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The play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was written in 1961 and produced a year later by Billy Rose Theater, New York. It was well received and acclaimed throughout its 644 performances. Albee received the Drama Critics' Award, the Tony Award and numerous other appreciative acknowledgments. The play was denied Pulitzer Prize and termed as "filthy." It caused a lot of controversy and was even censored and banned in some places.
In 1964 it was staged in London and was later made into a successful film by the Warner Brothers in 1966, starring Elizabeth Taylor as Martha and Richard Burton as George. Twelve years later the play was revived on Broadway and had a successful staging with Albee directing it himself.
THE MEANING OF THE TITLE
The original title of the play was "The Exorcism", but Albee changed it to the present title after being inspired by a slogan scrawled on a mirror in Greenwich Village bar that said, "Who's afraid of life without false illusions?" In fact, the title of the play recalls a common nursery rhyme about the three little pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. (Wolf echoes the 'Woolf' in the title.) The wolf of the nursery rhyme can be taken to represent a fear of the unknown and since the first two pigs do not prepare themselves for the eminent danger, they are both killed. Conversely, the third pig keeps himself prepared to face this wolf and is able to overcome it. Similarly, the play indicates that when the characters cannot manage to equip themselves to deal with reality, they stand to lose. It is only when they divest themselves of illusions that they are ready to take up life head on.
LITERATURE OF THE ABSURD
This kind of literature focuses on the irrationality and absurdity of life. It had its roots in such movements as Expressionism and Surrealism. The Absurdist movement first emerged in France after the Second World War. It was more or less a rebellion against conventional beliefs and values and opposed traditional literature. It questioned the basic assumption of human beings as rational creatures and as a part of an orderly society. The existential philosophy which came into prominence around this time also had contempt and scorn for hypocrisy in the world. It insisted on the priority of the individual over the institution. Some of the writers of the Absurdist tradition are Samuel Becket, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, Arthur Adminov and to a certain extent Edward Albee and Harold Pinter.
Those who practiced the Theatre of the Absurd did not propound any definite philosophy of this genre. In fact, all the writers appear to have formed their art independent of each other. However, there are certain aspects that can be gleaned as characteristic of this drama. They were against coherence in plot, settings that related to the play, and dialogue as a necessary form of communication. They often focused on nonlogic to get their ideas across, revealing the inconsistency and irrationality of a universe that has no set standards or values.