakdown of one of my relationships: I'm not going into details...)

Mirabell (admirable?) has been playing around with loads of women: Lady Wishfort (not subtle - wish for 't... but not getting any of it, geddit?), Mrs Marwood, Mrs Fainall (married to Mr Fainall now, and he fains all - he deceives, basically...). He's also in love with Millamant (I always want to call her Miramax, but that's a film company; Millamant suggests her having lots of lovers - shocking really), and has pretended to be in love with Lady Wishfort to conceal his love for Millamant. Mrs Marwood finds out, and tells Wishfort - obviously Marwood is peeved cos Mirabell's been fooling around with her too.

Wishfort's now not happy with Mirabell either. He devises a plan to get his servant, Waitwell (ho ho) - after he's married to Wishfort's maid, Foible - to dress up as a lord and woo Wishfort. When Wishfort discovers the trick, she'll be mortified and allow Mirabell to marry Millamant - she's Wishfort's niece, you see.

Marwood discovers this plot too (nosey old cow) and that Mirabell's had a thing with Mrs Fainall, before she was Mrs Fainall (and she used to be Miss Wishfort: Wishfort's daughter - obvious really). Marwood conspires with Fainall (who she's been sleeping with for a while, it would seem) to tell Lady Wishfort. Now - (still with it?) - Wishfort still controls Millamant's fortune and Mrs Fainall's property (she should never have married him. He sounds like a sleaze). Fainall is going to keep shtum about Wishfort's proposing to a servant so long as Wishfort gives him (Fainall) control of his wife's property, and Millamant's money.

Of course it all goes wrong (phew). Mrs Fainall claims she's not had anything to do with Mirabell - but she does have evidence that Marwood has been doing it with Fainall (naughty chap). And Mirabelle has a piece of paper proving that Mrs Fainall, before marrying Mr Fainall, but him (Mirabell) in charge of her property. In relief, Lady Wishfort forgives him everything (which is handy) and allows him to be with Millamant (although why he'd want her, and why she'd want him, after everything they've been up to is anyone's guess - perhaps they'd spoil another couple).

Congreve complicates this somewhat simple plot (!) by the introduction of Sir Wilfull Witwould (his name implies he's headstrong and rather stupid), who is Wishfort's country bumpkin of a nephew. He's innocent enough, and, although he gets drunk and tells inappropraite jokes, serves to highlight all the falseness and pretention of the rest of the cast, notably Witwould (related by blood only, cerainly not by 'breeding') and Sir Petulant, the fops.

It's fun, I suppose. Modern soap operas, as complicated as they get, are nothing in comparison with this sort of thing.

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