Who's Afraid of Virgina Wolf: Act 1 Part 2
Act 1, part 2 (pp. 20-47)
There are no formal scene divisions within each act, but the entrance of Honey and Nick marks a new phase of the play. As the young couple enters, Martha and George make no attempt to hide the fact that they are not getting along well. Nick says to Honey that they should not have come, but Martha tries to make them welcome. Nick begins to comment on a painting that is hanging on the wall, but George mocks him. Nick, aware of the fact that he is being joshed, remains polite but his manner is cold. George then apologizes genuinely and makes a joke at Martha’s expense.
George makes some drinks for everyone and comments slyly about Martha’s drinking habits. As they all drink, Martha again sings, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and Honey joins in at the end. Martha comments on how funny it is but adds that George did not find it so. Exasperated at having the topic brought up again, George takes issue with her over it.
Talk turns to the faculty party and to Martha’s father. Honey thinks he is wonderful; George says sarcastically that he is “a god,” and then complains about all the faculty parties he has had to attend. Nick replies that he appreciated the party because it helped him get to know some people. He contrasts this with the lack of assistance he received when he taught in Kansas. Martha comments that her “Daddy” knows how to run things, which prompts George to confide in Nick that there are easier situations in the world than teaching at a university when you also happen to be married to the daughter of the university president. Martha comments that some men would give their right arm to be in such a position.
Honey indicates a wish to use the bathroom, and Martha says she wants to show her the house. As they leave, George reminds Martha not to talk about “you-know-what.” He is referring to their son, but Martha replies that she will talk about whatever she wishes to.
George and Nick are left alone. They talk uneasily, and George speaks just to himself about his “dashed hopes, and good intentions” during his long career at the university. He deliberately goads Nick with some clever talk, and Nick is unsure about how to respond. Then Nick becomes angry and says that when Honey returns they will both leave. George tells him to calm down and gives him another drink. Nick is uncomfortable because George and Martha appear to be quarreling, but George assures him that they are “merely . . . exercising” their wits and that he should not pay any attention to it.
They begin to discuss some personal matters. George appears to think that he looks older than he is, but he also seems proud of the fact that he is not overweight. He asks Nick how much he weighs, and how old his wife is. It also transpires that Nick is not in the math department after all; he is a biologist. George talks about his mistrust of biologists; he seems to think there is some scientific venture to rearrange human genetics to make “everyone the same,” a notion that as a historian he dislikes. He also seems to confess his disappointment that he has not become head of the history department; the only time he was in charge was during World War II, when everyone else went away on war business. Then he makes a personal remark about the slim hips of Nick’s wife, and inquires whether they have any children. They do not, and when Nick asks George the same question, George replies, “That’s for me to know and you to find out.” Nick says he and Honey want to have children but intend to wait a while until they’re settled. He hopes they will be happy at the college, even though George suggests that the place is hardly a paradise. George also talks about his resentment of Martha’s father who in George’s view expects unquestioning loyalty from his staff.
Honey returns, saying it is a wonderful old house. George wonders where Martha is, and Honey says she is changing clothes. Honey then reveals to George that Martha has been speaking to her about their son. George is shocked. It transpires that their son will be twenty-one the very next day. George is furious at this information being revealed, but he does not say why. He also comments that Martha has changed clothes to please the guests, not her husband.
It should be remembered that the title of Act 1 is “Fun and Games.” George is constantly playing verbal games with Nick, baiting the younger man with his unexpected and sometimes rather malicious comments. It appears that George likes having fun at the expense of his guest, perhaps to relieve the frustration he feels with Martha. Nick notices what George is doing and at one point angrily says, “You can play that damn little game any way you want to, you know!”
George also tells Nick that his apparent quarrel with Martha is merely a way that they exercise their wits with each other. So that is something of a game with them, too, although that is not the whole story of their relationship. There is genuine anger and resentment there as well.
There is also a hint in this section that not everything is right in the marriage between Nick and Honey. At one point it appears that she is not well, but when Nick inquires of her, she tries to reassure him that she is fine. It appears that she is well practiced in doing this, but her voice, according to the stage directions, has “the echo of a whine.” The information that Nick and Honey do not have children will later acquire more significance, as more is revealed of the inner lives of both couples.