"All the world´s a stage": Acting and role-playing in "Who´s afraid of Virginia Woolf"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

27 Pages, Grade: 2,0




1 The acting in Albee´s drama Who´s afraid of Virginia Woolf?
1.1 Martha and George and their relationship
1.2 Nick and Honey and their relationship

2 Different roles and the role- playing of the protagonists
2.1 The role of Martha
2.2 The role of George
2.3 The role of Nick
2.4 The role of Honey
2.5 The child and its particular role in Who´s afraid of Virginia Woolf?

3 „All the world´s a stage“- games and rituals in Who´s afraid of Virginia Woolf?
3.1 The different games and rituals and their meanings




The famous play Who´s afraid of Virginia Woolf?, written by Edward Albee in 1962, is the subject of this essay. Albee, one of the most important American playwrights of the second half of the 20th century, is the link between the nearly elderly generation of playwrights such as Eugene O´Neill, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, and the playwrights from the 1970´s and modern drama. Albee writes plays about the traditional American dreams and myths. But unlike O´Neill or Williams, he tells stories about people and their lies, illusions and the destruction of some of their lifelong lies, which helped them to survive.

With Who´s afraid of Virginia Woolf?, he created a drama about love, hate, truth, and illusion. It is nearly a mixture between a “livingroom- comedy and a naturalistic tragedy” (Eisenmann 93). The play is not a pure realistic play, it contains absurdist elements- for example the games, rituals and metaphors which are used by the protagonists. In this essay, I will give an overview of the games between the protagonists Martha and George, Nick and Honey and the battles between them. In this context, I will show how the protagonists act and which roles they have to underline and to support the cruel intentions of the others. For this purpose, the child, the imaginary son of Martha and George, gets an important role in the play. In this regard, the issue, whose purpose the games and the individual roles that the protagonists have, is to be questioned. Why do Martha and George act in the way we know and which role do Nick and Honey have in the battles between Martha and George? Which purpose shall be served by the son? With this following essay I will try to emphasize the individual roles and the acting and behaviour of the protagonists and I will give an explanation for the games and their meanings in Who´s afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

1 The acting in Albee´s drama Who´s afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Edward Albee created a drama which plays with realistical problems and absurdic issues. The protagonists behave in different ways which seem initially as spontaneous readiness for diverse quarrels and later on for diverse battles, but by knowing Albee´s intentions about his drama, you see, that these battles are never “spontaneous” but planned and some kind of familiar games between Martha and George.Especially these two have their diverse battles and act in particular ways. Martha and George have some kind of war, which shows a “spectacular display of verbal sparring and oneupmanship”(Hirsch 24). But moreover, Honey and Nick have special roles, they do not have an honestly leaded relationship. They are a young couple, but you find out that their relationship is not characterized by love. Some examples for the diverse behaviours will be given in the next chapters.

1.1 Martha and George and their relationship

Martha and George act in a shocking way in Who´s afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Albee created a dramatic portrayal of the destructive, he showed some kind of sado- masochistic battles. It is obvious that Martha and George have a love- hate and a deranged relationship, they have a marital warfare.

Whereas George is a shape- tongued, but ineffectual professor of history, he is a tired and defeated teacher who is always in his father- in- law´s shadow. This becomes obvious when Martha calls him a “flop” (Albee 71) and compares him to her successful father. Martha is a complaining wife, she often makes fun of his reactions, provokes him and does not act like a lovingly wife. Martha humiliates George in every way she can. At the beginning of the play, she wants to play some “quiz games”, for example the test about the Bette Davis- song.

Martha (looks around in the room. Imitates Bette Davis). What a

dump! Hey, what´s that from? `What a dump!´

George. How would I know what...

Martha. Aw, come on! What´s it from? You know...

George. ...Martha...

Martha. What´s it from, for christ´s sake?


Martha. Dumbbell! It´s from some goddamn Bette Davis picturesome

goddamn Warner Brothers epic... (Albee 6)

Martha berates her husband for not remembering the film sequel is from and makes her jokes, whereas he is just irritated and does not want to participate in her games. The second surprising action of Martha´s provocations is the fact that she has invited some guests Honey and Nick- who will come over now at two o`clock in the morning after the other party where Martha and George spent the evening.

George (moving to the portable bar). Well, I don´t suppose a nightcap`d kill

either one of us...

Martha. A nightcap! Are you kidding? We´ve got guests.

George (disbelieving). We`ve got what?

Martha. Guests. GUESTS.

George. Guests! (Albee 9)

George is not amused by Martha´s idea of having guests so late and he tells Martha that he wishes she “would stop springing things on him all the time” (Albee 11), but Martha´s reaction is not better, she – “friendly- patronizing” (Albee 11) irritates George by moaning “Poor Georgie- Porgie, put- upon pie! Awwwwww” (Albee 11). This shows how little she respects George and his feelings by scoffing at him. But further more, when he does not show any anger, she provokes more and more by singing the song “Who´s afraid of Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf.Ha ha ha Ha! (No reaction)...”(Albee 12).

