Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

by Edward Albee

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George and Martha's Relationship

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Christopher G. Busiel

The complexity of the marital relations between Martha and George is one of the central strengths of Albee's technique in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Audiences and critics alike were often repelled by the depth of George and Martha's viciousness toward one another. Time magazine commented that for Eugene O'Neill "marriage had its serpents, but they were invaders in Eden. To Albee, marriage seems to be a no-exit hell in which the only intimacy is a hopeless common damnation." Some criticism of the play suggested that it constitutes a critique of heterosexual relationships from a gay perspective (Albee has never acknowledged or denied being gay). This is one eminent possibility, yet it is only one level on which the play functions.

While George and Martha's marriage seems utterly destructive, the play is especially captivating because the couple nevertheless appear inextricably bound to one another. Given the richness of Albee's dialogue and the depth of characterization in the play, George and Martha's marriage cannot be summed up easily as a "love-hate relationship" or even as a sadomasochistic need to inflict hurt upon one another. Audiences in 1962 found Martha and George's marriage perplexing, and subsequent years, rather than revealing its mystery, have only highlighted its enduring complexity.

The cruelty of George and Martha's fun and games is not gratuitous but borne out of thwarted passion (one thinks not only of their childless marriage but moments like Martha's invitation to George to "give your Mommy a big sloppy kiss,'' which he is too preoccupied to reciprocate). There is a loving bond between them which persists even in their assaults: "You're going bald," Martha tells George; "so are you,'' he replies, after which they pause and "both laugh." They seem particularly close when, after so many years, one of them manages to surprise the other. Martha is delighted by George's trick with the shotgun which produces a Chinese parasol, laughing heartily and asking, "Where'd you get that, you bastard?"

The incongruity is readily apparent, for the joke only functions because the characters (and perhaps the audience) believe for just a moment that George might actually shoot Martha for having once again humiliated him publicly. While the marriage appears so destructive, it may exert its greatest damage on outsiders who do not understand the mutual affection that runs as an undercurrent to George and Martha's most outrageous attacks on one another. Ruby Cohn observed in Edward Albee that the play offers repeated "views of the togetherness of George and Martha, and during the three acts each is visibly tormented by the extended absence of the other. However malicious they sound, they need one another—a need that may be called love." Other critics view the relationship quite differently; Harold Clurman, for example, commented in the Nation that "Martha and George, we are told, love each other after all. How?... What interests—even petty—do they have or share?"

Clearly, one interest they share is the verbal fencing which tests their inventive minds; each genuinely admires the other's mental agility. While they occasionally hurt one another, they both seem to live to play the sport. This point is made explicitly by Martha, who chastises George for going too far after his game of "Get the Guests" has driven Honey and Nick from the room. George tries to rationalize his behavior in terms of Martha's treatment of him throughout the evening. "[Y]ou can humiliate me, you can tear me apart ... ALL NIGHT ... and that's perfectly all right... that's OK." The exchange which follows is one of the most revealing in the play:


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You can stand it! GEORGE: I cannot stand it! MARTHA: You can stand it!! You married me for it!! (silence) GEORGE: (Quietly) That is a desperately sick lie. MARTHA. Don't you know it, even yet.

George continues to deny the validity of Martha's point, as have some critics. Clurman suggested that Martha merely "rationalizes her cruelty to George on the ground that he masochistically enjoys her beatings." In the context of the play, however, Martha's observation has the ring of truth. George, as she points out to Nick, is stronger than he appears, and the possibility exists that he enjoys the verbal sport on a level which far exceeds masochism.

That George and Martha may ultimately respect one another despite virtually ceaseless verbal abuse is suggested by the fact that each passes up the opportunity to blame their lack of children on the other. When Nick realizes that Martha and George's son is a fantasy, he asks George: "you couldn't have ... any?" If Martha is barren, George could have taken advantage of this opportunity for revenge, but he responds, "We couldn't." The same opportunity exists for Martha if George is infertile, but she, too, asserts, "We couldn't." George and Martha have ruthlessly exposed other equally humiliating facts about each other during the course of the evening, yet their mutual sadness over the issue of children constitutes a basis for mutual support.

