Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Fun and Games
• The stage directions tell us that we're in the living room of a house at small New England College.
The set is in darkness. There's a crash against the door.
• We hear Martha laughing. Lights are flipped on. Martha enters and George follows her into the
• George shushes Martha, reminding her it's two o'clock in the morning.
• She tells him he's a "cluck" (1.8).
• After surveying their house Martha says, "What a dump!" (1.10).
• Martha asks George what Bette Davis movie that line is from. He doesn't know.
• She needles and needles him about not knowing what movie it is.
• George says he's tired.
• Martha doesn't understand why, as he hasn't done anything all day. He didn't even have to teach
classes. She complains that he never actually does anything but sit around and talk.
• George accuses his wife of "braying" all the time. (Translation: speaking in a harsh and annoying
• Martha insists she doesn't bray but brays while doing so. She commands her husband to make
her a drink, and he does.
• Martha informs George they've got guests coming over. She can't remember their names, but
the husband is handsome, blonde, and she thinks he works in the Math Department. The wife is
mousy with no hips.
• George whines that it's too late to be having guests. Martha tells him they have to come over
because her daddy told her to be nice to them. Her husband accuses her of springing things on
him all the time.
• She mocks him, like he was a sniveling child.
• Martha begins to sing, "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf" (1.102).
This is apparently the punch line to a joke they heard at a party they've just come from.
• Martha asks George if he thought the joke was funny. He half-heartedly agrees.
• She tells him that he makes her want to vomit.
• They share a laugh.
• Martha asks for more ice in her drink. Her husband tells her that she chomps on ice like cocker
spaniel, and that she has big teeth. He teases her about being six years older than him.
• Martha points out that he's going bald; he says she is too.
• They share another laugh.
• Martha wants a kiss.
• No, says George, if he kissed her, he wouldn't be able to control his sexual urges. The next thing
you know their guests would come in and find them making love on the floor. (He might be
mocking her when he says this, but it's hard to tell.)
• Martha requests another drink. He says she's gross and drinks too much, and she replies that
he's a nobody.
• The doorbell rings. After some resistance, George goes to answer it. Before opening it however,
he taunts Martha some more.
• Martha curses very loudly just as George opens the door. We get the impression that this is just
what George wanted to happen.
• The young couple, Nick and Honey, is a little shocked, but greet their hosts politely. Nick and
Honey aren't sure if they should stay, but George and Martha insist.
• Nick notices an abstract painting on the wall and asks who painted it.
• George replies that it's by some random Greek guy with a mustache that Martha assaulted.
• Honey laughs uncomfortably.
• Nick tries to make an insightful comment about the painting George mocks him, then sincerely
apologizes for doing so.
• It's time for another round of drinks.
• George jokes that Martha drinks rubbing alcohol. He talks about how when they were younger
she drank girly cocktails, but now she likes it straight up. (He's basically poking at her for being an
• Martha begins to sing "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf" (1.209). Nick and Honey agree that the
joke was sooo funny at the party. Martha complains that George didn't think it was funny.
• In an attempt to make civil conversation, Honey comments that it was a nice party and that she
really likes Martha's father. Martha proudly and sincerely agrees that her father is awesome.
• George, however, takes a couple jabs at her father.
• Nick says he was glad that Martha's father threw the party for them. It was nice to get to meet
everybody at his new job. Martha comments that her father really knows how to run things.
(Apparently her dad is the head of the college.)
• It's not so easy being married to your boss's daughter, says George. His wife says that some men
would see it as an opportunity. George makes a lewd comment about sacrificing his genitals.
• Embarrassed, Honey suddenly needs to powder her nose. The ladies exit to the bathroom.
• While the two women are gone George toys with Nick. Nick calls George on his little games, and
says that when his wife gets back they should leave. He alludes that George and Martha seem to
be having a fight.
• George says that he and Martha are just exercising their wits. Nick responds that he doesn't like
getting involved in other people's affairs. George deliberately misinterprets his use of the word
"affairs." George says that Nick will get used to it, because "musical beds is a faculty sport"
(1.301) at the college.
• George comments on how old and grey he is. He then asks Nick if he works in the Math
Department. Nick says no, he teaches biology.
