The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The play The Goat begins during the week in which Martin, a successful architect who is happily married and the father of a college-age son, turns fifty. In the same week, the audience learns, Martin has also received the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize in architecture, the Pritzger Prize, and, in addition, he has just been commissioned to design a multibillion-dollar city of the future to be erected in the fields of the Midwest. Martin’s oldest friend Ross, a television journalist, is about to tape an at-home interview with Martin in his tasteful abode. Before the taping, Martin appears nervous and forgetful; he cannot recall the names of friends or the origins of the business cards he finds in his coat pocket. He chats with his wife, Stevie, and in casual conversation lets slip the comment that he is having an affair with a goat. She laughs, assuming he is making a jest, and responds that she will stop by the feed store on her way home.

Stevie leaves for a hair appointment and the taping begins, but the interview quickly becomes a futile endeavor; Martin is distracted and uncooperative. Once the camera is turned off, however, Ross and Martin talk as intimate friends, and the cause of Martin’s behavior is revealed. Martin tells Ross that he and Stevie have bought a farm, a second home to enhance their stable, wonderful, long-term marriage, one in which there has been no desire to be unfaithful on either side in the nearly twenty-five years...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

As one might expect in an absurdist play, the premise and its outcome defy convention and break social taboos, yet simultaneously Albee manages to combine classical elements of both tragedy and comedy into this unlikely story. By taking human behavior to seldom-explored extremes, Albee moves questions relating to human passion and family bonds to what might be called logical absurdity. Martin’s life is above reproach, yet he has fallen in love with a goat. His perversity is beyond controversy or debate, but at the same time, he is presented as a sympathetic character. In this manner, Martin portrays the most classic of tragic heroes, one whose tragic flaw, his inability to accept responsibility for his own actions, results in his fatal undoing. He cannot see the justice in the devastation that his affair brings to his life and to his family, and he fails to comprehend that he is a man who has lost his way.

The play moves from its opening scene of domestic comedy, one in which Martin might be considered to be dealing with a midlife crisis, to a black comedy, where Ross’s betrayal of Martin’s trust creates the pivotal climax, to the suburban American version of the Greek tragedy, complete with ritual sacrifice, a suggestion of incest, and uncertain outcome. Throughout the entire play, a not-too-subtle irony lurks in the background. For example, until the final scene, Sylvia the goat never appears onstage, but her existence, and Martin’s love for her, drives the entire drama. Ironically, too, the setting, that of an immaculately decorated, perfectly maintained, upper-middle-class suburban home, the ideal for which most American couples strive, is not sufficient to sustain Martin or his marriage; he seems to find more meaning in his affair with the goat. In the classical city-versus-country dichotomy constructed by Albee, Martin wants both, but this duality of passion is impossible to sustain.


(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Bloom, Harold, ed. Edward Albee. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

Davis, J. Madison, and Philip C. Kolin, eds. Critical Essays on Edward Albee. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986.

Gussow, Mel. Edward Albee, a Singular Journey: A Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Paolucci, Anne. From Tension to Tonic: The Plays of Edward Albee. Wilmington, Del.: Griffon House Press, 2000.

Roudane, Matthew C. “Communication as Therapy in the Theater of Edward Albee.” Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 6, nos. 3/4 (August, 1985): 302-314.

Solomon, Rakesh H. “Crafting Script into Performance: Edward Albee in Rehearsal.” American Drama 2, no. 2 (Spring, 1993).