Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? shocked audiences and critics alike with its assault on decorum. At base though, the play is simply a love story: an examination of a long-wedded life, filled with the hopes, dreams, disappointments, and pain that accompany the passing of many years together.
While the ethos of the play is tragicomic, it is the anachronistic, melodramatic secret object—the nonexistent "son"—that upends the audience’s sense of theatrical normalcy. The mean and vulgar bile spewed among the characters hides these elements, making it feel like something entirely "new."
As Michael Y. Bennett reveals, the play is the same emperor, just wearing new clothes. In short, it is straight out of the grand tradition of living room drama: Ibsen, Chekhov, Glaspell, Hellmann, O’Neill, Wilder, Miller, Williams, and Albee.
CHAPTER 1: The Play’s Contexts
CHAPTER 2: The Play in Retrospect: Seeing the "New" as "Old"
CHAPTER 3: The Play and Players
CHAPTER 4: The Play’s Legacy
Routledge’s Fourth Wall books are short, accessible accounts of some of modern theatre’s best loved works. They take a subjective but easily digestible approach to their topics, allowing their authors the opportunity to explore their chosen subject in a way that is absorbing enough to be of use both to lovers of theatre and those who are being asked to study a play more deeply.
Each book in the series looks at a specific play, variously exploring its themes, contexts and characteristics while prioritising original, insightful writing over complexity or scholarly weight. While other cultural products such as albums and films are well served by this kind of writing, the Fourth Wall series aims to find room between rigorous analysis and the short format of reviews or articles. They are extended accounts that get to the heart of their chosen works without being bound by the density that academic treatments can often require.