• George goes off about biology. Nick is interested in genetic research, of which George is
apparently very distrustful.
• George goes on to talk about how he teaches history. He ran the department during the war
when everybody went away. When they came back he was demoted. He seems more than a
little bitter about it.
• Rapidly changing the subject, George comments that Honey has slim hips. Changing the subject
again, he wonders where the women are.
• In order to kill some more time, George asks Nick if he has kids. Nick says no, and returns the
question. George says, "That's for me to know and you to find out" (1.348). (This line is
important – it's not just banter.)
• The host has a little monologue about how overbearing and unfortunately long-lived Martha's
• George asks Nick how many kids he wants. Nick says he isn't sure.
• George ponders what women talk about when men aren't around. Nick retorts that they
probably just talk about themselves.
• George bellows for Martha. Honey enters, and comments, polite as ever, on how charming the
house is. She says that she didn't know that George had a son.
• The stage directions tell us that George wheels around "as if struck from behind" (1.388).
• Evidently this isn't a cool thing to talk about. Honey doesn't see what the bid deal is. She again
mentions the son, and adds that is his birthday tomorrow.
• George acts all weird and asks again if Martha mentioned their son. Honey confirms it.
• Her host gets all distracted and talks to himself.
• Nick gets Honey some more brandy and says that they'd better leave soon.
• George says they shouldn't leave. It's a special occasion: Martha is changing. He makes a play on
words and says that she hasn't changed for him in years.
• Martha enters. She's changed into a pretty revealing dress. She asks what the men talked about
when the ladies were out of the room. George retorts that they spent the whole time wondering
what the women were talking about.
• Martha tells Nick he's awesome for getting his masters degree at a young age.
• Jealously, George makes some snide remarks, saying that it'll be no time before Nick takes over
the History Department.
• Nick reminds him that he teaches biology not history.
• George turns it all into a joke. Everyone laughs.
• Martha takes some jabs at her husband for not being in charge of the History Department. She
calls him a "bog" and a "swamp" (1.448).
• She asks him to light her cigarette.
• He refuses saying that's one rung down the evolutionary ladder too many. It's beneath even him.
He comments that he'll hold her hand at night when she's afraid and secretly take her alcohol
bottles out to the trash, but he won't light her cigarette.
• Martha brings up the fact that Nick played football. Nick says, yes, that he was a quarterback,
but he was actually a lot better at boxing. Honey proudly declares that Nick was a lightweight
• Flirtatiously, Martha asks Nick if he still has a good body. Oblivious as ever, Honey confirms that
her husband's body is quite firm. Martha continues to flirt with Nick.
• George is starting to get angry.
• Martha comments that George doesn't like talk of bodies, because he's flabby and old.
• George tries to flirt with Honey, but she just laughs.
• Gleefully, Martha tells her husband to tell the guests about the boxing match that they had.
Apparently, this story is a sore spot, and George leaves the room.
• Martha tells a story about how during the war her father got on a kick where he wanted the
faculty to learn how to box. He thought that a fit body is as important as a fit mind. One day he
tried to get George to box with him, but George didn't want to. Martha put on a glove and
"jokingly" took a swing at her husband. She "accidentally" hit him in the jaw and sent him
hurtling into a huckleberry bush.
• Nick laughs. Martha says that the incident affected the rest of their marriage. It may be why
George never got a promotion.
• George reenters the room with a double-barreled shotgun. He points it at Martha and fires.
Instead of a bullet, a brightly colored parasol comes out.
• Everybody laughs loudly and nervously.
• Once the laughter dies down Martha asks George for a kiss. George says no, but Martha insists.
• They kiss. She tries to put his hand on her breast, but he breaks away. Martha is clearly angry.
• George calls for another round of drinks. Honey requests brandy.
• Off to the bathroom goes Nick. Jokingly, Honey asks if he's going to come back with any guns.
• Martha comments suggestively that Nick doesn't need any props. George tells Honey that her
husband is terrifying – what with his interest in chromosomes and genetics. Honey laughs off the
• Nick comes back in, just as George is revving up for a long and brilliant monologue about the
dangers of genetics.
