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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?


by Edward Albee

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Act 1 Summary

Fun and Games

  • The stage directions tell us that we're in the living room of a house at small New England College. The set is in darkness. There's a crash against the door.
  • We hear Martha laughing. Lights are flipped on. Martha enters and George follows her into the house.
  • George shushes Martha, reminding her it's two o'clock in the morning.
  • She tells him he's a "cluck" (1.8).
  • After surveying their house Martha says, "What a dump!" (1.10).
  • Martha asks George what Bette Davis movie that line is from. He doesn't know.
  • She needles and needles him about not knowing what movie it is.
  • George says he's tired.
  • Martha doesn't understand why, as he hasn't done anything all day. He didn't even have to teach classes. She complains that he never actually does anything but sit around and talk.
  • George accuses his wife of "braying" all the time. (Translation: speaking in a harsh and annoying voice.)
  • Martha insists she doesn't bray but brays while doing so. She commands her husband to make her a drink, and he does.
  • Martha informs George they've got guests coming over. She can't remember their names, but the husband is handsome, blonde, and she thinks he works in the Math Department. The wife is mousy with no hips.
  • George whines that it's too late to be having guests. Martha tells him they have to come over because her daddy told her to be nice to them. Her husband accuses her of springing things on him all the time.
  • She mocks him, like he was a sniveling child.
  • Martha begins to sing, "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf" (1.102). This is apparently the punch line to a joke they heard at a party they've just come from.
  • Martha asks George if he thought the joke was funny. He half-heartedly agrees.
  • She tells him that he makes her want to vomit.
  • They share a laugh.
  • Martha asks for more ice in her drink. Her husband tells her that she chomps on ice like cocker spaniel, and that she has big teeth. He teases her about being six years older than him.
  • Martha points out that he's going bald; he says she is too.
  • They share another laugh.
  • Martha wants a kiss.
  • No, says George, if he kissed her, he wouldn't be able to control his sexual urges. The next thing you know their guests would come in and find them making love on the floor. (He might be mocking her when he says this, but it's hard to tell.)
  • Martha requests another drink. He says she's gross and drinks too much, and she replies that he's a nobody.
  • The doorbell rings. After some resistance, George goes to answer it. Before opening it however, he taunts Martha some more.
  • Martha curses very loudly just as George opens the door. We get the impression that this is just what George wanted to happen.
  • The young couple, Nick and Honey, is a little shocked, but greet their hosts politely. Nick and Honey aren't sure if they should stay, but George and Martha insist.
  • Nick notices an abstract painting on the wall and asks who painted it.
  • George replies that it's by some random Greek guy with a mustache that Martha assaulted.
  • Honey laughs uncomfortably.
  • Nick tries to make an insightful comment about the painting George mocks him, then sincerely apologizes for doing so.
  • It's time for another round of drinks.
  • George jokes that Martha drinks rubbing alcohol. He talks about how when they were younger she drank girly cocktails, but now she likes it straight up. (He's basically poking at her for being an alcoholic.)
  • Martha begins to sing "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf" (1.209). Nick and Honey agree that the joke was sooo funny at the party. Martha complains that George didn't think it was funny.
  • In an attempt to make civil conversation, Honey comments that it was a nice party and that she really likes Martha's father. Martha proudly and sincerely agrees that her father is awesome.
  • George, however, takes a couple jabs at her father.
  • Nick says he was glad that Martha's father threw the party for them. It was nice to get to meet everybody at his new job. Martha comments that her father really knows how to run things. (Apparently her dad is the head of the college.)
  • It's not so easy being married to your boss's daughter, says George. His wife says that some men would see it as an opportunity. George makes a lewd comment about sacrificing his genitals.
  • Embarrassed, Honey suddenly needs to powder her nose. The ladies exit to the bathroom.
  • While the two women are gone George toys with Nick. Nick calls George on his little games, and says that when his wife gets back they should leave. He alludes that George and Martha seem to be having a fight.
