[[quoteright:300:http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/Whos_Afraid_of_Virginia_Woolf_poster_5318.jpg]]

->''"I swear, if you existed, I'd divorce you."''
-->--'''Martha'''

A classic 1963 play by Edward Albee, which in turn spawned a classic 1966 film directed by Creator/MikeNichols and starring Creator/RichardBurton and Creator/ElizabethTaylor, with George Segal and Sandy Dennis co-starring.

This character study follows George, a "boring" middle-aged history professor at a small [[HollywoodNewEngland New England]] college, and his caustic, abusive wife Martha. Martha invites another, younger professor, Nick, and his meek and mousy wife, Honey, into their home one very drunken very early morning. The older couple verbally spars in front of their guests, and then gradually turns their abuse -- and lust -- onto them.

The play won several important dramatic awards, including the Tony Award for Best Play (its cast and crew also won several other major Tonys, including Best Direction, Best Production, Best Actor, and Best Actress). It was also selected for the UsefulNotes/PulitzerPrize for Drama by that yearís drama jury, but the jury was overruled by the advisory board, who objected to its profanity and sexual content; correspondingly, no prize for drama was awarded that year.

The film was nominated for every single UsefulNotes/AcademyAward it was eligible for, winning five, including Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress for Taylor and Dennis respectively; it is generally considered Taylorís best performance. (Dennis had also won a Tony Award in 1963, the same year the play won its Tonys, but hers was for ''Film/AThousandClowns''.) It was also a major step in the unravelling of UsefulNotes/TheHaysCode, as it featured dialogue that was profane and extremely sexually explicit by contemporary standards and was released with almost no changes. Later in 1966, Creator/{{MGM}} released ''Film/{{Blowup}}'' without Hays Code approval, which effectively marked the end of the Code.

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!!Tropes:

