Act 2, part 4 (pp. 159-181)
Nick returns, having attended to Honey, who is now lying comfortably on the bathroom floor. George goes out to take some ice to her (Nick says she has headaches quite often), leaving Martha alone with Nick. He lights a cigarette for her, and she flirts with him, touching his leg and asking for a kiss. Nick is nervous, but they draw closer to each other and there is a clear suggestion from Martha that he should make love to her. As they continue to smooch, George enters, watches for a moment, laughs silently and exits. Martha and Nick do not see him.
Nick puts his hand inside Martha’s dress. She tells him not to rush and pushes him away. George is heard off-stage, singing “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” which gives Nick and Martha a chance to straighten up before he comes back, carrying the ice bucket. He speaks very cheerfully, which arouses Martha’s suspicions. He says it is his turn now, and Martha taunts him, saying that the principle that the worm turns does not work in his case, even though the worm part fits him well enough. George just chuckles and says he is going to sit down and read a book. Martha is incredulous and furious, so she turns to Nick and starts to flirt with him again. George, without looking up from his book, tells her to go ahead and entertain herself. Martha and Nick kiss, which George, sitting facing away from them, does not see. Martha is furious at George’s lack of concern over what she is doing. He tells her to go back and resume her “necking” with Nick, since all he, George, wants to do is read. George tells Nick in a vulgar manner that he should go ahead and make love to Martha. Martha tells Nick to go to the kitchen and wait for her. Nick glares at George and exits.
Martha tells George that unless he stops whatever game he is playing, she will take Nick upstairs to the bedroom with her. George replies that if she wants Nick, she should have him. Enraged, she replies that she will make him sorry he ever married her. She exits.
George reads part of his book aloud and then gathers all the fury he has been holding inside and throws the book against the door chimes.
Honey enters, weak, sick, and staggering. She was asleep and dreaming when she heard the door chimes and they frightened her, since she did not know what they were. Honey seems disoriented and cries out that she does not want any children. George speaks to her with compassion, realizing that this explains her sickness and headaches. He thinks she must be taking some kind of pill to prevent conception, but it is making her sick. But soon his tone turns nasty towards her, while she says she wants another drink.
Martha’s laughter and the crashing of dishes is heard coming from the kitchen. George tries to tell Honey what is going on there, but she does not understand. She wants to know who rang the doorbell. This gives George an idea that he seems very pleased with. He says someone came with a message that their son was dead. Honey is aghast. George goes on to say that their son is dead, but Martha does not know it yet. He tells Honey she must not tell Martha; he will tell her himself in good time. Distressed, Honey says she is going to be sick, then that she is going to die. George starts to rehearse how he is going to convey the news to Martha. He is laughing but also crying as he does so.
In the early part of this section of Act 2 it becomes clear that George has something in mind with which to counter Martha. This gives him a calm air that Martha finds infuriating. She tries to arouse his anger by intimating that she will have sex with Nick, but George affects not to care. As Act 2 reaches its climax, the scene is a bizarre one indeed: Honey is drunk and disoriented; Nick and Martha are in the kitchen apparently committing adultery while the offended husband, who has been encouraging this transgression, sits calmly reading a book. Family secrets have been pulled out and aired maliciously; the hollowness of the marriage of Honey and Nick has been exposed (although this is never the focus of the play, which remains in Martha and George); and Martha and George have revealed to the audience the long slow agony of their twenty-three-year marriage.
Bearing in mind that the title of the act is Walpurgisnacht, a celebration of the coming of spring, the audience might well wonder, where is the spring? Will it come in the third act? There is Certainly at the moment there is no sign of renewal, the return of life in all this mean-spirited, emotionally wounding game-playing. And the mystery of the son remains to be explained. Is the son really dead? How does George know this? In reality, do they even have a son?
Who's Afraid of Virgina Wolf: Act 2 Part 4
Act 2, part 4 (pp. 159-181)