Proviso Scene in The Way of the World | William Congreve |

William Congreve’s The Way of the World is an important play of the Restoration period. The bargaining scene or the Proviso Scene in “The Way of the World” occurs in Act IV.

The proviso scene has acquired crucial recognition because of the contract between Mirabell and Millamant which puts forward the prospect of parity in love and marriage within aristocratic society. It is a compelling and purposeful discussion between the two main characters of the drama, Mirabell and Millamant, which carries a useful proposition for a joyous married life. Although Congreve presented the proviso scene keeping an eye on the restoration comedy of that time, but he achieved in ridiculing the prevailing mode of marital life, while at the same time offering the solution of its problems. 

Mirabell and Millamant’s apprehensions regarding contemporary relationships:

Mirabell and Millamant bargain for their own freedom and rights. They examine the manners of falsity and endearment that permeate the romantic and conjugal relationships of their time. Millamant is worried about losing the freedom and consequently wants to separate a personal space within the routine of family life. 

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Millamant’s development from girlhood to maturity in Proviso Scene:

The bargaining scene, like the Proviso Scenes in earlier restoration plays, demonstrates how the community can stabilize and maintain an emotional reality, but this Proviso Scene goes farther, it reveals the charming Millamant’s development from girlhood to maturity. Before the bargaining scene, she treats love easily and distantly. Millamant utilizes the love letters given by her lovers to pin up her hair and she tells this to her loved ones with casualness. She enjoys giving suffering and agony to her admirers. But after the Proviso Scene, Millamant makes a mature declaration about love: “We, if Mirabell should not make a good Husband, I am a lost Thing;- for I find I love him violently.” 

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Millamant’s conditions in Proviso Scene:

Millamant’s provisos are conceived from a feminine point of view. As a first condition, Millamant desires an equal amount of love and respect from her future husband for the rest of her life. Millamant does not want her husband to call her by the names that husbands usually call their wives like my dear, sweetheart, jewel, love, joy, etc. She doesn’t want Mirabell to kiss her in front of people and she also doesn’t want to go to Hyde Park together on the first Sunday to show off and never to be seen together after that. So in this way, Millamant puts forward her conditions in front of Mirabell in the Proviso Scene.

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Millamant is bothered with appearing excessively connected with Millamant. She thinks that adoring Mirabell highly will minimize her liberty and induce them to treat each other without any seriousness. Millamant’s all conditions address her demand to hold on to a distinct position after getting married. Millamant doesn’t want Mirabell to control her after marriage instead she wants to show him that she is an independent woman. 

The one element that is common in these conditions of Millamant is the fusion of humor and seriousness. Millamant’s conditions draw attention to woman’s demand for integrity and liberty in domestic life. 

Mirabell’s conditions in Proviso Scene:

Mirabell’s conditions are very different as compared to Millamant’s conditions. His conditions are sexual in content as he doesn’t want Millamant to make him a cuckold. A cuckold is a man whose wife has a sexual relationship with another man. According to his other condition, Millamant should stay away from the trivial world of fashion and show off. He says that Millamant should not have any female confidante or be accompanied by a fop to the playhouse. She should also give up the ways of looking beautiful and the techniques of being slim as it hinders child-bearing. So in this way, Mirabell put forwards his conditions in front of Millamant in the Proviso Scene. 


After seeing the conditions that Mirabell and Millamant put forward before each other in the proviso scene, we can say that both parties have expressed their provisos in a fun way so that they can come to some sort of mutual understanding. Although such scenes are very common in the comedies of the Restoration period such as in Dryden’s Secret Love and The Wild Gallant, Congreve’s Proviso Scene in The Way of the World is unmatched. William Congreve is more articulate, eloquent, and clear. His magnificent delineation of wit and the sharpness of the characters are some of the important characteristics of the Proviso Scene. The Proviso Scene gives a clear picture of the society of that time. Although the scene has some comic elements, it also has some serious suggestions for married life.

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