The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Tiny Alice opens in the Cardinal’s outside garden. Although the Lawyer wishes to discuss business, the Cardinal insists upon recalling their school days, through which the characters establish their mutual antagonism. At the Cardinal’s prompting, the Lawyer reveals that his employer, Miss Alice, wishes to give the Church $100 million immediately and the identical sum annually for two decades; the Cardinal’s private secretary, Brother Julian, is to finalize the details. The Cardinal agrees to the terms, and the Lawyer exits. The first scene ends with the Cardinal alone onstage talking to his caged cardinals.

In scene 2, in the library of Miss Alice’s castle, an imposing model of the mansion dominates the set. Until the Lawyer’s entrance, Julian and Butler discuss the workmanship of the model and the mansion itself as well as the coincidence of Butler’s name and function being the same. To the Lawyer’s questions regarding the six years of his life not covered by the dossier, Julian refuses an answer; he further objects to the Lawyer’s antagonism toward the Cardinal. The Lawyer responds that he has learned to distinguish between reality and representation. After the Lawyer’s exit, Julian does admit to Butler that during his missing six years he had signed himself into a mental institution because he could not integrate his own perception of God with that of other men. Julian believes that his faith and his sanity are synonymous.

Scene 3, in Miss Alice’s tower sitting room, presents the Lawyer and Miss Alice acting out a charade in which Miss Alice appears to be a crotchety, somewhat deaf old woman. Alone with Julian, Miss Alice briefly continues the charade before revealing herself to be an attractive young woman. Miss Alice establishes that Butler was once her lover, that the Lawyer is her current lover (with whom she is bored), and that she is not Catholic. To her query about his absent six years, Julian responds simply that after his faith had abandoned him he institutionalized himself. Nevertheless, Julian is unable to answer with certainty Miss Alice’s question regarding his sexual experience. Instead, he graphically describes his hallucinatory period during which he may have had intercourse with a fellow inmate who believed herself to be the Virgin Mary, and who subsequently died of uterine cancer. After responding that she, too, has a secret, Miss Alice returns to the business of her donation. Act 1 ends with the Lawyer and Miss Alice’s conspiratorial agreement that nothing indestructible appears to block their plan.

Act 2 begins in the library with the Lawyer’s sexual advances to Miss Alice, who with abhorrence catalogs his faults. Butler enters with an analysis of the wine cellar’s deteriorating condition. After Julian’s entrance, the characters move to a metaphysical discussion of the mansion as a replica of the model and the model as a replica of the mansion. Julian interrupts the quarrel developing between Miss Alice and the Lawyer to point out that the chapel in the model is on fire. Butler, a bewildered Julian, and the Lawyer rush to extinguish the fire in the castle’s chapel. Alone, Miss Alice delivers a soliloquy that alternates between prayer and introspection. Julian, still confused, returns to report that the floorboards...

(The entire section is 1354 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Tiny Alice, a play directed at the unconscious, is replete with techniques designed to keep its audience off balance, unable to operate easily from conventional belief systems. Albee’s intensely powerful, compact dialogue (paced by ellipses) mirrors mutable realities through parallel, seemingly unrelated, conversations that intertwine to form a dramatic coherence. Verbal irony underscores the humor of humankind’s condition as all five characters deliver lines unexpected for their roles. The Cardinal’s and the Lawyer’s venomous attacks upon each other in the opening scene immediately set a surprisingly combative tone for two professionals in a business meeting. Miss Alice’s charade as a crone is certainly idiosyncratic. Butler’s lines are appropriate to his character and to his role as chorus but not to his function as a butler. Julian is uncertain about his actual sexual experiences but is compelling in his bizarre fantasies of martyrdom. In effect, the dialogue is true but startling.

Equally startling are the recurrent covert psychological manipulations for control among the Lawyer, Miss Alice, and Butler. The dramatic ambiguity concerning who is actually dominant shifts too rapidly for resolution, thereby accentuating the theme that the tragedies of the human situation result from humanity’s fearful grasping for transient power over others. Consequently, destructive motivations supersede compassion and genuine communication.


(The entire section is 602 words.)

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

The Sixties
The 1960s was a decade that ushered in great change in the United States. The decade began with voters electing John...

(The entire section is 538 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

Of the five characters, three bear the title of their profession. Lawyer, Miss Alice’s lawyer, represents civil law,...

(The entire section is 1028 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1960s: In 1965, advanced degrees in theology are awarded to 1,739 Americans, out of a total U.S. population of close to 194 million....

(The entire section is 236 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

• Imagine that you are a theater critic who has just attended a performance of Tiny Alice. Write the review to run in your local...

(The entire section is 245 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

• Jean Genet’s The Balcony (1956), influenced by the Theater of Cruelty (the theater philosophy of Antonin Artaud) takes place in...

(The entire section is 168 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Albee, Edward, Author’s Note, in Tiny Alice, Atheneum, 1965.

Amacher, Richard, Edward Albee,...

(The entire section is 191 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Amacher, Richard E. “Critics Are Downgrading Audience’s Taste and Have Obfuscated Simple Tiny Alice.” Dramatists Guild Quarterly 2 (Spring, 1963): 9-14.

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

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

Dukore, Bernard F. “Tiny Albee.” Drama Survey 5 (Spring, 1966): 60-66.

Kolin, Philip C. Conversations with...

(The entire section is 115 words.)