Martha seems to regret much of what has passed between her and George in a speech at the beginning of the third act, after her failed sexual encounter with Nick. Perhaps it is only the disappointment of the moment (and Albee challenges the audience whether or not to believe a woman's tender words about a husband on whom she has just attempted to cheat), but Martha does seem to regret her treatment of George throughout the years: "George who is good to me, and whom I revile... who keeps learning the games we play as quickly as I can change the rules ... who has made the hideous, the hurting, the insulting mistake of loving me and must be punished for it.... Some day ... hah! Some night ... some stupid, liquor-ridden night... I will go too far... and I'll either break the man's back... or push him off for good... which is what I deserve." Of course, the night she speaks of has arrived (as the audience is aware, but Nick does not seem to acknowledge). The irony of her observation is that, indeed, George's back will not be broken, but rather he will take an action that not only assures his "victory" in the evening's games but will force the couple to reconstitute the basis of their marriage.

While George's "killing" of the invented son is planned as an act of revenge, the ultimate rebuke to Martha, it comes off more as an act of mercy. George and Martha recognize at the end of the play that continuing to live with this particular illusion is destructive to both of them ("It was time to do it," George says simply). Cohn observed that George and Martha "have cemented their marriage with the fiction of their child,'' but they learn that "such lies must be killed before they kill." George's difficult action brings about perhaps the most tender moment of the entire play, as Martha is able to let her guard down enough around George to admit, for once, being subject to real human fear:

GEORGE: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.... MARTHA: I am... George... I... am. (GEORGE nods, slowly)

There is an absence of love in a marriage which has had its unconfronted truths covered over; once the veneer has been removed, could we say George and Martha do seem to love one another by the end of the play? In the dawn breaking at play's end there is renewal, an affirmation of the strength gained from mutual support and the abandonment of a lie. C. N. Stavrou observed in the Southwest Review, "A splinter of light is discernible amid the gloaming of nihilism's smog." Certainly, the conclusion of Virginia Woolf constitutes a fundamental break with the spirit of the play to that point. For some, this transition does not ring true; Modern Drama's Richard Dozier, for example, found George and Martha's "sentimental reconciliation'' to be "hardly in keeping with the rest of the play."

Ultimately, the question of whether Martha and George love one another is not clearly resolved for the audience; indeed, the answer may depend most upon one's own definition of love. Despite their destructive behavior, the couple has a close bond, a mutual dependency that has sustained them through the years. Dependency is not widely considered a healthy substitute for love, however, and one may view George and Martha's need for one another as sadomasochistic desire or unhealthy obsession rather than love. Indeed, that such dependency passes for love in the modern age may constitute part of Albee's larger critique of martial relationships. Clearly, however, Martha and George's relationship moves into a new phase at the conclusion of the play. If they do truly love one another, the "exorcism" of the lllusionary son provides their best opportunity to rebuild their marriage on a new basis. Whether they will be willing and able to take advantage of this opportunity, however, the audience is merely left to ponder.

Source: Christopher G Busiel, for Drama for Students, Gale, 1997.

Religion and Wordplay

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Most critics of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? are mindful of the play's rich array of religious signifiers, from Martha's deified father (George: "He's a god, we all know that," 26 [New American Library edition of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, 1962]), to the sacrificial son (Martha: "Poor lamb," 221); from George's Requiem Mass ("Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis," 227), to the Sabbath denouement (George: "Sunday tomorrow; all day,'' 239), and so forth.

The self-reflexivity of the play's language has also served as a point d'appui for critical inquiry. Similar words and phrases bounce back and forth throughout all three acts:

Martha: George and Martha, sad, sad, sad (191)Nick: George and Martha, sad, sad, sad. (191)Honey: and so they were married....George: and so they were married. (146)Nick: Lady, please. (232)Honey: Lady... please... (233)

What has gone unnoticed, so far as I know, is the conjoining of these two essential motifs. This linkage occurs during two critical moments in the play: one at the beginning of act 1, the other at the conclusion of act 3.

It is Martha who utters the play's first word: "Jesus." Terribly shaken at the very end of the play by the death of the imaginary son, she echoes this initial line: "Just... us?" On both occasions, she and George are alone on stage (3,241). This subtle play on the off-rhymes ''Jesus'' and "Just... us?" accomplishes three things: It links up the aforementioned motifs of religion and language, making of them in effect a single, overarching motif; it brings Martha, the uncertain atheist who is also scared of being alone, to a crossroads; and it refreshes, in a single homophone, the audience's collective memory of the play's central conflict among George, Martha, and the son.