* {{Absurdism}}: A notable American entry in the Theatre of the Absurd.
* TheAlcoholic: Everyone. The play starts after a dinner party where all of the characters have presumably been drinking, and they all keep drinking until the sun comes up.
* AmbiguouslyGay: George. [[spoiler: It would explain why he wasn't able to have a child with Martha: he married her to get ahead in the university, but was unable to bring himself to have sex with her - even though they were good friends. It also would explain why he never got promoted, as Martha's father possibly became disillusioned with George's ability to give him a grandson and he knew George was gay. It also explains the HoYay between Nick and himself, if one-sided. Albee himself was gay.]]
* AuthorAvatar. According to the WordOfGod, George is more or less based on Edward Albee's life.
* AwfulWeddedLife: A ''particularly'' dark example.
* AwLookTheyReallyDoLoveEachOther: [[MindScrew Or possibly]] don't, depending on which [[AlternativeCharacterInterpretation aspects of the characters' personae]] you believe.
* BabiesMakeEverythingBetter: [[spoiler: Honey loses her fear of getting pregnant, and during Martha's soliloquy about her (fake) son, she states firmly she wants to get pregnant and have a baby with Nick after all.]]
* TheBabyTrap: How Honey got Nick to marry her. [[spoiler: She had a FakePregnancy, tho.]]
* BetaCouple: Majorly deconstructed with Nick and Honey.
* BigNo:
-->'''George''': [[spoiler: Our son is ''dead'', just like that!]] How does that make you feel?
-->'''Martha''': '''''NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!'''''
* BittersweetEnding: [[spoiler: George destroys the fictional son that he and Martha invented, but this may be just the thing for the couple to move forward with no illusions to cling to.]]
* BlackComedy: The whole film/play, really.
* ButLiquorIsQuicker: Although it turns out Nick doesn't need a great deal of encouragement.
* CatScare: George's umbrella.
* CharacterDevelopment: Honey, along with HiddenDepths. She figures out long before Nick that [[spoiler: George and Martha's son is imaginary]], and goes from being frightened of pregnancy and motherhood to insisting, "I want a baby. I want a ''child''."
* ContentWarnings: An example that predates the American film rating system. The poster's TagLine ("You are cordially invited to George and Martha's for an evening of fun and games*") was followed by this footnote: "*Important Exception: No one under 18 will be admitted unless accompanied by his parent." According to Website/IMDb, the film has a rating equivalent to PG-13 or R in most countries.
* CoupledCouples: George and Martha, and Nick and Honey.
* DeadpanSnarker: George, frequently.
* DeconstructorFleet: The play takes a hatchet to the idea of the perfect American family in a way that was arguably completely unprecedented at the time. It also fits in the canon of deconstructions of UsefulNotes/TheAmericanDream, along with other plays like ''Theatre/DeathOfASalesman''.
* DeliberatelyMonochrome: The film. Not only does it serve to create a stark {{Chiaroscuro}} setting, but it also allows Martha to talk about having green eyes when Elizabeth Taylor has famously PurpleEyes.
* DidTheyOrDidntThey: Martha seems to be disappointed when she comes back down from the bedroom. The conversation she has with George later implies that [[spoiler:Nick was ultimately unable to "perform"]].
* DomesticAbuse: Take a guess.
* DrunkDriver: In the film adaptation. First George[[note]]Given Richard Burton's history with alcohol, that's a hell of a RealitySubtext.[[/note]] and later Martha, who nearly ends up parking the car inside their house.
-->'''George''': Not my fault, the road should've been straight.
* EverybodyHasLotsOfSex: According to George and Martha, ďmusical bedsĒ is a popular pastime among the campus faculty. UnreliableExpositor may apply here, however. [[spoiler:Itís implied that Martha and Nick attempt to sleep together, but itís also implied that he couldnít perform because he was too intoxicated.]]
* FakeWeakness: George. He seems wimpy and over-matched compared to his loud, shrewish wife, but he proves that she's no match for ''him'', let alone Nick and Honey, whom he dominates almost effortlessly.
* {{Fanservice}}: Elizabeth Taylor seems dowdy, but when she changes into her "Sunday best", she shows just how sexy a middle-aged woman can be.
* FirstLawOfTragicomedies: Averted, since the humor is biting and sarcastic.
* FlawExploitation: Hoo boy. George and Martha practice on each other so much that Nick and Honey don't stand a chance when they turn their barbs towards ''them''.
* {{Foreshadowing}}: George drops plenty of hints to Nick that [[spoiler: their child doesn't exist]] but he's too drunk to notice.
* TheGlovesComeOff: At the midpoint, George and Martha take their bickering to all-new levels.
-->'''George:''' Total war?\\
'''Martha: ''Total.'''''
* GoodGirlsAvoidAbortion: [[spoiler: Subverted. It is implied that the sweet, fragile Honey is secretly using birth control pills because she doesn't want to have children.]]