• The host talks about how through genetics all disease and imperfections of mankind will be
wiped away. He says everybody will look the same, and there's a good chance they'll all look
exactly like Nick. People who don't fit the right criteria (like George) will have to be sterilized.
• Eventually arts and culture will vanish, and all that will be left is science and math. Everything will
be fixed and controlled. There will be no diversity.
• George says he'll fight to the death to stop all this. He's a champion of history which is full of
• Inanely, Honey comments that she had no idea Nick was planning world domination.
• Nick shouts at her stupidity. George points out that all the great dictators had no sense of
• More flirtation from Martha, as she comments on how delicious it will be when everybody in the
world is as attractive as Nick.
• Nick makes a lewd comment to Martha, using a naughty word. Offended more by the word than
the fact that her husband is blatantly flirting with another woman, Honey covers her ears.
• Nick apologizes, but it's obvious he's not sorry. It's becoming clear that he's a bit disgusted with
his wife. Honey bursts into drunken laughter.
• She asks about George and Martha's son. George gets all weird again. He asks Martha when their
son is coming home. Now Martha gets all weird and says she doesn't want to talk about it. She's
sorry she brought it up.
• George needles Martha mercilessly to talk about it.
• She eventually explodes, and says the reason why their son is a sore spot for George is because
he's not sure if the boy is his.
• George replies that there are not many things that he's sure of in this world, but he's positive
that it's his son.
• Martha and George argue over the color of their son's eyes. George says their blue like his.
Martha says they're green like her father's. George retorts that Martha's father's eyes are red
like a mouse.
• Martha comments that her husband hates her father, because of his own failures.
• George exits to get more alcohol.
• Martha launches into the story of why George hates her father.
• She begins by telling the guests how much she's always loved her father. Her mother died early
and she grew up with him.
• She says he built the college from nothing.
• Martha talks about how she went away to boarding school and ended up marrying the guy who
mowed the lawn.
• Her father got the marriage annulled and she moved back in with him.
• Eventually it seemed like a good idea to her that she should marry somebody who worked at the
college. Her father was looking for someone to take over after he died and so it made sense.
• Then George came along. She fell in love with him.
• George reenters. She tells him to sit down and listen to her story, and he complies.
• Martha picks her story up again, mentioning once more that her father was looking for someone
to be his successor.
• George realizes where the story is going and demands that Martha stop. He says that it's bad
enough that she's already brought up their son. He's getting seriously angry.
• His wife continues anyway. She talks about how her father eventually decided that George just
didn't have the stuff to take over the History Department much less the college as a whole.
George just doesn't have the charisma. She says that George is a "big…fat…FLOP!" (1.762).
• Something snaps in George. He breaks a bottle against the bar. The stage directions tell us that
he's almost crying
• Martha relentlessly continues, commenting that he shouldn't be wasting his meager Associate
Professor's salary on liquor. She lashes him with some more comments about how he doesn't
have the guts to make anything of himself, even though he's had every opportunity.
• George starts singing the Virginia Woolf song to drown out Martha.
• Honey drunkenly joins in. Martha screams for them to stop.
• There is an uncomfortable pause.
• Honey runs out of the room to vomit, and Nick runs after her.
• Martha does too, but not before giving her husband one last contemptuous curse.
• George alone in the living room. Nick joins him.
• After a moment, Nick apologizes for Honey's drunkenness.
• The two men swiftly begin bickering. Nick says he feels embarrassed watching George and
Martha attack each other. George says it's no picnic for him either and recognizes that it's
probably not a pretty scene to watch.
• Nick brings up the fact that he only married Honey, because he thought she was pregnant. It
turns out, though, that it was a hysterical pregnancy. She got all plumped up like she was
pregnant, but not long after she slimmed down. No baby after all. It was all in her mind.
• The men share a laugh about this.
• George goes to get more drinks. Nick requests bourbon, and the host decides to tell a little story
• George says that back when he was in prep school, he and some of his buddies went to a gin mill
run by the gangster father of one of the boys. This was back during Prohibition when alcohol was
• One of the boys who was with them had accidentally killed his mother with a shotgun some
• This same boy tried to order some bourbon, but mispronounced it, saying "bergin."
