Who's Afraid of Virgina Wolf: Act 2 Part 3
Act 2, part 3 (pp. 150-159)
Martha and George are left alone on stage. Martha sarcastically congratulates him on his performance but then openly reproaches him for playing “Get the Guests.” He responds by complaining that it is perfectly all right in her eyes for her to deliberately humiliate him, but when he tries to do it to someone else, she is unhappy about it. She replies that she acts as she does towards him because he can stand it. Over his protests, she says that he even married her for it. He protests again as she says that her arm is tired from whipping him. It is not what she has wanted, she says, for all the twenty-three years of their marriage.
They both become angry, and Martha says she will finish him off. George responds that he will make her sorry she ever mentioned their son. George speaks calmly, telling her she lives in a fantasy world, but she responds by mocking the formal way he speaks, saying he sounds as if he were writing an academic paper. He replies he has to find some way of getting back at her, but she says he does not have to do anything. Twenty-three years of marriage have been quite enough. She then explains that at the party they have just come from, she compared him unfavorably to the younger men there who were going places with their careers: “And I sat there and watched you, and you weren’t there.” She insists that she is going to continue to do and say whatever she wants about him. He says he will beat her at her own game; she sneers at him, and then they declare total war between them. They seem relieved and elated with this decision.
In this brief section, Martha steps up her cruelty, accusing George of being so spineless that he actually enjoys being pushed around and insulted by his wife. At first George seems helpless against this latest assault, but he ramps up the dramatic tension by promising, even in the face of her taunts, that he will “rip [her] to pieces.” For the audience, the play is beginning to resemble one of those staged professional wrestling matches, in which one wrestler has it all his own way for some time until the action is suddenly reversed, and the wrestler who looked thoroughly beaten miraculously finds some new tricks to turn the tables on his opponent. But what might George have up his sleeve to accomplish this, the audience might wonder, since Martha has consistently got the better of him so far. Thus the dramatist builds up the tension that will reach its climax and then be resolved in the final act.