Albee, Edward - Who`s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Presentation / Essay (Pre-University), 2000

8 Pages, Grade: 15 Points

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Edward Albee - Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Setting: The living room of George and Martha's house on the campus of the university of a city called "New Carthage".

Time: 2am till about sunrise

Main Characters:

Martha, the 52-year-old daughter of the president of New Carthage University. She is married to George although she is disappointed with his academic career because he is not "ambitious enough". Later in the play she will attempt to seduce Nick.

George, Martha's 46-year-old husband, who is a member of the history department at the university. His marriage to Martha has turned into a love-hate-relationship in which both partners try to hurt each other with witty arguments although they actually need each other for emotional support.

Nick is about thirty years old and a good looking blonde who is married to Honey. He is a new member of the biology faculty at the university of New Carthage.

Honey, his 26-year-old wife, who is slim-hipped and has a weak stomach. She is blonde and seems to be a personalized blondes-joke as she is not the most intelligent woman.

Important "Games":

("Game" here means a psychological "game" in the sense of a behavior pattern. When George and Martha used to play a "game" they knew how the other was going to react. This changes when Martha breaks the rules.)

- Humiliate the Host (to humiliate: to make sb. Feel ashamed or foolish; to injure the dignity or pride of sb.)
- Get the Guests
- Hump the Hostess (which refers to Martha sleeping with Nick) · Bringing Up Baby
- Killing the Kid

The play "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" by Edward Albee is set on the campus of a small, New England university in a city called New Carthage. It was written in the years 1961-1962 and its first performance was on the 13th of October 1962 in New York. The main characters are

Martha, the 52-year-old daughter of the president of New Carthage University. She is married to George although she is disappointed with his academic career because he is not "ambitious enough". Later in the play she will attempt to seduce Nick.

George, Martha's 46-year-old husband, who is a member of the history department at the university. His marriage to Martha has turned into a love-hate-relationship in which both partners try to hurt each other with witty arguments although they actually need each other for emotional support.

Nick is about thirty years old and a good looking blonde who is married to Honey. He is a new member of the biology faculty at the university

Honey, his 26-year-old wife, who is slim-hipped and has a weak stomach. She is blonde and seems to be a personalized blondes-joke as she is not the most intelligent woman.

The first act "Fun and Games" opens with George and Martha coming home from a party at her father's house at two o'clock in the morning. Neither of them is sober anymore and when George suggests having a small nightcap Martha tells him that they will have guests: The new math professor who is according to Martha about thirty, blonde and good-looking and his wife, a "mousy little type without any hips or something" who were invited because Martha's daddy told her to be nice to them. When George tells her that he doesn't like it when Martha springs things on him (that means that she "surprises" him with news like these) they have a short argument which ends with Martha singing "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf". This line is originally from the story of the three little pigs with the name of the British novelist Virginia Woolf substituted for the Big Bad Wolf of the story. When George doesn't

"laugh his head off", as Martha likes to call it, she tells him "You make me puke" [kotzen]. This is followed by the laughing of the two of them and Martha requesting a "great big sloppy kiss" from George. In these few lines we can see their relationship moving from one of great insults to one of open sexuality in very short time.

When the doorbell rings, Martha orders George to answer it, forcing him into the role of a houseboy. Before George answers the doorbell, however, he warns Martha three times not to talk about "the bit about the kid". As George is about to open the door, he says something to arouse Martha's anger and just when she replies "SCREW YOU" he opens the door so that it appears that she screamed at the newly arrived guests, Nick and Honey. As it becomes obvious later in the play that Martha invited Nick and Honey because she is physically attracted to Nick, there might be many different meanings for "screw". After the guests have come in, Martha orders George to make them a drink.


Then the conversation shifts to the remembrance of the "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"- Song and ends with the discussion of the party at Martha's father's house. During this sarcastic and witty discussion it becomes obvious that George and Martha have actually learned their dialogue over years and have been saying exactly the same things to new faculty members. To George and Martha their whole conversation is a game (remember the title of the first act "Fun and Games") with fixed rules which they both know and accept. If one has read Eric Berne's "Games People Play" which appeared in 1964 one might know that such games are often played to hide real emotions - as long as you follow certain rules you don't have to show feelings. This game, however, is only one of many games which will follow. When Martha goes upstairs with Honey in order to show her where the toilet is, George warns Martha again not to "shoot her mouth off about you-know-what", that means not to talk about their child. Martha, of course, refuses to promise anything as she will talk about "any goddamn thing she wants to".

While Martha and Honey are upstairs, George and Nick talk about their scientific fields and it turns out that Nick is actually a member of the biology department and not, as Martha thought, of the mathematics department. In this talk, George attacks Nick for being the one who rearranges chromo zones, who makes everyone the same, showing his little knowledge about biology.

During their conversation, George shows his bitterness over his lack of advancement: He is still an associate professor and not, like most people of his age working at university, a full professor. The only time he headed the history department was during World War II when most male faculty members had joined the army. His cynicism about the school is revealed in a variety of allusions, the story of a teacher buried in the shrubbery, Martha's father's longevity (he talks of "the staying power of one of those Micronesian tortoises") and a variety of sarcastic names for the college and the town. When George asks Nick whether he and Honey have any kids, Nick answers "not yet" and asks George the same question to which George replies with a childish "That's for me to know and for you to find out".

