Study Guide

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Act 2

By Edward Albee

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Act 2


  • George alone in the living room. Nick joins him.
  • After a moment, Nick apologizes for Honey's drunkenness.
  • The two men swiftly begin bickering. Nick says he feels embarrassed watching George and Martha attack each other. George says it's no picnic for him either and recognizes that it's probably not a pretty scene to watch.
  • Nick brings up the fact that he only married Honey, because he thought she was pregnant. It turns out, though, that it was a hysterical pregnancy. She got all plumped up like she was pregnant, but not long after she slimmed down. No baby after all. It was all in her mind.
  • The men share a laugh about this.
  • George goes to get more drinks. Nick requests bourbon, and the host decides to tell a little story about bourbon.
  • George says that back when he was in prep school, he and some of his buddies went to a gin mill run by the gangster father of one of the boys. This was back during Prohibition when alcohol was illegal.
  • One of the boys who was with them had accidentally killed his mother with a shotgun some years earlier.
  • This same boy tried to order some bourbon, but mispronounced it, saying "bergin."
  • Everybody in the speakeasy thought this was hilarious and laughed about it all night.
  • George and his friend ended up drinking for free as a result.
  • As George hands Nick his bourbon, he tells his guest that that night was the greatest day of his youth.
  • Nick asks what happened to the "bergin boy" afterward.
  • George says that later on the boy was driving with his father. He swerved to avoid a porcupine crossing the rode, and the car hit a tree. When the boy woke up, they told him his father was dead. The boy laughed and laughed until they drugged him. He ended up in an asylum and never spoke again. The boy is still there to this day.
  • After a long pause, George hollers for Martha.
  • Nick asks if his host has any other kids. George says in a mysterious tone that they only have the one son.
  • The host says he wants to set Nick straight about something Martha said.
  • Before he can, Martha comes back in.
  • She trades insults in French with her husband, then sashays back into the kitchen to drink coffee with Honey.
  • Nick begins to talk about how he's known Honey since they were kids. Though she and he used to play doctor when they were kids, there's never been any real passion between them. It also comes up that Honey had money, which along with the hysterical pregnancy clenched the whole marriage thing for Nick.
  • George mentions that Martha's father has money too, and the old man has been robbing the college blind for years.
  • Nick doesn't believe him. The guest goes on to talk about how Honey's father was a preacher. He did a lot of good for people, but also made a lot of money at it.
  • Martha's father got a lot of money after his second wife died. He mockingly says she was a witch with warts. Martha's father, being a white mouse, nibbled the warts off her face and she died.
  • Nick comments that his preacher father-in-law was a mouse too – a church mouse.
  • George warns Nick that the only reason he's pretending to be interested in his life story, is so that he can use it against his guest. He admits that he sees Nick as a threat and needs a weapon against him.
  • Nick laughs this off. He goes on to comment on how sneaky, quiet people like George make him uncomfortable.
  • The guest then jokingly lays out a plan for taking over the school. This includes having sex with the wives of prominent men in the faculty.
  • George quips that the faculty wives are all putas, the prostitutes of South America. He says that just like the putas the wives hiss like geese.
  • Continuing with the joke, Nick comments that Martha is probably the biggest puta of them, all and that he's going to mount her.
  • George agrees and says that Nick should definitely get it on with Martha.
  • The joking tone shifts, as Nick points at that he thinks that George is serious about letting Nick have sex with his wife.
  • George retorts that his guest is scared because he's realizing that he might actually be capable of the adultery.
  • Nick is highly offended.
  • The host advises Nick not to get dragged down in all the quicksand around this place.
  • Nick mocks him.
  • George says, with what might be sincerity, that he's only been trying to communicate with Nick.
  • Nick says, "UP YOURS!" (2.270) to George.
  • George replies to Nick's curse with a lament for civilization. You go through all the trouble of building a civilization, he says. You create music, art, and buildings. But when the last trumpet sounds all that comes out is "UP YOURS!" (2.271).
  • Martha and Honey reenter.
  • Martha chastises her husband for making Honey vomit.
  • Honey says that sometimes she gets sick all by herself.
  • She mentions that before she and Nick got married she had appendicitis, or at least she thought so. It turned out to be a false alarm. (We realize that she's alluding to her hysterical pregnancy and lying about it.)
  • Martha comments that George used to make their son throw up all the time.
  • The reason the son vomited all the time, George viciously retorts, is because Martha use to get drunk and try to touch her own son's… (you get the picture).
  • His wife vehemently denies this accusation.