The transcendent son brings a double-edged sword to George and Martha's relationship. He gives them something to share above and beyond the disillusionments and recriminations of a tortured marriage. Ironically, however, the son also provides them with a doomsday weapon to use in their "total war'' against each other (159). Martha's line, "He's not completely sure it's his own kid," simultaneously wounds George and reinforces the notion of Immaculate Conception. George's line, "He is dead. Kyrie, eleison ..." shatters Martha and reprises the Requiem Mass earlier in act 3 (71, 223). From Martha's "Jesus" to her "Just. . . us?" Albee's play between words foregrounds this tragic duality.

The italicized "us" in "Jesus" is, in short, a mnemonic clue to the play's ultimate irony: The cherished son must be sacrificed in order to redeem the us, the barren marriage of George and Martha. Put another way, in tones meant to be spoken "very softly, very slowly." George and Martha transubstantiate the atonement of act I to the atone-ment of act 3 (239). The audience should now understand why Nick's question, "You couldn't have ... any?" prompts George and Martha's " We couldn't," a mutual response, which is accompanied by Albee's stage direction. A hint of communion in this (238).

Source: Steven Carter, review or Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, in the Explicator, Volume 55, no. 2. Winter, 1997, pp. 102-03.

"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf And the Patterns of History"

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Near the end of the second act of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? George, the professor of history, is left alone onstage while Martha, his wife, and Nick are playing the preliminary rounds of "hump the hostess" in the kitchen. Attempting to control his hurt and anger he reads aloud from a book he has taken from the shelf, "And the West, encumbered by crippling alliances and burdened with a morality too rigid to accommodate itself to the swing of events must—eventually—fall." George is clearly encumbered with a crippling alliance—his marriage to Martha—and does seem to be burdened with a kind of morality that makes it difficult for him to respond in kind to her vicious attacks. At the same tune, this observation on the movements of history, read in connection with the events of George's personal history, is a splendid example of how Albee has managed to endow the events of the family drama with a deeper significance, suggestive of larger events and movements. Various critics have noted a number of possible interpretations and levels of meaning in the play. I feel that one of the most profitable ways of looking at Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is to see it as an allegory for the American historical experience.

Indeed, Albee had previously used the domestic setting in just such an allegorical way, though not so subtly or successfully. The American Dream, produced off-Broadway in 1961, depicted a symbolic couple, Mommy and Daddy, who had mutilated and emasculated their adopted son when he showed signs of independence and who threaten to send Grandma, with her pioneer toughness and independence, off to a home. In replying to the attacks of certain critics on the play Albee remarked that it was "a stand against the vision that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy keen." (preface to The American Dream, [New York], 1960) Similarly, in talking about Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Albee told Michael Rutenberg that George and Martha were deliberately named after George and Martha Washington and that the imaginary child could represent the uncompleted revolutionary spirit of this country.

My argument is further strengthened by the fact that history figures so prominently in the play. The word or a variant of it runs like a leitmotif through the entire play, being used twenty-eight times in the first act alone. George is a professor of history who does not run the history department, Nick's timetable is history, Martha's father had a sense of history and, in the second act after the "get the guests" sequence, George remarks, "the patterns of history." It would seem appropriate then, before the play is examined at length, briefly to consider the special significance of history in American thought and experience.

One of the principal myths on which this country was founded was the notion that America was a New Eden, a second chance ordained by God or Providence in which man could begin all over again, freed from the accumulated sin and corruption of Western history. Not only could the American become a New Adam and found upon the unspoiled continent an ideal human polity, but this new way of life and new order of society could serve as a shining example to redeem erring Europe from her own sinfulness. America had established a covenant with God or with Nature (the myth had its beginnings with the Puritan settlements and became secularized as time went on) and could remain free of the vicissitudes of history provided she kept the terms of the covenant, retained her simplicity, shunned European complexity and sophistication and avoided the twin temptations of urbanization and industrialization. Unfortunately, such a dream of perfection could not find realization in an imperfect world; the troubles and complexities Americans thought they had left behind began to invade the New World. Yet so strong was the myth that the tendency of American thinkers and historians was to locate the causative factor not in the nature of man nor the impossibility of the dream but in the failure of the new nation to keep the covenant, and to look backward to a golden age in the past before Americans had allowed themselves to be seduced by alien complexities and affectations. Thus the majority of American historians, says David Noble, have been Jeremiahs, decrying America's involvement within the transitory patterns of European history and calling Americans back to their duties and obligations. Having started with such a dream of innocence and perfection, much of the American experience has involved a deeply felt sense of loss and failure.