• Everybody in the speakeasy thought this was hilarious and laughed about it all night.
• George and his friend ended up drinking for free as a result.
• As George hands Nick his bourbon, he tells his guest that that night was the greatest day of his
• Nick asks what happened to the "bergin boy" afterward.
• George says that later on the boy was driving with his father. He swerved to avoid a porcupine
crossing the rode, and the car hit a tree. When the boy woke up, they told him his father was
dead. The boy laughed and laughed until they drugged him. He ended up in an asylum and never
spoke again. The boy is still there to this day.
• After a long pause, George hollers for Martha.
• Nick asks if his host has any other kids. George says in a mysterious tone that they only have the
• The host says he wants to set Nick straight about something Martha said.
• Before he can, Martha comes back in.
• She trades insults in French with her husband, then sashays back into the kitchen to drink coffee
• Nick begins to talk about how he's known Honey since they were kids. Though she and he used
to play doctor when they were kids, there's never been any real passion between them. It also
comes up that Honey had money, which along with the hysterical pregnancy clenched the whole
marriage thing for Nick.
• George mentions that Martha's father has money too, and the old man has been robbing the
college blind for years.
• Nick doesn't believe him. The guest goes on to talk about how Honey's father was a preacher. He
did a lot of good for people, but also made a lot of money at it.
• Martha's father got a lot of money after his second wife died. He mockingly says she was a witch
with warts. Martha's father, being a white mouse, nibbled the warts off her face and she died.
• Nick comments that his preacher father-in-law was a mouse too – a church mouse.
• George warns Nick that the only reason he's pretending to be interested in his life story, is so
that he can use it against his guest. He admits that he sees Nick as a threat and needs a weapon
• Nick laughs this off. He goes on to comment on how sneaky, quiet people like George make him
• The guest then jokingly lays out a plan for taking over the school. This includes having sex with
the wives of prominent men in the faculty.
• George quips that the faculty wives are all putas, the prostitutes of South America. He says that
just like the putasthe wives hiss like geese.
• Continuing with the joke, Nick comments that Martha is probably the biggest puta of them, all
and that he's going to mount her.
• George agrees and says that Nick should definitely get it on with Martha.
• The joking tone shifts, as Nick points at that he thinks that George is serious about letting Nick
have sex with his wife.
• George retorts that his guest is scared because he's realizing that he might actually be capable of
• Nick is highly offended.
• The host advises Nick not to get dragged down in all the quicksand around this place.
• Nick mocks him.
• George says, with what might be sincerity, that he's only been trying to communicate with Nick.
• Nick says, "UP YOURS!" (2.270) to George.
• George replies to Nick's curse with a lament for civilization. You go through all the trouble of
building a civilization, he says. You create music, art, and buildings. But when the last trumpet
sounds all that comes out is "UP YOURS!" (2.271).
• Martha and Honey reenter.
• Martha chastises her husband for making Honey vomit.
• Honey says that sometimes she gets sick all by herself.
• She mentions that before she and Nick got married she had appendicitis, or at least she thought
so. It turned out to be a false alarm. (We realize that she's alluding to her hysterical pregnancy
and lying about it.)
• Martha comments that George used to make their son throw up all the time.
• The reason the son vomited all the time, George viciously retorts, is because Martha use to get
drunk and try to touch her own son's… (you get the picture).
• His wife vehemently denies this accusation.
• George says it was quite "embarrassing" (2.314).
• Nick asks why George brought it up then.
• George points out that he never wanted to talk about his son in the first place. It's a subject
that's only suitable for when he and Martha are alone.
• More brandy, says Honey.
• George fills her up.
• Martha asks Nick if George gave his side of the story while she was gone. Did he tell Nick about
how her father held him back in life? Did he tell Nick about how her father wouldn't let him
publish his novel?
• George cuts in and begs Martha not to talk about the book. This is apparently another very sore
• She actually seems to take a little pity on him and doesn't continue with the subject. (For now.)
• Honey suggests some dancing. Her husband advises against it. She gets all snippy and insists.
• George puts on Beethoven's 7th symphony.
• Honey does a drunken interpretive dance and hums to the music.
• Disapproving of the musical selection, Martha screeches at George to turn it off. He complies.