  • George says it was quite "embarrassing" (2.314).
  • Nick asks why George brought it up then.
  • George points out that he never wanted to talk about his son in the first place. It's a subject that's only suitable for when he and Martha are alone.
  • More brandy, says Honey.
  • George fills her up.
  • Martha asks Nick if George gave his side of the story while she was gone. Did he tell Nick about how her father held him back in life? Did he tell Nick about how her father wouldn't let him publish his novel?
  • George cuts in and begs Martha not to talk about the book. This is apparently another very sore subject.
  • She actually seems to take a little pity on him and doesn't continue with the subject. (For now.)
  • Honey suggests some dancing. Her husband advises against it. She gets all snippy and insists.
  • George puts on Beethoven's 7th symphony.
  • Honey does a drunken interpretive dance and hums to the music.
  • Disapproving of the musical selection, Martha screeches at George to turn it off. He complies.
  • Honey is disappointed. She takes it out on Nick.
  • George sits beside Honey and blatantly hits on her. She just sort of drunkenly giggles.
  • Martha puts on a slinky jazz number.
  • George asks Honey to dance, but she's still too busy pouting about not being able to do her interpretive dance any longer.
  • Martha grabs Nick. They do a slow and sexy dance while George and Honey watch.
  • As the dance continues, Martha ruthlessly brings up George's novel again.
  • George warns her not to talk about it, but she does anyway.
  • The novel was about a boy who killed both his parents. Martha's father thought the book was unseemly and refused to let George publish it. He told George that if he did he would lose his job.
  • George yells that he will not be mocked.
  • Nick laughs at him. Honey laughs too, but she doesn't know why. Martha joins in as well.
  • George's wife finishes humiliating her husband by informing the guests that George gave in to her father. He burned his novel in the fireplace and has never written another.
  • George attacks Martha. He strangles her as hard as he can. Nick rips George off of her and throws him on the floor.
  • After a painfully awkward moment, George suggests they play a new game. He says they've played "Humiliate the Host," perhaps they should now move on to "Hump the Hostess" (2.498).
  • Nick tells George to calm down.
  • George suggests another game, called "Get the Guests" (2.510).
  • He proceeds to tell everyone about what he calls his second novel.
  • He says it's about a couple from the Mid West (just like Nick and Honey). The husband is a scientist just (like Nick). The wife is the daughter of a preacher (like Honey). They come to a little college town (just like the town they're in), and they got married because the wife had a hysterical pregnancy.
  • At this, Honey figures out Nick told George about their past.
  • She flips out and yells at Nick, then leaves the room to vomit again.
  • Nick threatens George, before following his wife.
  • Martha criticizes her husband for being so cruel to their guests.
  • George points at that she has no room to talk, as she's been vicious to him all night.
  • She replies that he likes it and that her cruelty is whole reason he married her.
  • George says he'll make Martha sorry for mentioning their son.
  • Martha says that she snapped tonight watching George at the party. She tells him when she saw him there surrounded by young men who are actually going to do something with their lives, she just snapped.
  • George and Martha declare total war on one another. (Apparently they hadn't already done that.)
  • Nick returns. He says Honey is passed out on the bathroom floor. She likes it because it's nice and cool.
  • Nick goes to make another drink. There's no ice, so George goes to get some.
  • Not long after George leaves, Nick and Martha start making out. At first Nick is hesitant, but then he gets into it.
  • George walks in and sees them. He laughs quietly and leaves unobserved.
  • Nick gets really frisky and Martha gently pushes him away, telling him to save some for later.
  • George is heard singing the Virginia Woolf song offstage.
  • He reenters the room in a seemingly very cheerful mood.
  • George mentions that he saw Honey curled up like a fetus on the floor of the bathroom. Nick is uncomfortable at the mention of his wife.
  • George declares that he will now read a book and sits in a chair facing away from Nick and Martha. Nick and Martha start kissing.
  • Martha announces to George exactly what she's doing. George pretends to not care.
  • This makes her mad. She pushes away from Nick and tells George that she knows what his little game is.
  • With a kiss, Martha sends Nick into the kitchen to wait for her.
  • She declares that if George doesn't stop playing this game she'll really do it: she'll go upstairs and have sex with Nick.
  • George says he doesn't care. Furthermore, if she wants to do it she should stop making excuses and just get it over with.
  • Martha says she'll make him sorry he ever made her want to marry him, that he ever failed in life. She exits.
  • Seemingly calm, George reads aloud from his book. It's a passage about the crumbling of Western civilization.
  • In sudden anger he hurls the book at the door chimes, making them ring.
  • He yells to Martha, that she's going to regret what she's doing.

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