As one looks at the attitudes of George and Martha one is immediately struck by the fact that the orientation of both characters is to the past and is coupled with an acute sense of failure which, furthermore, has often involved a loss of innocence. When George was first courting Martha, for example, she had liked "real ladylike little drinkies." Now her taste runs to "rubbing alcohol.'' Over the years she has learned that alcohol "pure and simple" is for the "pure and simple." The adjectives applied to Martha are ironic for whatever she may have been in the days of their courtship she is now obviously neither pure nor simple. The note of past failure is struck even more clearly a few minutes later in a scene between George and Nick:

NICK: you ... you've been here quite a long time, haven't you? GEORGE: What 'Oh... yes. Ever since I married uh, what's her name uh, Martha. Even before that. Forever. Dashed hopes and good intentions. Good, better, best, bested. How do you like that for a declension, young man? Eh?

Through this scene, of course, the play remains on a comparatively realistic level. Martha's changed drinking habits and George's sense of failure in his career need not be taken allegorically. In the second act, however, matters become more complex. Shortly after the beginning of the act George tells a long story about a boy who had ordered "bergin" in a speakeasy (an error growing out of innocence and unworldliness). He is described as having been blonde with the face of a cherub and as laughing delightedly at his own error. Yet this "cherub'' had killed his mother with a shotgun some time before, "completely accidentally, without even an unconscious motivation,'' and later, when he learned that he had killed his father also, in an automobile accident, he went mad and has spent the last thirty years in an asylum. George follows the story with an observation about insane people. They don't age in the usual sense; "the underuse of everything leaves them quite whole." Martha later indicates that the story came from George's unpublished novel and that George himself may have been the boy in question. The facts of the case are never clear. They are specifically contradicted in the third act; furthermore, George has obviously not spent the last thirty years in a literal asylum. The issue is clouded even further by the suggestion that even the unpublished novel may be an invention, another of the "games'' with which the couple keeps themselves occupied. In the light of the confusion over the "facts" an allegorical interpretation almost forces itself upon us. George, in fact, gives the audience a nudge in that direction when talking about his "second novel"; "it was an allegory really, but it could be read as straight cozy prose."

Allegorically, then, how is the story to be taken? Clearly it is the passage from innocence to guilt and madness. America had begun as a fresh, unspoiled continent, convinced that it was unique in human history in its opportunity to create a perfect society. In cutting itself off from its European tradition and history it had, in effect, killed its "parents." Yet one cannot escape history. Even if one kills one's parents, literally or symbolically, one cannot wipe out the objective fact of their having existed nor destroy the genetic and environmental influences they have given one. Only by retreating into madness can one escape the vicissitudes of history and live completely in one's own world. It is clear that George envies those (the mad) who have remained untouched by life's experience; he would like to escape from reality, from aging, from history but he has been unable to do so. Both George and Martha indicate at various points that "back there," "in the beginning," "when I first came to New Carthage," there might have been a chance for them. That chance was lost and now their "crippling alliance'' exacts its toll from both of them.

George's failure to run first the history department and then the college fits well into this line of argument. The college seems to comprise the universe within which the two exist: it surrounds and encompasses them. The outside world rarely enters into the action or dialogue. Martha's father is president of the college and there are allusions, though admittedly subtle ones, to "Daddy's" divinity ("He's a God, we all know that,"; "The old man is not going to die,"; "I worshipped that guy. I absolutely worshipped him.'') Furthermore, Daddy had a sense of dynastic history. It was his idea that George should take over the history department, then eventually step into his place and take over the college. George was to be the heir apparent. Daddy, however, watched for a couple of years and came to the conclusion that George lacked leadership potential, that he was not capable of filling the role. George failed and Martha has never let him forget that failure.

