Study Guide

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Act 3

By Edward Albee

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Act 3

The Exorcism

  • Martha enters the room. No one is there, and she talks to herself.
  • First she pretends like George is there and that they're having a nice polite conversation.
  • Next she "talks" to her father. She observes that his eyes are red because he cries all the time.
  • She says that she and George cry all the time but it's deep inside where no one can see. Martha talks about how they freeze their tears in ice trays and put them in their drinks.
  • She jiggles her class and says, "CLINK!...CLINK!...CLINK!" (3.1) over and over again.
  • Nick enters and observes her clinking. He says that everybody must've gone crazy. Honey is in the bathroom winking and peeling labels off of a brandy bottle.
  • Martha tells him to chill out; everybody is just trying to avoid reality.
  • She goes on to say that Nick is a flop in bed. (Apparently he couldn't perform.)
  • He retorts that they should try again when he hasn't been drinking for hours and hours.
  • Martha gives a sad monologue about all her pointless infidelities. It's unclear as to whether she ever actually cheats on George, but she definitely gets drunk and flirts all the time. She seems disgusted with herself.
  • She tells Nick that George is the only man who has ever made her happy.
  • Nick has a hard time believing this. Martha talks about how good George is to her, but how she hurts him anyway.
  • She says that one drunken night she'll go too far and break his back forever. Nick observes that George's back is already thoroughly broken. Martha tells him not to be so sure.
  • The doorbell rings.
  • Martha makes Nick answer the door, calling him her houseboy.
  • George appears in the doorway with a bouquet of snapdragons.
  • He opens his arms wide as if to hug Nick and pretends that Nick is his son come home.
  • Martha corrects her husband, saying that Nick is the houseboy. Nick tells them both that they're vicious.
  • They laugh at him.
  • Martha alludes to Nick's failure in the bedroom. George gives Nick the flowers and tells him to put them in some gin. Nick drops them on the floor.
  • What an awful thing to do to Martha's snapdragons, says George. And after he went out in the moonlight to pick them.
  • George and Martha argue over whether the moon is up or not.
  • Martha says that she's sure the moon has gone down, because she saw it do so while she was in the bedroom. George says that it came back up back up after it went down.
  • His wife screams that that never happens. George retorts that it does. He saw it happen once when he was sailing past Majorca (a Mediterranean island).
  • Martha says he's never been to the Mediterranean.
  • He replies that he has. His mother and father took him there as a graduation present.
  • Nick cuts in and asks if that was after George killed them. There is a silence, and then both George and Martha give Nick a nasty look.
  • George says perhaps it was.
  • He shakes the snapdragons in Nick's face and calls him a houseboy. Nick insists he's not a houseboy.
  • George retorts that if Nick is a flop in the bedroom that makes him a houseboy. Nick screams again that he's not a houseboy, implying that he didn't fail in bed with Martha.
  • George looks to Martha to confirm.
  • She looks away shamefully, and says that Nick is not a houseboy, meaning that Nick did indeed perform in bed with her. (We know she's lying though.)
  • George begins throwing snapdragons at both of them.
  • He tries to confirm again what happened in the bedroom, asking if Nick is a stud or a houseboy. If Nick is a stud that means he did have sex with Martha; if he's a houseboy he wasn't able.
  • Martha asks if it matters. George says, no. Either way he's fed up.
  • He declares it's time for a new game. This one's called "bringing up baby."
  • George says Honey has to be in the room first. He calls for her as if she's a pig.
  • Disgusted, Nick goes to get his wife.
  • Martha is getting a little frightened of what George is going to do. She asks him not to play the game.
  • He tells her she's not allowed to stop their vicious games, just because she's had her fill.
  • George slaps Martha lightly across the face a couple of times, saying he wants her good and mad for the game.
  • He wants an equal to do battle with, adding that this fight will be to the death. It's unclear as to whose death it will be, however.
  • Nick and Honey reenter. Honey is cheerfully drunk.
  • George's final game begins. He brings up his and Martha's son.
  • Martha warns him not to.
  • He proceeds anyway, and begins to describe the boy.
  • George says that the boy is nice. He's a bit neurotic, but that's not too much of a surprise since Martha used to try and bathe him even when he was sixteen.
  • Martha gets angry and takes over the telling.
  • She says he was born on September night, just like this one. It was an easy birth.
  • She talks about raising him, mentioning lots of details of his childhood: his teddy bears, his cradle, and a toy bow and arrow he kept under his bed.
  • George begins to chant in Latin underneath Martha's story. It's a requiem, a lament for the dead.
  • Martha relates a heartwarming anecdote about how when their son was three years old he mooed at a cow and the cow mooed back.
  • She says that her son grew up wise. He protected his parents themselves, from George's weakness and Martha's strength.
  • Honey bursts out that she wants a baby.
  • Ignoring her, Martha continues, saying that her husband is a drowning man and tried to take their son down with him.
  • She adds that their son is now off at school and everything is fine.
  • George won't let it stop at that.
  • He says that Martha has lots of problems: a loser husband, an alcohol problem, a father who could care less about her. Worst of all she has a son who absolutely hates her. He says that their son always loved him more, because his love wasn't mixed with sickness.
  • Martha retorts that her son was ashamed of George, and that the boy suspected that George wasn't his real father.
  • George says only he gets letters from the boy. Martha says only she gets letters.
  • (Neither one of them can produce these letters however.)
  • Martha screams that their son hates George for being so weak.
  • George replies that the son is ashamed of his drunken mother, adding that their son wishes he'd never been born.
  • As George once more chants a requiem, Martha launches into a monologue about how the only good thing to come from her awful depressing marriage is her son.
  • Honey screams for them to stop.
  • Relentlessly, George continues. He announces that their son, Jim, is dead. A telegram came while Martha and Nick were out of the room (subtext: upstairs in the bedroom).
  • George says that the boy died that afternoon. He swerved his car to avoid a porcupine and slammed into a tree.
  • Martha goes absolutely insane with rage. She shrieks at George that he can't decide that their son is dead on his own.
  • Sympathetically, Nick says that it's not George's decision, he doesn't have the power.
  • Martha screeches again that George can't have their son die.
  • She howls in agony.
  • She demands to know where the telegram is. George says he ate it.
  • Shocked, Nick chastises George for joking at a time like this. George yells that Martha broke the rules by mentioning their son to someone else. That's why George killed him.
  • Nick suddenly gets it: there was never any son. George and Martha made him up. It's all been another of their games. This one apparently meant a lot to both of them.
  • Martha cries. She says sometimes when other people are around she just feels the urge to talk about him. She only mentioned him. Why did George have to kill him?
  • George only replies with a final requiem.
  • Quietly, he says it's time for the guests to go.
  • Nick asks if George couldn't have children. George and Martha both reply, "We couldn't" (3.498).
  • The guests leave.
  • Martha quietly asks George if he had to do it.
  • He says yes, and states that things will be better now. Martha is unsure of that.
  • He gently puts his hand on her shoulder and sings, "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf…"
  • Martha replies that she is.
  • The two sit alone together in silence and the play ends.

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