Then Honey returns with two pieces of information which infuriate George: Martha is changing her clothes to be more "comfortable" and she has mentioned the forbidden topic, their son who will have birthday the next day to Honey.

On Martha entering in a sexier dress which George calls "her Sunday chapel dress", the real intention for the change is made clear: Martha wants to seduce Nick who is quite impressed by her looks now.

In the next few minutes of the play, Martha compares Nick to George, which is very embarrassing for George.

George's failure in the history department is compared to Nick's early academic success, his "paunchy" body to Nick's athletic one. George, however, tries to stay calm and tries to counter Martha's vulgar insults with intellectual superiority.

In the meantime everybody has had one drink after the other which might be the reason why Honey doesn't notice Martha's attempts to seduce Nick - she's simply too drunk.

After George exited the stage Martha tells a story about how at the beginning of World War II, her father wanted everyone in good physical condition, so one day when people had boxing gloves on, she put on a pair and accidentally knocked out George which is another image for their verbal fights in which Martha won the first round.

When George returns he carries a real-looking fake gun and pretends to shoot Martha's head from behind. After this shock everyone gets another drink and Honey, now very drunk, asks when George and Martha's son is coming home. The couple acts strangely and George passes the question to Martha because "she brought it up" and they even argue about the eye-color of their son. It becomes obvious to the reader that George and Martha only invented their son in order to correct the failure of not having any real children but they also use their "son" as a lever to hurt each other. In a later scene for example, George doesn't say that he doesn't like it when Martha seduces other men but says that their son left their home because Martha chased him with her "kimono flying and her liquor breath on him" which implies that Martha even tried to seduce her own son.

George leaves the room to fetch more liquor and Martha tells the story about how they met and were married. Her mother died young and Martha was raised by her father. Before she married George she had married a young gardener who worked at her college, but this marriage was annulled by her father and so she was "revirginized" and wanted to marry someone in the college and "along came George" - who re-enters the stage at this moment, carrying liquor bottles. George realizes that Martha is - once again - telling the story of his failures: how her father had wanted him to be his successor but "George wasn't ambitious - in fact he was a FLOP! A great big fat FLOP". At this point George breaks a bottle on the portable bar and threatens her. When he can't stand it anymore, he begins to sing "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" as loud as he can in order to cover Martha's story. Soon he is joined by the drunken Honey, who becomes sick and rushes down the hall to vomit. Nick and Martha follow her and the crushed figure of George is left alone. For the moment Martha has triumphed and George is defeated.

Then the second act, which is called "Walpurgisnacht", starts. George is still alone in the room when Nick comes back to tell him that Honey is feeling better and Martha is making coffee in the kitchen. In the beginning of their conversation, Nick says that his wife throws up a lot and that he married her because she was pregnant and both families - Honey's father was a very rich preacher - expected them to marry. After the wedding, however, the symptoms of the pregnancy went away, perhaps because Honey made an abortion without telling Nick about it.

During their conversation George tells a story about a boy who accidentally shot his mother and some time later this boy went into a bar and ordered "bergin and water" which caused the entire bar to start laughing and ordering the same. Later the boy was driving a car with "his learner's permit" in his pocket and swerved to "avoid a porcupine and drove straight into a large tree" and killed his father. The boy had to be put into an asylum - "That was thirty years ago."

After Martha and Honey have re-entered the subject again shifts to drinking and Martha remarks that George used to drink bergin. This alerts George that Martha is about to tell another embarrassing detail of his life. Honey, however, delays the revelation by pleading that she wants to dance. Then she begins to dance by herself and stops angrily when the music is stopped by George. After Honey has sat down again Nick and Martha dance together with a lot of touching and physical contact. While they are dancing Martha continues her revelation.

She says that George had wanted to publish the story he told Nick before as a novel but that Martha's father had not permitted it and then, she says, George told her father that it was actually his story. George gets very angry during Martha's talk and in the end he grabs her by the throat, calls her "Satanic bitch" and with Honey happily singing "Violence, violence", Nick grabs George's hands and removes them from Martha's throat.

George now wonders what game to play next. They have done "Humiliate the Host" but they don't want to play "Hump the Hostess" yet... so they play "Get the Guests". George tells his guests the story of his second novel - which was just invented by him at that moment. He tells - only thinly disguised - the story of Nick's and Honey's engagement and marriage with all the appropriate background about Honey's father. At the climax of the story, Honey realizes that this is her story and that Nick has betrayed her most personal details of the past. In playing this game, George is able to show Nick how it feels to be humiliated and he exposes him as a person who cannot be trusted. This betrayal makes Honey physically sick again and she rushes out of the room.