Rutenberg has suggested that the six-year age differential between George and Martha may actually be six centuries (again there are subtle suggestions of this in the script), and that Martha, therefore, represents Mother Church while George stands for the new spirit of Protestantism. While Albee agreed that the interpretation was ingenious, he discounted it. If the play is regarded as an allegory of the American historical experience, however, there is another way in which the six-century age differential can be applied. Europe took the first steps toward her long climb out of the Middle Ages in approximately the eleventh century. This was the century of the Viking discovery of America (1000 A.D.), the Norman Conquest (1066) and the First Crusade (1095). The first settlement in North America (Virginia) was in 1607 and the founding of Plymouth Colony and the Massachusetts Bay Colony occurred in 1620 and 1630 respectively. Thus, there is a difference of not quite six centuries from the dawning of national consciousness in Europe to the colonizing of North America. If we date backward from the ratification of the Constitution in 1787 to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, we have five hundred and seventy-two years, again almost six centuries. Thus, George came, bright-eyed and bushy tailed as Martha describes him, into the history department and Martha, six years older, fell for him. Similarly, America, full of promise and hope for the future burst upon the scene of history and Europe did fall for America. The idea of America as a New Eden originated, after all, among Europeans who either looked toward or came to America. As George fell short of Martha's expectations, so perhaps did Albee's America fall short of the expectations of Europe and of Providence. Interestingly enough, George did run the history department for a period of four years during the war, but when everybody came back he lost his position of leadership. In the same way America's position of world leadership went virtually unchallenged during World War II but once the war ended and the recovery of Europe became a fact that leadership began to decline. By the time Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was produced in 1962, America was trying to exercise her hegemony over increasingly recalcitrant followers.

When all these threads are pulled together one can see that George's marriage and his career can be read as analogues for the American historical experience. America had begun by feeling that she could escape from history, control her own destiny and preserve her innocence, but that fond hope soon met with failure. The American dream—the child which was to be given birth upon the new continent— never really materialized; the paradise on earth was not founded. Instead America was increasingly caught up in the same corruptions, compromises and failures as the rest of the world. That failure may have been all the more painful because America was the victim of her own idealism, unable to escape the realities of history but simultaneously unable to play the game of power politics with the same unscrupulousness as the older nations— "encumbered by crippling alliances and burdened with a morality too rigid to accommodate itself to the swing of events."

Within the contexts of the play there are two possible ways of dealing with this failure. One is to pretend that it never occurred, to create the child out of the imagination and stubbornly to insist, as does Martha, that "everything is fine." The other is to look backward, recognizing that something has gone wrong but rather than trying to rectify it or questioning the validity of the dream itself, merely to mourn its passing and try to place the blame on something or somebody else. It may be that Albee sees these two modes of dealing with the failure of the dream as characteristic of American behaviour.

But if, in Albee's opinion, America's attempt to escape from or to control history has proved to be a failure, other forces in the contemporary world have not learned her lesson. These other forces are represented by the young biologist, Nick. Albee was asked if Nick were named after Nikita Khruschev. He answered yes, in the same way that George and Martha were named after the Washingtons, but went on to assert that that fact was not very significant. Yet an examination of Nick's function in the play reveals a number of connections if not explicitly with Communism at least with the idea that history can be "scientifically" organized and controlled. George accuses Nick of seeking to alter the chromosomes and to sterilize the unfit, thus creating a new super-civilization of scientists and mathematicians, all "smooth, blonde and right at the middle-weight limit." In such a world history will have no relevance, diversity will vanish, and a condition of social, intellectual and biological uniformity will be imposed upon the world. Nick makes light of the accusation at first, later is angered by it, but never denies it. In fact, smarting under George's attack he sarcastically avers that he is going to be "the wave of the future.'' In the second act, with his guard somewhat lowered by George's confidences, he discloses his career plans:

NICK: What I thought I'd do is... I'd sort of insinuate myself generally, play around for a while, find all the weak spots, shore 'em up, but with my own name plate on 'em become sort of a fact, and then turn into a a what? GEORGE: An inevitability. NICK: Exactly... an inevitability.

Historical inevitability, a term George later twice applies to Nick, is, of course, one of the catch phrases of communism and it is possible to see the post World War II policy of the Soviet Union as a process of insinuating itself and shoring up weak spots. Furthermore, if we conclude for the sake of the argument that Martha represents a Europe originally enraptured but ultimately disillusioned with America, Nick's wooing of her (and hers of him) coincides once again with the patterns of history. Out of his own bitter experience George tries to warn Nick of the folly of trying to control history but Nick, young, brash, and overconfident merely replies, "up yours." This interpretation clarifies George's two puzzling speeches, that in which he declares, "I will not give up Berlin" and that about "ice for the lamps of China." This latter line, especially coming as it does on the heels of Nick's wooing of Martha, suggests the presence in the world of the third force, in the face of which the seduction of Europe by the Soviet Union (or vice-versa) may be futile.