Later, when Honey and Nick are already in the house, Martha humiliates George in front of the guests when she tells them of the boxing match George had with her surplus- father. She brings out George´s wound from the past mainly his manliness, in consideration of her father.

Martha. ...Daddy`s a strong man...Well, you know.

Nick. Yes...yes.

Martha. And he asked George to box with him. Aaaaannnnnd...George didn`t

want to(...)..and I snuck up behind George, just kidding, and I yelled

`Hey George!´and at the same time I let go sort of a roundhouse

right.just kidding, you know?

Nick. Unh- hunh.

Martha. and George wheeled around real quick, and he caught it right in the

jawPOW!...and he stumbled back a few steps, and then, CRASH, he landed...flat...in a huckleberry bush!.it was awful, really. It was funny, but it was awfulI think it´s colored our whole life. Really I do!

(Albee 49)

This shows that Martha has no respect for other people´s feelings, in this case for George´s feelings, because it is obvious that this little “anecdote” is humiliating George and his manliness, but for Martha it is only a joke, she makes fun of George. She also humiliates him by exposing the story of George´s unpublished novel and his failed career.

George himself is not much better. He does not provoke Martha as she does to him. But he has his own methods of participating in some “games” and wars with language. The first is the one “ritual” when he, some kind of triumphant, mentions her age and then that he is younger than she.

George. ...it´s pretty remarkableconsidering how old you are.

Martha. YOU CUT THAT OUT! (Pause) You´re not so young yourself.

George (with boyish pleasurea chant). I´m six years younger than you are I

always have been and I always will be. (Albee 13)

When Martha tells the story about the boxing match, George answers back with a very strange reaction:

(George takes from behind his back a short- barelled shotgun, and calmly aims it at the back of Martha´s head. Honey screamsMartha turns her head to face George. George pulls the trigger.)

George. POW!!!You´re dead! Pow! You´re dead! (Albee 49)

But Martha finds it very funny and does not take this as a serious affront to their relationship. When George asks her if she really thinks he was going to kill her, she answers with contempt “You? Kill me?That´s a laugh.” (Albee 51).

This describes, so far, how George and Martha act in their relationship. Hirsch describes it as “showcase for the caracters´raillery and wit” and Martha and George “perform” for Nick and Honey “who are intruders whose invasion triggers family warfare” (Hirsch 24).

Both communicate in very fast battles of words with the attempt to destroy the other. They act as if these battles were “games”, but they are not. They are absolutely serious little fights between them and neither Martha nor George avoid fighting in the presence of their guests.

1.2 Honey and Nick and their relationship

Honey and Nick have a parent- child- relationship. They don´ t act as equal partners, but as one inferior and one superior member of a relationship. Nick is the new professor in the biology department. Nick is a handsome man which underlines his manliness and his assumed success. But he is too polite and too naive, too, to have refused the late party invitation. He is also not able to refuse Martha´s advances towards him, he thinks he has the power to control what happens, but essentially he is the person who lets things happen. Also when George tries to involve Nick in a conversation about marriage, about Honey and about the imaginary son of Martha and George. He makes fun of Nick´s ignorance and of his assumed simplicity concerning some questions about the university, his wife and about some “games”:

George. You have any kids?

Nick. Uh...no...not yet. (Pause). You?

George (a kind of challenge). That´s for me to know and you to find out.

Nick. Indeed? (Albee 34)

Nick shows vulnerability and this is abused by Martha and George. By George when he speaks with Nick and plays the game “Get the Guests”- as if George enjoys other people´s inferiority- to get informations about Honey and her hysterical pregnancy and the reason for the marriage- money. Martha abuses Nicks inferiority by using him as an instrument to make George jealous, Nick is not able to see through her nasty game.

Honey has the part of a naive wife, who needs to be protected by her husband. She seems as if she was still a little girl and Nick has to patronize her.

Martha (salaciously- to Nick). So, everyone´s going to look like you, eh?

Nick. Oh sure. I´m going to be a personal screwing machine!

Martha. Isn`t that nice.

Honey (her hands over her ears). Dear, you mustn`t...you mustn`t...you mustn`t.

Nick (impatiently). I´m sorry, Honey. (Albee 59)

Honey- already drunken from the other party- drinks more and more so that she has to stay in the bathroom because of sickness during the night. But at the beginning of the play, Albee shows how naive she is by participating in Martha´s singing “Who´s afraid of Virginia Woolf”:


Excerpt out of 27 pages


"All the world´s a stage": Acting and role-playing in "Who´s afraid of Virginia Woolf"
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz  (Anglistik, Amerikanistik und Anglophonie)
Kulturwissenschaftliches Seminar
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Acting, Who´s, Virginia, Woolf, Kulturwissenschaftliches, Seminar
Quote paper
Daniela Artuso (Author), 2005, "All the world´s a stage": Acting and role-playing in "Who´s afraid of Virginia Woolf", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/60646


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