  • George says that he and Martha are just exercising their wits. Nick responds that he doesn't like getting involved in other people's affairs. George deliberately misinterprets his use of the word "affairs." George says that Nick will get used to it, because "musical beds is a faculty sport" (1.301) at the college.
  • George comments on how old and grey he is. He then asks Nick if he works in the Math Department. Nick says no, he teaches biology.
  • George goes off about biology. Nick is interested in genetic research, of which George is apparently very distrustful.
  • George goes on to talk about how he teaches history. He ran the department during the war when everybody went away. When they came back he was demoted. He seems more than a little bitter about it.
  • Rapidly changing the subject, George comments that Honey has slim hips. Changing the subject again, he wonders where the women are.
  • In order to kill some more time, George asks Nick if he has kids. Nick says no, and returns the question. George says, "That's for me to know and you to find out" (1.348). (This line is important – it's not just banter.)
  • The host has a little monologue about how overbearing and unfortunately long-lived Martha's father is.
  • George asks Nick how many kids he wants. Nick says he isn't sure.
  • George ponders what women talk about when men aren't around. Nick retorts that they probably just talk about themselves.
  • George bellows for Martha. Honey enters, and comments, polite as ever, on how charming the house is. She says that she didn't know that George had a son.
  • The stage directions tell us that George wheels around "as if struck from behind" (1.388).
  • Evidently this isn't a cool thing to talk about. Honey doesn't see what the bid deal is. She again mentions the son, and adds that is his birthday tomorrow.
  • George acts all weird and asks again if Martha mentioned their son. Honey confirms it.
  • Her host gets all distracted and talks to himself.
  • Nick gets Honey some more brandy and says that they'd better leave soon.
  • George says they shouldn't leave. It's a special occasion: Martha is changing. He makes a play on words and says that she hasn't changed for him in years.
  • Martha enters. She's changed into a pretty revealing dress. She asks what the men talked about when the ladies were out of the room. George retorts that they spent the whole time wondering what the women were talking about.
  • Martha tells Nick he's awesome for getting his masters degree at a young age.
  • Jealously, George makes some snide remarks, saying that it'll be no time before Nick takes over the History Department.
  • Nick reminds him that he teaches biology not history.
  • George turns it all into a joke. Everyone laughs.
  • Martha takes some jabs at her husband for not being in charge of the History Department. She calls him a "bog" and a "swamp" (1.448).
  • She asks him to light her cigarette.
  • He refuses saying that's one rung down the evolutionary ladder too many. It's beneath even him. He comments that he'll hold her hand at night when she's afraid and secretly take her alcohol bottles out to the trash, but he won't light her cigarette.
  • Martha brings up the fact that Nick played football. Nick says, yes, that he was a quarterback, but he was actually a lot better at boxing. Honey proudly declares that Nick was a lightweight champion.
  • Flirtatiously, Martha asks Nick if he still has a good body. Oblivious as ever, Honey confirms that her husband's body is quite firm. Martha continues to flirt with Nick.
  • George is starting to get angry.
  • Martha comments that George doesn't like talk of bodies, because he's flabby and old.
  • George tries to flirt with Honey, but she just laughs.
  • Gleefully, Martha tells her husband to tell the guests about the boxing match that they had. Apparently, this story is a sore spot, and George leaves the room.
  • Martha tells a story about how during the war her father got on a kick where he wanted the faculty to learn how to box. He thought that a fit body is as important as a fit mind. One day he tried to get George to box with him, but George didn't want to. Martha put on a glove and "jokingly" took a swing at her husband. She "accidentally" hit him in the jaw and sent him hurtling into a huckleberry bush.
  • Nick laughs. Martha says that the incident affected the rest of their marriage. It may be why George never got a promotion.
  • George reenters the room with a double-barreled shotgun. He points it at Martha and fires. Instead of a bullet, a brightly colored parasol comes out.
  • Everybody laughs loudly and nervously.