• Honey is disappointed. She takes it out on Nick.
• George sits beside Honey and blatantly hits on her. She just sort of drunkenly giggles.
• Martha puts on a slinky jazz number.
• George asks Honey to dance, but she's still too busy pouting about not being able to do her
interpretive dance any longer.
• Martha grabs Nick. They do a slow and sexy dance while George and Honey watch.
• As the dance continues, Martha ruthlessly brings up George's novel again.
• George warns her not to talk about it, but she does anyway.
• The novel was about a boy who killed both his parents. Martha's father thought the book was
unseemly and refused to let George publish it. He told George that if he did he would lose his
• George yells that he will not be mocked.
• Nick laughs at him. Honey laughs too, but she doesn't know why. Martha joins in as well.
• George's wife finishes humiliating her husband by informing the guests that George gave in to
her father. He burned his novel in the fireplace and has never written another.
• George attacks Martha. He strangles her as hard as he can. Nick rips George off of her and
throws him on the floor.
• After a painfully awkward moment, George suggests they play a new game. He says they've
played "Humiliate the Host," perhaps they should now move on to "Hump the Hostess" (2.498).
• Nick tells George to calm down.
• George suggests another game, called "Get the Guests" (2.510).
• He proceeds to tell everyone about what he calls his second novel.
• He says it's about a couple from the Mid West (just like Nick and Honey). The husband is a
scientist just (like Nick). The wife is the daughter of a preacher (like Honey). They come to a little
college town (just like the town they're in), and they got married because the wife had a
• At this, Honey figures out Nick told George about their past.
• She flips out and yells at Nick, then leaves the room to vomit again.
• Nick threatens George, before following his wife.
• Martha criticizes her husband for being so cruel to their guests.
• George points at that she has no room to talk, as she's been vicious to him all night.
• She replies that he likes it and that her cruelty is whole reason he married her.
• George says he'll make Martha sorry for mentioning their son.
• Martha says that she snapped tonight watching George at the party. She tells him when she saw
him there surrounded by young men who are actually going to do something with their lives, she
• George and Martha declare total war on one another. (Apparently they hadn't already done
• Nick returns. He says Honey is passed out on the bathroom floor. She likes it because it's nice
• Nick goes to make another drink. There's no ice, so George goes to get some.
• Not long after George leaves, Nick and Martha start making out. At first Nick is hesitant, but then
he gets into it.
• George walks in and sees them. He laughs quietly and leaves unobserved.
• Nick gets really frisky and Martha gently pushes him away, telling him to save some for later.
• George is heard singing the Virginia Woolf song offstage.
• He reenters the room in a seemingly very cheerful mood.
• George mentions that he saw Honey curled up like a fetus on the floor of the bathroom. Nick is
uncomfortable at the mention of his wife.
• George declares that he will now read a book and sits in a chair facing away from Nick and
Martha. Nick and Martha start kissing.
• Martha announces to George exactly what she's doing. George pretends to not care.
• This makes her mad. She pushes away from Nick and tells George that she knows what his little
• With a kiss, Martha sends Nick into the kitchen to wait for her.
• She declares that if George doesn't stop playing this game she'll really do it: she'll go upstairs and
have sex with Nick.
• George says he doesn't care. Furthermore, if she wants to do it she should stop making excuses
and just get it over with.
• Martha says she'll make him sorry he ever made her want to marry him, that he ever failed in
life. She exits.
• Seemingly calm, George reads aloud from his book. It's a passage about the crumbling of
• In sudden anger he hurls the book at the door chimes, making them ring.
• He yells to Martha, that she's going to regret what she's doing.
• Martha enters the room. No one is there, and she talks to herself.
• First she pretends like George is there and that they're having a nice polite conversation.
• Next she "talks" to her father. She observes that his eyes are red because he cries all the time.
• She says that she and George cry all the time but it's deep inside where no one can see. Martha
talks about how they freeze their tears in ice trays and put them in their drinks.
• She jiggles her class and says, "CLINK!...CLINK!...CLINK!" (3.1) over and over again.
• Nick enters and observes her clinking. He says that everybody must've gone crazy. Honey is in
the bathroom winking and peeling labels off of a brandy bottle.