* HappyMarriageCharade: Jury's still out on which of the two couples has the shakier marriage. However, while George and Martha may be unable to communicate using anything other than insults and verbal abuse, they make no pretense to having a happy marriage (and yet are probably too dependent on each other emotionally to seriously consider divorcing); it is Nick and Honey who have the happy marriage charade, Nick having married Honey mostly for her father's money (her pregnancy was a convenient excuse) and Honey faked being pregnant (having taken birth control pills secretly).
* HenpeckedHusband: At first George appears to be this in relation to Martha. [[spoiler: Events show that while Martha can be vicious, George is lethal.]]
* HypocriticalHumor: When George and Martha try to find out where the "What a dump" line comes from, George suggests ''Chicago''. Martha responds: "Don't you know anything? ''Chicago'' was a '30s musical starring little Miss Alice Faye. Don't you know anything?" The film she's talking about is actually called ''In Old Chicago''.
* IncurableCoughOfDeath: An AvertedTrope. Characters in the film adaptation frequently cough, but it doesn't portend anything.
* InsistentTerminology: Nick, are you a houseboy or a stud?
* IronicEcho: "I am, George. I am."
* LadyDrunk: Martha. Heavily implied to be Honey's future.
* TheLoinsSleepTonight: After drinking for "ten hours," Nick turns out to be "a flop."
* LonelyTogether: Basically the whole plot: miserable couple invites younger couple over for "an evening of fun and games" that mostly involves inflicting their miseries on each other. As the play progresses, we see that the younger couple was, in a quieter way, already miserable as well.
* LuckyTranslation: The German version still has the boy in George's story asking for "whiskey"... only in German, it sounds exactly the same as the word for "wanky". It makes the story George tells just a little bit funnier.
* {{Malaproper}}: One of George's embarrassing moments is when he ordered "bergin" (burgundy) as a drink during a dinner party (where he was trying to impress Martha and her parents.)
* TheMasochismTango: George and Martha are arguably the {{Trope Codifier}}s in modern pop culture. Nick and Honey's marriage looks happier on the surface, but as we ultimately see, they're NotSoDifferent.
* MeaningfulName: George and Martha are named after [[UsefulNotes/GeorgeWashington the first US president]] and his wife - and the circumstances of ''that'' marriage are similar.
* MediationBackfire: There are hints that George and Martha deliberately invoke this trope in order to have something to bond over (i.e., abusing others instead of one another).
* MindScrew: How on Earth did two whack-jobs ever produce a son who is the embodiment of perfection? [[spoiler: He didn't exist. He was totally fake, a story made-up for Martha and George so that they could feel like they had something.]] Lucky for him.
** The whole play qualifies to some extent, given how thoroughly it uses UnreliableExpositor. Itís considered a central work of the Theatre of the Absurd for a reason, after all.
* {{Minimalism}}: The play has one location, four characters and is in RealTime. The movie added a few outside locations and two bit parts.
* MinimalistCast: Only four characters in the play. The film adds two bit parts, but they have only a few lines each and the actors portraying the characters aren't even credited.
* MistakenForPregnant: [[spoiler: Honey]], charitably interpreted.
* MoralGuardians: The film version helped weaken film censorship after MPAA president Jack Valenti ordered ''minimal'' dialogue cuts to the already-profane script.
* NoEnding: Dawn breaks, Nick learns something about his marriage and George and Martha's, and leaves. This is also one of the rare modern films with ''no end credits'', just a placard saying "EXIT MUSIC" as a mandolin plays.
* NoNameGiven:
** "Honey" is just Nick's pet name for his wife, she's never given an actual name in-story. George refers to her as "Missy" at one point in the film version, but this is probably just a nickname as well.
** The last names of George, Martha and Nick are not given. And Nick's '''first''' name is never spoken on stage (though obviously it's in the program and can be deduced by whittling down the MinimalistCast).
* NotSoDifferent: At first the two couples seem very dissimilar, but as the evening wears on we see the same traits emerging from both.
* ParlorGames
-->'''George:''' Well that's one game. What shall we do now? Come on, I mean, let's think of something else. We've played Humiliate the Host - we can't do that one. What should we do now?...Let's see, there are other games, how about uh, how about Hump the Hostess huh?...OK, I know what we do. Now that we're through with Humiliate the Host...and we don't want to play Hump the Hostess yet...how about a little round of Get the Guests?
