References in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is filled with references, from single line-drops to overarching ideas. This list doesn’t cover everything that could be mentioned, but it’s a good start. Watch the show and see if you can notice any more! 

production photo of DCPA theatre company's who's afraid of virginia woolf. a man and woman stand in front of another man and woman sitting on a red couch.

  1. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Albee stated in a Paris Review interview, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? means who’s afraid of the big bad wolf…who’s afraid of living without false illusions?” Virginia Woolf, an author in the early 1900s, was considered one of the most important modernist writers of the 20th century. Her work often criticized and peeled back the layers of pretension surrounding her peers. This is also what Albee does in the play. The phrase “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” comes from Disney’s The Three Little Pigs.
  2. George and Martha. George and Martha’s names allude to the foundation of the United States, specifically the first president and his wife 
  3. “What a dump!” Martha’s entrance in the show features a quote from a Bette Davis movie, Beyond The Forest. 
  4. Nick. Albee has stated that Nick was named after Nikita Khrushchev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964 and Chairman of the country’s Council of Ministers from 1958 to 1964. He led the Soviet Union through the height of the Cold War. 
  5. “I will not give up Berlin!” George’s line in Act I alludes to the tensions in Germany under the influence of the Cold War. Russia was trying to take Berlin when Albee was writing the play. 
  6. Penguin Island. Penguin Island is the title of a satirical novel by Nobel-winning French writer Anatole France about reality and illusion.  
  7. Gomorrah. Gomorrah is a reference to a biblical city destroyed by God for its wickedness.  
  8. Walpurgisnacht. The title of Act II is the German name for Walpurgis Night, a celebration for Saint Walpurgis. In pagan times on this night, it was said that witches were at the height of their power and would gather in the mountains to perform rituals. People in the villages would light bonfires to ward off witchcraft and evil. 
  9. “Flores para los Muertos.” The line “flores para los Muertos,” translated to “flowers for the dead,” is a quote from Tennessee William’s play, A Streetcar Named Desire. In this play, a solemn woman is selling flowers on the street, foreshadowing the grim fate awaiting the main character, Blanche.


Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

NOW – MAR 6, 2022 • Singleton Theatre