Martha enters the room and begins to ramble alone on the stage, echoing pieces of conversation from the previous scene, and searching for George. She makes herself a drink, whines about her abandonment, and then performs an imaginary exchange between herself and George, with George politely promising her that he would do anything for her. She yells “Hump the Hostess!,” laughs, and then falls into a chair. She begins imaginarily addressing her father— “You cry all the time, don’t you, Daddy?... I cry all the time too, Daddy”—and then yells that she’ll give George and the guests five counts to come out from where they’re hiding. She talks about freezing her tears and putting them into her drinks, and then jiggles the ice in her glass repeatedly, giggling all the while and screaming “CLINK!”
Martha is drunk, but appears moreover to be processing difficult aspects of her life—her relationship with her father and with George, her sadness and tears. Her soliloquy marks a point of supreme unraveling. At the same time, her soliloquy reveals that her father—who has been upheld as a kind of ideal powerful man throughout the play—cries all the time. The appearance of power always seems to be hollow in the play, a posturing meant to hide an inner emptiness or sadness.
Nick enters the room and comments that Martha, too, has gone crazy. He reports that when he came back downstairs, his wife went into the bathroom with a liquor bottle and winked at him, and is now lying on the bathroom floor and peeling the label off of the bottle.
Honey’s behavior in the bathroom confirms that the night has reached a height of chaos and unraveling, and has left both of the women in childlike states.
Nick asks where George is and Martha responds that he’s vanished. Martha, with great affection, and in a brogue enunciates, “’tis the refuge we take when the unreality of the world weighs too heavy on our tiny heads,” and then tells Nick he’s no better than anyone else. She adds that he’s certainly “a flop in some departments.” Nick apologizes for disappointing her, but Martha corrects that she wasn’t disappointed, and that his potential is fine but his performance was lacking.
Martha’s affected speech echoes the lofty passage that George read aloud at the end of the last act; this mirroring reminds us of the intimacy of George and Martha, and the ways in which their proximity to the academy affects their processing of emotions and relationships. Nick and Martha appear to speak in a veiled fashion about their recent sexual encounter; Albee leaves it unclear exactly what happened.
Martha goes on a rant about all of her pointless infidelities, and concludes by asserting that there’s only one man in her life that has ever made her happy—George. Nick is incredulous, but Martha gives an elegant, if contradictory, defense of her love: “George who is good to me, and whom I revile; who understands me, and whom I push off…”
Nick announces that he doesn’t think George has an intact vertebra. Martha challenges him, and criticizes his microscopic vision—claiming that he has the ability to see everything but the mind. They go back and forth antagonistically like this until the door chimes ring out and Martha demands that Nick open the door, accusing him of careerist ambitions in trying to seduce her.
While usually Martha is engaging George in an antagonistic dispute, here she engages Nick, standing up for her husband when Nick tries to criticize him. Martha's criticism that Nick can't "see the mind" is also a criticism of his scientific field in contrast to George's field of the humanities.
When Nick finally opens the door, he comes face to face with a bunch of snapdragons, hiding George behind them. George enters, naming the flowers as “flores para los muertos,” and calling Nick “Sonny.” George offers the flowers to Martha in a manic manner, who receives them as a wedding bouquet. Nick tries to excuse himself, but the couple will not let him go.
George’s announcement that he has brought “flores para los muertos” echoes the same line in A Streetcar Named Desire, which is spoken by a Mexican vendor and which reawakens Blanche’s memories of a significant death. The line thus draws a comparison with a similarly melodramatic play that focuses on themes of sex, reality, and power, and introduces the theme of death.
George hands Nick the snapdragons and instructs him to put them in gin, but Nick drops them at his feet. George describes that he picked them for their son’s birthday the next day. He and Martha dispute whether or not there was a moon in the sky that could have provided enough light for him to pick snapdragons, and then George begins to tell a story about a time that the moon went down and then came up again, when he was sailing past Majorca with his parents. Nick prods if this was after George killed his parents, and George, defiantly, says “Maybe.” George shakes the snapdragons in front of Nick’s face and Martha continues to doubt that George was ever in the Mediterranean. She and George trade remarks on the nature of “truth and illusion.” George refers to Nick as a houseboy and suspects him of having “made it in the sack” with Martha. George begins yelling “here we go round the mulberry bush” and then throws snapdragons at Martha, stem first. Nick tries to defend her but Martha tells him to leave George alone.
