The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

On a bright sunlit beach, picnic finished, Nancy paints while Charlie relaxes on a blanket. A jet airplane approaches, continuing loudly overhead and then fading away. Nancy comments on the noise of airplanes; Charlie predicts their crash into the dunes one day. He doubts that they do any good.

Relaxing again, the couple begins what appears to be an ongoing discussion. Retired and well-off, they ponder how they will spend the days ahead now that their careers and children are behind them. With nothing to tie them to any one place, Nancy suggests that they spend the time traveling around the world from beach to beach. At first barely listening, Charlie finally asserts that he does not want to do anything; he has earned a little rest. Is that what their life together adds up to, Nancy wonders, to end as they began, infants with pacifiers, milk, and sleep? Nancy, it seems, will not settle for retirement farms; life is not over for her.

Again the sound of the jet intrudes, becoming deafening as it crosses overhead. The dialogue that follows is exactly like that at the opening. After a bit, as Nancy begins to paint, Charles shares a memory of how, when he was twelve or thirteen, he liked to find a protected cove near his family’s summer place; taking two large stones to weight himself down, he would sink to the bottom to sit on the sand long enough to stop feeling like an intruder. Excitedly, Nancy urges him to try it now, to go down to the edge of the beach and “be young again,” but Charlie firmly refuses. They should still be having a good life, Nancy feels, rather than being content with memories of the good life they have had.

The climax of act 1 occurs when two sea creatures, Leslie and Sarah, appear atop the dune. Suddenly Charlie, sensing something behind him, turns; he is aghast and immediately defensive. Nancy, however, is fascinated with what they see: human-sized green lizards with humanoid arms and legs and large saurian tails. When Leslie picks up a large stick and brandishes it overhead, Charlie thinks that the end is near, but at this moment another jet crosses overhead, louder and lower than before. Frozen with fear, the amphibians dive behind the sand dune. While they are out of sight, Charlie decides that the only possible explanation for what they have just seen is that he and Nancy are dead, casualties of the spoiled liver paste they ate for lunch. When the lizards reappear, Nancy rolls onto her back, assuming the position of submission that she has seen...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Seascape is set at the conjunction of land, water, and air: arid sand where human life is lived, teeming ocean where human life once lived, and space above, a new frontier for human life—or death. The setting symbolizes the themes of the play, depicting the union of sand and sea—the former suggestive of death in life, the latter of both life and death. The title of the play not only alludes to the physical setting but also conveys the idea of escape, which is the route the play refutes. Escape into the water—death—was Charlie’s youthful activity; death by withdrawal from life is his present inclination. Each time the jet flies over, the amphibians retreat seaward; finally, after their emotional awakening, they turn once again toward the sea. Ultimately, however, they choose a different escape: from the sea to life on land.

The recurring jet frames four sections of this play, which is similar in structure to many of Edward Albee’s other plays—that is, contrasting ideas and worlds are brought together for examination. Outsiders arrive in the domain of others, resulting in a confrontation that produces maturation, education, and growth to self-knowledge for the less sophisticated visitors. In the first segment, Charlie and Nancy discuss their present problem: what to do in retirement. The second is an exploration of their past, Charlie’s underwater jaunts, and their sexual relationship. Sarah and Leslie are introduced in the third...

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Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

Family Life
In the 1970s, American society was in transition, undergoing radical changes in a number of areas including family...

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Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

Seascape is set on a beach in a time contemporary with when the play was written. Though it is unstated in the text,...

(The entire section is 458 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1975: Though it is the International Women's Year, many women in the workplace face discrimination, especially in terms of pay. Women...

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Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Research the theory of evolution, focusing on the time when scientists theorize that creatures emerged from the water to the land. Using your...

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What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

The Sandbox (1959) is another play by Albee that deals with conflicts within a tense marriage.

Happy Days (1961) is...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Albee, Edward, Seascape A Play, Atheneum, 1975.

Barnes, Clive, "Albee's Seascape Is a Major...

(The entire section is 229 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Amacher, Richard E. Edward Albee. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1982.

Bigsby, C. W. E. “Edward Albee.” In Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee. Vol. 2 in A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama. Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Bryer, Jackson R., ed. The Playwright’s Art: Conversations with Contemporary American Dramatists. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1995.

Gabbard, Lucina P. “Albee’s Seascape: An Adult Fairy Tale.” Modern Drama 21 (September, 1978): 307-317.

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

Post, Robert M. “Salvation or Damnation, Death in the Plays of Edward Albee.” American Drama (Spring, 1993): 32-59.

Roudane, Matthew C. Understanding Edward Albee. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987.

Stenz, Anita Maria. Edward Albee: The Poet of Loss. New York: Mouton, 1978.