* PetTheDog: At the end, after all secrets have been revealed, Nick and Honey sympathize with George and Martha, and vice versa. Nick appears to ask or say something conciliatory to George, but George gently escorts them both out.
* PickOnSomeoneYourOwnSize: Martha's initial reaction to George turning on Nick is to accuse him of "[[UnusualDysphemism pygmy hunting]]".
* PrecisionFStrike: In the revival starring Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner, Martha screams, '''"FUCK YOU!"''' at George instead of "Goddamn you!"
* PunBasedTitle: An obvious play on "[[Disney/ThreeLittlePigs Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?]]" Albee put "Virginia Woolf" in the title in place of "Big Bad Wolf" because he was afraid of copyright infringement. (He'd also seen it as a graffito on a bathroom mirror and found it amusing.) It also adds to the concept of absurdism throughout the play.
* TheReveal: Itís not explicitly stated until near the end of the play that [[spoiler:George and Martha made up the existence of their son]], though there are hints dropped to this extent as early as the first act. It may arguably qualify as an InternalReveal when Nick figures it out, as Honey gives hints of having figured it out much earlier.
* RiddleForTheAges: What was Nick going to say to George before he left?
* SadistShow: The characters spend most of the play being absolutely ''vicious'' to one another, which is ultimately revealed to be a result of their underlying miseries and insecurities... which, in turn, mostly stem from how much their lives suck. This ultimately ties in with the play's central theme: on paper, these characters look like people who have achieved the American Dream, but every signifier of status proves ultimately empty and meaningless, and despite their positions in society, most of the characters' ambitions are unfulfilled.
* SelfMadeOrphan: [[spoiler: George]], though not intentionally. Thanks to UnreliableNarrator, he is probably lying [[spoiler: since his fictional son is killed in the same way.]]
* ShadowArchetype: George and Martha put on vivid display the conflicts that Honey and Nick try to keep submerged.
* ShoutOut: To ''Theatre/AStreetcarNamedDesire''.
** Martha quotes a line ("What a dump!") from the Creator/BetteDavis movie ''BeyondTheForest'' (but she can't remember the title) which is mainly remembered for this reference. Made funnier by the fact that the in the initial casting for the film, Bette Davis herself was slated to play Martha.
** Plus the obvious reference to Creator/VirginiaWoolf in the title.
** The work itself also receives some shout outs in random, unexpected places, including a children's book series about a pair of hippos, and George and Martha being the name of of ComicStrip/LittleLulu's parents. (And, of course, George & Martha Washington, the Father & Mother of the country.)
* SpeechCentricWork: It's a very talky play overall, which makes the moments with less dialogue stand out even more.
* ThatCameOutWrong: Nick and George talking about the campus pastime of "musical beds". Miraculously, [[ItMakesSenseInContext given the conversation preceding it and the drunkenness of the participants]], it doesn't come across as quite so hilariously offensive.
-->'''George''': Now that's it! You can take over a few classes from the older men, but until you start plowing pertinent wives, you really aren't working. The broad, inviting avenue to man's job is through his wife, and don't you forget it.
-->'''Nick''': And I'll bet your wife has the broadest, most inviting avenue of the whole damn campus! ''({{Beat}})'' Her father president and all.
* TitleDrop: During a round of drunken singing (to the tune of "Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?"). Somewhat invoked at other parts, particularly at [[spoiler: the end]]. In the film version, due to legal conflict with Creator/{{Disney}}, the song is sung to the tune of "Here We Go 'Round the Mulberry Bush."
-->''(the final lines)''\\
'''George:''' Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?\\
'''Martha:''' I am George, I am.
* TrivialTitle: Named after an OrphanedPunchline in the play.
* UnreliableExpositor[=/=]UnreliableNarrator: In-universe. [[spoiler:Almost everything George and Martha say to the guests is at best a distortion of the truth, if not an outright lie.]]
-->'''Nick:''' Hell, I don't know when you people are lying or what.\\
'''Martha:''' You're damned right.\\
'''George:''' You're not supposed to.\\
'''Martha:''' Right.
** A little later:
--->'''Martha:''' Truth and illusion, George. You don't know the difference.\\
'''George:''' No, but we must carry on as though we did.\\
'''Martha:''' Amen.
* UnusualEuphemism: Parodied when Honey asks coyly about using the bathroom;
--> '''George:''' Martha, will you show her where we keep the, uh, euphemism?
* YourCheatingHeart: George tells Nick that [[UnusualEuphemism "musical beds"]] is a popular sport, with the implication that Martha has cheated on him a number of times. [[spoiler: Nick decides to ride that train himself later that night.]]
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