  • Once the laughter dies down Martha asks George for a kiss. George says no, but Martha insists.
  • They kiss. She tries to put his hand on her breast, but he breaks away. Martha is clearly angry.
  • George calls for another round of drinks. Honey requests brandy.
  • Off to the bathroom goes Nick. Jokingly, Honey asks if he's going to come back with any guns.
  • Martha comments suggestively that Nick doesn't need any props. George tells Honey that her husband is terrifying – what with his interest in chromosomes and genetics. Honey laughs off the comment.
  • Nick comes back in, just as George is revving up for a long and brilliant monologue about the dangers of genetics.
  • The host talks about how through genetics all disease and imperfections of mankind will be wiped away. He says everybody will look the same, and there's a good chance they'll all look exactly like Nick. People who don't fit the right criteria (like George) will have to be sterilized.
  • Eventually arts and culture will vanish, and all that will be left is science and math. Everything will be fixed and controlled. There will be no diversity.
  • George says he'll fight to the death to stop all this. He's a champion of history which is full of beautiful inconsistency.
  • Inanely, Honey comments that she had no idea Nick was planning world domination.
  • Nick shouts at her stupidity. George points out that all the great dictators had no sense of humor.
  • More flirtation from Martha, as she comments on how delicious it will be when everybody in the world is as attractive as Nick.
  • Nick makes a lewd comment to Martha, using a naughty word. Offended more by the word than the fact that her husband is blatantly flirting with another woman, Honey covers her ears.
  • Nick apologizes, but it's obvious he's not sorry. It's becoming clear that he's a bit disgusted with his wife. Honey bursts into drunken laughter.
  • She asks about George and Martha's son. George gets all weird again. He asks Martha when their son is coming home. Now Martha gets all weird and says she doesn't want to talk about it. She's sorry she brought it up.
  • George needles Martha mercilessly to talk about it.
  • She eventually explodes, and says the reason why their son is a sore spot for George is because he's not sure if the boy is his.
  • George replies that there are not many things that he's sure of in this world, but he's positive that it's his son.
  • Martha and George argue over the color of their son's eyes. George says their blue like his. Martha says they're green like her father's. George retorts that Martha's father's eyes are red like a mouse.
  • Martha comments that her husband hates her father, because of his own failures.
  • George exits to get more alcohol.
  • Martha launches into the story of why George hates her father.
  • She begins by telling the guests how much she's always loved her father. Her mother died early and she grew up with him.
  • She says he built the college from nothing.
  • Martha talks about how she went away to boarding school and ended up marrying the guy who mowed the lawn.
  • Her father got the marriage annulled and she moved back in with him.
  • Eventually it seemed like a good idea to her that she should marry somebody who worked at the college. Her father was looking for someone to take over after he died and so it made sense.
  • Then George came along. She fell in love with him.
  • George reenters. She tells him to sit down and listen to her story, and he complies.
  • Martha picks her story up again, mentioning once more that her father was looking for someone to be his successor.
  • George realizes where the story is going and demands that Martha stop. He says that it's bad enough that she's already brought up their son. He's getting seriously angry.
  • His wife continues anyway. She talks about how her father eventually decided that George just didn't have the stuff to take over the History Department much less the college as a whole. George just doesn't have the charisma. She says that George is a "big…fat…FLOP!" (1.762).
  • Something snaps in George. He breaks a bottle against the bar. The stage directions tell us that he's almost crying
  • Martha relentlessly continues, commenting that he shouldn't be wasting his meager Associate Professor's salary on liquor. She lashes him with some more comments about how he doesn't have the guts to make anything of himself, even though he's had every opportunity.
  • George starts singing the Virginia Woolf song to drown out Martha.
  • Honey drunkenly joins in. Martha screams for them to stop.
  • There is an uncomfortable pause.
  • Honey runs out of the room to vomit, and Nick runs after her.
  • Martha does too, but not before giving her husband one last contemptuous curse.

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