Nick exits to look after Honey and while the two of them are away, George and Martha declare "total war" to each other. Nick comes back and reports that Honey is sleeping on the tiles of the bathroom floor. While George is out getting ice for their drinks, Martha and Nick continue their sexual flirtation with even more physical contact. George returns with the ice, realizes what is going on and leaves again without them noticing him. He re-enters a moment later singing "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf", delivers the ice and then ignores them, sits in a chair and reads a book about history. Martha doesn't know how to react to George's behavior. She sends Nick into the kitchen and Martha threatens that she will indeed go to bed with Nick if George doesn't stop her. Her threats like "I swear to God I'll follow that guy into the kitchen and then I'll take him upstairs" indicate that this is indeed the first time that she has ever gone so far in seducing another person. When she follows Nick, she accidentally rings the door chimes. George, of course, doesn't stop her and she makes her threat true, although Martha and Nick don't make it to the bedroom but stay in the kitchen. While George is reading, Honey enters still half-sleeping and asks what the bells were.

She tells George that she is afraid of having children and that she doesn't want to get pregnant. George puns that the bang-bang of the bells announced the sexual bang-bang of Martha and Nick but Honey ignores it.

Then George has a great idea to take revenge: He convinces Honey that the doorbell was rung by a messenger with the news that his and Martha's son is dead.

After this scene, the third and last act "The Exorcism" starts with Martha delivering a soliloquy which reveals her abandonment and her desire to make up with George. She imagines a scene where they would do anything for each other. Then Nick enters and tells Martha that Honey is again lying curled up on the bathroom tiles and is peeling the label off the brandy bottle. Their conversation makes clear that Nick has actually been a flop in bed because he was too drunk.


Then George enters with a bunch of snapdragons... His first sentence to Martha is "Flores, flores para los muertos" which means "Flowers for the dead" so he wants to get Martha into the mood that someone has died. George then tries to hug Nick saying "Sonny! You've come home for your birthday! At last!". Nick, now believing that everyone has become crazy shouts "Stay away from me" and Martha tells George laughing that Nick is the houseboy. We see now that Martha has demoted Nick to the rank of a houseboy for his failure in bed just as she demoted George in act one when she ordered him to answer the door.


Then they have a talk about "truth and illusion". Essentially, the discussion centers on whether the moon can come up again after it has gone down in the same night and whether Nick is a "stud" who can perform in bed or a "houseboy" who can't. Martha lies to George that "Nick is not a houseboy" and George is now uncertain what is truth and what is illusion and he throws the snapdragons at Nick and Martha. Their conversation ends when George announces that there is one more game to be played, it's called "Bringing up Baby" and he sends Nick to "fetch" Honey.

Martha pleads for no more games after Nick has left the scene, but George has detailed plans for the next game and he wants Martha in a fighting mood because they will play this game to the death. Ironically the game will end with the death of their invented son. When everyone is back on stage, George starts talking about his and Martha's son, his twenty- first birthday and that Martha tried to break the bathroom door down to wash him in the tub when he was sixteen, with the result that Martha gets in the "fighting mood" George wanted her to be in. Everyone gets another drink and Martha starts telling stories of her wonderful son, what he liked to eat, how healthy he was and some made-up stories about how he broke his arm and so on. It becomes obvious that the illusion of their son has occupied George and Martha's lives. All details are carefully worked out, the toys he had as a child, the color of his eyes etc.

Now that George brought the topic on their son, he starts playing the final game "Killing the Kid" by interrupting Martha with reciting Latin phrases of a Requiem and the Kyrie Eleison: ·TEXT

These two monologues have their climax with Martha and George speaking at the same time and I scanned this part from the book, so that you can see how Albee managed to direct this: · Folie 2

Finally, George tells Martha that their son is dead: · TEXT You see that even Nick and Honey haven't realized by now that George and Martha's son was only an invented one, they think that Martha went totally crazy when she shouts at George that "he can't decide that".

Only when George reminds Martha that she knew the rules and she broke them, Nick begins to realize that George and Martha only created this fantasy because they couldn't have any real children.

George has recognized the danger of Martha believing in an illusion in such a very strong way that she actually thinks it is true. George has completed the exorcism, the ghost of their son is driven out.

Nick and Honey, still shattered from these revelations, decide to go and George and Martha are having the final dialogue. Martha suggests inventing another game to escape reality but George denies it to her. Then he hugs her and starts singing very softly into her ear "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf" and Martha replies "I... am... George".

They have to face reality now and have to communicate with each other with honesty and without illusions.

Well, that was the story and as you may have already noticed I really enjoyed reading this book because of its sarcastic humor, its witty dialogues and its whole plot. Its language was quite understandable although it had some words you have to look up but since everybody is heavily drunk they mainly talk in short sentences. If you read this book you will learn lots of nasty tactics to make fun of others. In reading it, however, one also recognizes the importance of sticking to reality so that you don't get lost in illusions and self-betrayal.

8 of 8 pages


Albee, Edward - Who`s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
15 Points
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ISBN (eBook)
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Albee, Edward, Who`s, Afraid, Virginia, Woolf
Quote paper
Nikolas Tautenhahn (Author), 2000, Albee, Edward - Who`s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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