Yet in the "get the guests" sequence George manages to damage Nick heavily and later, when Nick gets Martha off to bed, he proves to be impotent. Indeed, Nick has provided George with the very ammunition that the latter uses against him, the revelation of the compromise and subterfuge on which his marriage is based. Honey has trapped him with a false pregnancy and he has used Honey and her father's money as "a pragmatic extension of the big dream"; her wealth will help him attain his goals. Pursuing the allegorical interpretation, then, in what sense has the Soviet Union compromised?

One fact that comes immediately to mind is her perversion of Marx's understanding of the evolution of communism. The state, in the Soviet Union, has not withered away but has become even stronger than it was in the days of the Czars. Furthermore, Russia has had, to some degree, to adopt some of the methods of Western capitalism which she affects to despise. It is interesting in this context, that both couples are barren. George and Martha have an imaginary child; Honey has had at least one false pregnancy. If the communist revolution was to usher in the land of milk and honey, that dream, too, has been stillborn, as surely as the dream of perfection which was to be brought forth on the American continent has failed to materialize. Nick's impotence might suggest that neither the Soviet Union nor the United States is capable of controlling history. Nick simply does not understand the forces with which he is dealing. Devoted to his own ideology—his own "scientific" understanding of the world—he fails to see that no matter how foolish or feeble George may look he is not yet defeated. Nor does he realize the full implications of his attempted affair with Martha. In courting her in order to further his own ambitions he has got himself into a position from which he cannot easily extricate himself. As a matter of fact, in the third act Nick is put through exactly the same paces as was George in the first. He is ridiculed for his failure, taunted with his lack of knowledge, and ordered to answer the door. Far from being in control of the patterns of history he too has become their victim, as George had warned him he would.

The exorcism of the third act functions also within this context. George first forces Martha to recount the tale of the imaginary son—the birth, the innocent childhood, the attempt to bring him up, with its failures and corruptions, but he will not allow her to stick to the pretence that everything is fine. He forces her to acknowledge the failure, to accept her part of the blame and at last "kills'' the son. This act seems to create a sense of peace and the beginnings of communion between them and seems also to have a beneficent effect on Nick and Honey. If, as Albee has suggested, the child is taken to represent the notion inherent in the American dream that the new nation could escape from history and the failings of human nature and create a perfect society, that belief is shown to be an illusion which must be destroyed if the couple and the nation are to face the future realistically. The future is, of course, uncertain; there is no guarantee that once illusion is cast away success and happiness will automatically follow—thus the lingering fear of "Virginia Woolf.'' However, so long as George and Martha, and symbolically America, persist in living in dreams and in refusing to recognize that there is anything wrong, they cannot hope to survive. The end of the play is therefore ambiguous but perhaps guardedly hopeful.

In order for the illusion to be destroyed, however, a night of carnage and chaos has been required. It is undoubtedly significant that the name of the town in which the college is located is New Carthage, with its echoes of the struggle between two great powers, one destroying the other in the interests of Empire, and then destroyed in its turn.

Many critics may object to an analysis of this type. They may argue that the work of art is meant to have immediate impact in the theatre, primarily on the emotional level. Production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? does, I think, fulfill that criterion, but it does something else. Like Ibsen's The Wild Duck or The Master Builder, for example, it teases the mind of the spectator and will not easily be erased from the consciousness. Albee once remarked that the trouble with most modern plays is that the only thing the spectator is thinking about when he leaves the theatre is where he parked the car. One cannot say that about the spectator of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? In this play Albee has created a rich and troubling allegory for the American historical experience, the story of a nation that began in boundless optimism and faith in its own power to control the future and that has had to come to grips not only with external challenges but with its own corruption, compromise and failure, that has reached the point where it must cast away its comforting dreams and look reality in the face.

Source: Orleyl. Holtan, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? And the Patterns of History" in Educational Theatre Journal, Volume 25, no. 1, March, 1973, pp. 46-52.


Critical Overview


Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?