Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I owe three posts today and I have been reading, so I hope you’re ready for this. First up, we got Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It contains alcohol abuse and some sexual content. If you like couples arguing and making their guests feel awkward, you’ll love this play. Seriously, I can’t think of any other circumstances.

Plot: An unhappy couple uses the presence of another couple in order to emotionally attack each other.

Initial thoughts: At first I was really excited to read this play, and quite honestly, I don’t understand the appeal. While it could possibly be more interested when performed, it fell flat to me in every other way. My expectations were also way off as far as content, since I thought this play would actually, you know, have to do with Virginia Woolf. Alas. Anyway, the play is more interesting when you keep in mind the date it was performed and the social expectations back then, but today it reads like the filthy slander you’d find at the after-hours of a country club.

Itty Bitty Research: Despite my dislike for this play, it has some interesting features, such as each act having a title. The first act is called “Fun and Games,” the second act is called “Walpurgisnacht,” and the third act is called, “The Exorcism.” These are pretty straightforward titles, in my opinion, given that these titles address what seems to be but is in fact not the content included in each act. This tension between reality and idea switch throughout the play like a tennis ball volleyed from court to court.

Act one introduces us to the four characters of the play. While “fun and games” seemingly continue throughout the play in such games as George’s proposed “get the guests,” act one is the only one that seems to maintain any level of genuine joviality, mostly because the audience learns of both Martha and George’s and Honey and Nick’s relationships. The audience quickly learns, however, that these “fun and games” are simply passive aggressive outlets for Martha and George to sabotage each other.

“Wulpurgisnacht” refers to the transitional night of 30 April and 1 May. Like Halloween, it is one of eight major witches’ sabbats now incorporated into some Wiccan and neo-pagan practices better known as Beltane. The play spans an entire night, from two in the morning until early morning of the same day day, similar to the celebration of Wulpurgisnacht. We also later learn that George did wander outside for flowers as if truly to celebrate the occasion. (This is a clever title because it also references other media which have incorporated the title, such as Goethe’s Faust. Bonus: Mendelssohn, who knew Goethe, scored the beautiful Die Erste Wulpurgisnacht.)

“The Exorcism” refers to the “exorcising” of the spirit Martha and George’s child. While George seems to have less attachment to the child, Martha’s sanity is dependent on him. As it turns out, there is no child and George “kills” their son by revealing that their son never existed, effectively annihilating the illusion of Martha and George as a happy nuclear family typical of the times.

Although I have demonstrated how these acts do not contain the material they are titled for, they do contain the material, in a way. There are some “fun and games” in act one as the two couples get to know each other, these couples revel as if it were Walpurgisnacht, and George does recite “Absolve, Domine,” “Kyrie,” “In Paradisum,” (which can be found here with translations) “Dominus vobiscum” (223), and other Latin phrases such as as if performing an exorcism.  While this information may seem trivial in comparison to how the play ought to be performed, it says a lot about the reality/fiction presented in the play, which also fits into this binary. (The play is not “reality,” but it has real actions that might be typical of reality even though they are fictional.) I have a greater appreciation for the play now knowing the reality/fiction binary extends to all matters of the play.

Rating: 2.5/5

Works cited: Albee, Edward. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? New York: Signet, 1962. Print.

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