• Martha tells him to chill out; everybody is just trying to avoid reality.
• She goes on to say that Nick is a flop in bed. (Apparently he couldn't perform.)
• He retorts that they should try again when he hasn't been drinking for hours and hours.
• Martha gives a sad monologue about all her pointless infidelities. It's unclear as to whether she
ever actually cheats on George, but she definitely gets drunk and flirts all the time. She seems
disgusted with herself.
• She tells Nick that George is the only man who has ever made her happy.
• Nick has a hard time believing this. Martha talks about how good George is to her, but how she
hurts him anyway.
• She says that one drunken night she'll go too far and break his back forever. Nick observes that
George's back is already thoroughly broken. Martha tells him not to be so sure.
• The doorbell rings.
• Martha makes Nick answer the door, calling him her houseboy.
• George appears in the doorway with a bouquet of snapdragons.
• He opens his arms wide as if to hug Nick and pretends that Nick is his son come home.
• Martha corrects her husband, saying that Nick is the houseboy. Nick tells them both that they're
• They laugh at him.
• Martha alludes to Nick's failure in the bedroom. George gives Nick the flowers and tells him to
put them in some gin. Nick drops them on the floor.
• What an awful thing to do to Martha's snapdragons, says George. And after he went out in the
moonlight to pick them.
• George and Martha argue over whether the moon is up or not.
• Martha says that she's sure the moon has gone down, because she saw it do so while she was in
the bedroom. George says that it came back up back up after it went down.
• His wife screams that that never happens. George retorts that it does. He saw it happen once
when he was sailing past Majorca (a Mediterranean island).
• Martha says he's never been to the Mediterranean.
• He replies that he has. His mother and father took him there as a graduation present.
• Nick cuts in and asks if that was after George killed them. There is a silence, and then both
George and Martha give Nick a nasty look.
• George says perhaps it was.
• He shakes the snapdragons in Nick's face and calls him a houseboy. Nick insists he's not a
• George retorts that if Nick is a flop in the bedroom that makes him a houseboy. Nick screams
again that he's not a houseboy, implying that he didn't fail in bed with Martha.
• George looks to Martha to confirm.
• She looks away shamefully, and says that Nick is not a houseboy, meaning that Nick did indeed
perform in bed with her. (We know she's lying though.)
• George begins throwing snapdragons at both of them.
• He tries to confirm again what happened in the bedroom, asking if Nick is a stud or a houseboy.
If Nick is a stud that means he did have sex with Martha; if he's a houseboy he wasn't able.
• Martha asks if it matters. George says, no. Either way he's fed up.
• He declares it's time for a new game. This one's called "bringing up baby."
• George says Honey has to be in the room first. He calls for her as if she's a pig.
• Disgusted, Nick goes to get his wife.
• Martha is getting a little frightened of what George is going to do. She asks him not to play the
• He tells her she's not allowed to stop their vicious games, just because she's had her fill.
• George slaps Martha lightly across the face a couple of times, saying he wants her good and mad
for the game.
• He wants an equal to do battle with, adding that this fight will be to the death. It's unclear as to
whose death it will be, however.
• Nick and Honey reenter. Honey is cheerfully drunk.
• George's final game begins. He brings up his and Martha's son.
• Martha warns him not to.
• He proceeds anyway, and begins to describe the boy.
• George says that the boy is nice. He's a bit neurotic, but that's not too much of a surprise since
Martha used to try and bathe him even when he was sixteen.
• Martha gets angry and takes over the telling.
• She says he was born on September night, just like this one. It was an easy birth.
• She talks about raising him, mentioning lots of details of his childhood: his teddy bears, his
cradle, and a toy bow and arrow he kept under his bed.
• George begins to chant in Latin underneath Martha's story. It's a requiem, a lament for the dead.
• Martha relates a heartwarming anecdote about how when their son was three years old he
mooed at a cow and the cow mooed back.
• She says that her son grew up wise. He protected his parents themselves, from George's
weakness and Martha's strength.
• Honey bursts out that she wants a baby.
• Ignoring her, Martha continues, saying that her husband is a drowning man and tried to take
their son down with him.
