i need ideas and an outline for an essay that talks about Edward Albee's play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Should we call an absurd play or a realist one.  

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf most definitely qualifies as “absurdist” in the degree to which it eschews conventional narrative and rejects the notion of a well-structured universe.  The late playwright and critic Martin Esslin is credited with penning the phrase and defined it as follows:

“The Theatre of the Absurd strives to express its sense of the senselessness of the human condition and the inadequacy of the rational approach by the open abandonment of rational devices and discursive thought.”

Albee’s play is realistic in the sense that it depicts human relationships as deeply flawed and immersed in a perpetual sense of ennui regarding existence, but it clearly crosses the line into the absurd with its emphasis on nonstop dialogue seething with bitterness and pathos.  In Act I, which Albee titled “Fun and Games,” the audience is introduced to an obviously seriously dysfunctional relationship that swings rapidly between jocular and open demonstrations of hatred.  In the following passage, George (G) and Martha (M), awaiting the imminent arrival of the young couple they have just met at a college function, exchange insults that display deep-seated antagonisms:

M: I swear... if you existed I’d divorce you....

G: Well, just stay on your feet, that’s all... These people are your guests, you know, and...

M: I can’t even see you... I haven’t been able to see you for years....

G: .... if you pass out, or throw up or something...

M: .... I mean, you’re a blank, a cipher....

G: .... and try to keep your clothes on, too. There aren’t many more sickening sights than you with a couple of drinks in you and your skirt up over your head, you know...

Albee titled his second act “Walpurgisnacht,” referencing the gathering of witches that, in medieval German folklore precedes the annual day of remembrance of St. Walpurga, the English-born nun who brought religion to the Franks.  This is the section of the play when the social dynamics between the two couples plays out, with all that bitterness and vituperation that can possibly be exchanged between a married couple and the delusions of parenthood that invades the proceedings.   Lurking in the background of Albee’s play is the suggestion of emptiness resulting from the failure to reproduce, and the alcoholic Martha’s depth of depression, fully realized in Act III, are strongly hinted at in Act II.

Preparing an outline for an essay on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe, then, begins with the play’s theme – the byplay of a middle-aged couple emotionally exhausted by years of failure and resentment – followed by discussion of the play’s outline, the three acts that comprise its structure and the interactions between and within married couples and the pain that permeates these relationships.  Albee’s play includes a great deal of humor, as the insults that fly back and forth between George and Martha are cleverly written, but underneath that humor is a deep reservoir of guilt and anger that permeates this play.  The sexual tensions that arise as Martha seduces Nick in the presence of George and the seriously-lacking-in-personality Honey exposes the longings that Martha would otherwise suppress.  Martha and George’s inability to reproduce is contrasted with the story of Honey’s hysterical pregnancy, which ensured Nick’s continued presence in her life, especially when added to her family’s apparent wealth.

Act III, “The Exorcism,” is George’s emergence as a figure of pent-up frustration now able to give full vent to the emotions that he has stoically repressed.  This is his opportunity to excoriate Martha in front of this young, dispassionate couple before whom they are revealing themselves and before whom they are systematically undermining the institution of marriage.  The outline is easily broken down into these three distinct acts, and Albee’s script is replete with dialogue that clearly transcends conventional theater and enters what Esslin labeled “the Theater of the Absurd.”

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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

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