“Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf” is a complex play about a married couple and examines the total breakdown of their relationship. In this paper, I look to study the change that occurred in language around the time this play was produced. I claim that “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” changed the way we look at language in theatre, more specifically the subject of cursing. I will compare it with other plays that were produced around the same time, and contrast the language that is used.
This play was a sensation in its time (1962) because of the powerful themes that it touched on, and language was definitely one of them. By writing a play, with its obvious tension between actors, Edward Albee uses his genre to illustrate one of these themes. He brings up the idea of private and public images in marriage. It’s interesting to see this marriage being paraded in front of this audience. If the language was anything but sincere, this production couldn’t work. There are several things that are said in a failing marriage that can’t be fake. Inherent in this idea of public and private faces is the theme of phoniness. Many couples in this play project false images of themselves in public situations. In fact, that phoniness is generally preferred to exposing all of one’s problems and imperfections to the world.
In many ways the play was a breakthrough when it came to profanity, but even more than that, was the constant verbal abuse that is observed. In 1962 there were no plays that portrayed a man and his wife screaming at each other. The emotional, and verbal abuse was something that was very shocking to American audiences at that time.