• She adds that their son is now off at school and everything is fine.
• George won't let it stop at that.
• He says that Martha has lots of problems: a loser husband, an alcohol problem, a father who
could care less about her. Worst of all she has a son who absolutely hates her. He says that their
son always loved him more, because his love wasn't mixed with sickness.
• Martha retorts that her son was ashamed of George, and that the boy suspected that George
wasn't his real father.
• George says only he gets letters from the boy. Martha says only she gets letters.
• (Neither one of them can produce these letters however.)
• Martha screams that their son hates George for being so weak.
• George replies that the son is ashamed of his drunken mother, adding that their son wishes he'd
never been born.
• As George once more chants a requiem, Martha launches into a monologue about how the only
good thing to come from her awful depressing marriage is her son.
• Honey screams for them to stop.
• Relentlessly, George continues. He announces that their son, Jim, is dead. A telegram came while
Martha and Nick were out of the room (subtext: upstairs in the bedroom).
• George says that the boy died that afternoon. He swerved his car to avoid a porcupine and
slammed into a tree.
• Martha goes absolutely insane with rage. She shrieks at George that he can't decide that their
son is dead on his own.
• Sympathetically, Nick says that it's not George's decision, he doesn't have the power.
• Martha screeches again that George can't have their son die.
• She howls in agony.
• She demands to know where the telegram is. George says he ate it.
• Shocked, Nick chastises George for joking at a time like this. George yells that Martha broke the
rules by mentioning their son to someone else. That's why George killed him.
• Nick suddenly gets it: there was never any son. George and Martha made him up. It's all been
another of their games. This one apparently meant a lot to both of them.
• Martha cries. She says sometimes when other people are around she just feels the urge to talk
about him. She only mentioned him. Why did George have to kill him?
• George only replies with a final requiem.
• Quietly, he says it's time for the guests to go.
• Nick asks if George couldn't have children. George and Martha both reply, "We couldn't" (3.498).
• The guests leave.
• Martha quietly asks George if he had to do it.
• He says yes, and states that things will be better now. Martha is unsure of that.
• He gently puts his hand on her shoulder and sings, "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf, Virginia
Woolf, Virginia Woolf…"
• Martha replies that she is.
• The two sit alone together in silence and the play ends.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was a sensation in its own time because of the powerful themes that it
touched on. By writing a play, with its inherent tension between actors and audience, rather than a novel
or a short story, Edward Albee uses his genre to illustrate one of these themes. He brings up the idea of
private and public images in marriage. Inherent in this idea of public and private faces is the theme of
phoniness. Many couples, Albee seems to say, project false images of themselves in public situations. In
fact, that phoniness is generally preferred to exposing all of one's problems and indiscretions to the
Yet, Albee also shows that people not only make up images of themselves for their friends and
neighbors, they create illusions for their husbands and wives as well. Both of the couples in this play
make up fantasies about their lives together in a somewhat unconscious attempt to ease the pains that
they have had to face along the way. Over the course of the play, both kinds of masks are torn off,
exposing Martha, George, Nick, and Honey to themselves and to each other. Perhaps, though, this
exposure frees them as well.
One of the difficulties that Martha and George experience in their marriage is his apparent lack of
success at his job. Albee shows the power of this failure through George's cynical disgust with young,
ambitious Nick. Through George, Albee questions the reason for this desire for success, and
demonstrates how the desire can destroy one's self-esteem and individuality.
From the relationship between Martha and George, it seems that women can be more caught up with
the idea of success than men. Martha is disappointed in George's professional failure, perhaps more
than he is. One of the reasons for this expectation and hope for her husband could be the fact that she
wants to live through his experience. Women had careers much less frequently in the 1950s and 60s
than they do today, so Martha might have felt limited.
Part of the ideal of familial success is children. Albee explores how children and parents affect each
other. Neither couple in this play has a child, a fact that seems to come between both sets of parents.
For Martha and George, their lack of a child is another failure. For Honey and Nick, it is another ground
upon which they are not communicating. Both couples furthermore, are deeply influenced by the wife's
father; the play forwards the thought that none of the characters is ready to have children in part
because they are all living like children themselves.