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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? In What Way Does The Opening Dialogue Help to Establish an Understanding of George and Martha?

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Samantha Foster - English Literature Coursework Albee - Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? In What Way Does The Opening Dialogue Help to Establish an Understanding of George and Martha? The opening dialogue of Albee's 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' serves a similar purpose as an opening would with many other plays; allowing the audience a brief insight into the principal characters and their situation. Some of the major themes are touched upon in the opening dialogue, giving Albee the scope to develop these, through the unfolding of the plot, within the minds of his audience. Martha initially appears to have the more dominant character, behaving in a forceful and irate manner while at the same time belittling her husband, George through insulting him and preying on his personal weaknesses. Therefore George is made out to be the submissive partner and wearily agrees to go along with Martha's initial 'game'. The names George and Martha have a suggestive nature, especially when coupled, evoking images of the first President: George Washington and his wife Martha, the seeming epithet of the ideal couple and the American Dream. However, Albee shatters this image immediately through having Martha as the dominant figure in the relationship, thus going against what is considered to be normal for the period when the play was written and first preformed. The American Dream thus forms a major theme in the play; considered to be the goal for all young couples (similar to Honey and Nick) ...read more.


This build up of tension is temporarily released through the laughter heard, the introduction of light and the entrance of Martha and George on to the set. The order of appearance may have some significance, especially once it has been observed that Martha is the dominant figure in the relationship. Once the characters have entered the stage, the first to speak is Martha who immediately swears; 'Jesus'. I believe this to be partially due to the drink we later find out she has been consuming at her father's faculty party and also as a reaction to the apparent mess in the room. However it may also be an early hint that religion, especially in regards to Martha, will be an important theme in the play. It is my opinion that this is true due to the variety of references George has to her religion later in the play, initially as a 'pagan' but than as a 'SATANIC BITCH' when she discloses his novel to their guests. This is starkly contrasted with George's opening statement of 'Shhhhhhh', a not unreasonable request for Martha to keep the level of noise to a minimum, especially considering that the play is set at 'two o'clock in the morning'. It is a mere three lines into the play Martha's dominance over and disregard for George is asserted, through ignoring her husband's attempt to control her outbursts and continuing with, 'H. ...read more.


This leads on to the frequent displays of frustration, however this is transferred away from the cause; her father, and displaced onto the nearest person, usually George. However there are other personas Martha enacts in her own private fantasy world, Bette Davis is an example of this (via her character Rosa Moline), she attempts to escape her own private life; 'She's discontent' and yet is perceived as evil for her own hedonistic ideals, as it goes against the principals of society at the time. I believe Martha, through role-playing stronger female characters she is attempting to find the strength to escape her own personal hell, but fails her. There are obvious parallels between Martha and Bette Davis, from these we can deduce that there must be parallels between George (at least in Martha's eyes) and Joseph Cotton. Albee here uses stereotypes to painstakingly dissect the fa�ade of American values and strip it away to reveal the truth of the situation. He realises that women are powerless because they have been stripped of their independence by the very society in which they live, refused education, careers, in the case of both female characters paternal affection, where as Honey is unlucky enough to be refused marital aswell through being wedded for the wrong reasons. The claustrophobic nature of this society means that Martha sees her self as a kept woman, who has been 'set up' in her own personal 'modest cottage' by her own personal Joseph Cotton. ...read more.

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