Nick dropping the flowers is a retaking of his initial aloof stance, a refusal to play whatever "game" George is now playing. Though by this point Nick has been revealed not as "good" in a way that George and Martha are not, but rather as hypocritical. Martha and George's seemingly senseless argument about whether there was enough light to pick the flowers is an argument over truth and illusion, and Martha's attempt to dictate the terms of the illusion to stop George from continuing on. When Nick accuses George of having been the protagonist of his own story about the boy who accidentally killed both of his parents, George is evasive—though looked at in a certain way, most kids "kill" their parents by outliving them. Now George is the aggressor, but Martha refuses Nick's "chivalrous" attempt to intervene.
George announces that they have one more game to play—“bringing up baby”—but insists that everyone be there for it. He makes hog calls toward the hallway to get Honey, but Nick goes and gets her himself. Martha tearfully begs George not to play any more games, but he assures her that she’ll have a great time, and then pulls her hair and tells her that she can’t just end the night whenever she’s “got enough blood in [her] mouth.”
George is completely in control now, both verbally and physically, and the physical violence he pretended earlier now is real. He has clearly plotted some kind of revenge. He continues to draw upon the thin line that separates a “game” from a more sinister form of interpersonal interaction.
Honey enters the room with Nick, hopping like a bunny. George begins to discuss their son, despite Martha’s pleading. He prompts Martha to take over, and she reports that their son was born on a September night, twenty-one years ago. She and George play off of each other, each adding details about the birth and the son’s childhood— the banana boat, school, summer camp, his breaking his arm. George begins to interject phrases in Latin.
In her drunkenness, Honey acts like a child, while George brings up his and Martha’s own child again. What ensues is confusing and does not make immediate sense—it is unclear whether George and Martha are inventing details of their son’s life, or are recounting facts.
Honey suddenly exclaims that she wants a child. Martha ignores her and continues, beginning in on the difficult parts of the marriage— how they fought each other—and the parenting. She concludes that their son is away at college and everything is fine, but George insists that she continue. Martha refuses. Martha accuses George of lying, but George continues. Martha says that their son was really ashamed of his father, and then George accuses her of lying. They go on like this, and then, together give simultaneous speeches—Martha in English, “the one person I have tried to protect, to raise above the mire of this vile, crushing marriage; the one light in all this hopeless…darkness…our SON”; and George in Latin, “Dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem.”
Even as Honey reveals the desire for a child, Martha and George fight over theirs. Again Martha tries to use the son to take swipes at George, but George now rejects her attempts, a new occurrence in the play. Martha's speech about trying to protect their child suggests a key idea of the play—that couple's perceive children as the innocence at the heart of a marriage, as the thing to protect. Yet even as Martha is saying this, George's Latin prayer refuses her the option: it is a prayer for the dead. George proves his erudition by delivering his speech in Latin.
Honey, hysterical, screams for them to stop it, telling them they “can’t…do…this!” George tells Martha that he has some bad news about their son. He reports that while she was out of the room, a man from Western Union came and delivered a telegram informing them that their son had died, that he had been driving on a country road and swerved to avoid a porcupine and drove straight into a… Martha cuts him off before he can finish, furious. Nick mutters “Oh my God,” and Martha continues yelling at George. George speaks coldly about the practical business of going to identify the body. Martha howls, and repeats to George that he cannot decide these things. When Martha asks what George did with the telegram, he claims that he ate it, and then explodes with laughter. Martha threatens George, but he responds that she knows the rules.
George begins to tell the story of their son’s death as the story he had recounted earlier, of the boy who killed both of his parents. The similarity begins to suggest that he has made up the telegram about their son’s death, and about the earlier incident about the boy killing his parents. Yet now the son, dead or nonexistent, and the orphaned boy are connected. George's practical language about identifying the body overcome Martha's efforts to continue the illusion of their child. The illegibility of this scene—the difficulty of understanding what’s going on—attests to the strength of the private language that Martha and George share.
Martha and George go back and forth, her yelling “He is our child!” and him yelling “And I have killed him!” Nick quietly announces that he thinks he understands what’s going on. George explains that Martha broke their rule by mentioning him to someone else—to Honey. Martha repeats that he didn’t have to have him die, that that wasn’t needed.
Nick realizes along with the reader that the son never existed, that the son was a fiction or illusion or game created by Martha and George to help them manage and hide from the disappointments of their life and marriage. Yet even as an illusion, the son held a kind of power. George killed only a illusion, but there is still a kind of real death that Martha must face.
George proposes that the party should come to an end. Nick asks George if he and Martha couldn’t have any— and trails off. George and Martha admit that they couldn’t. The guests say their goodbyes and leave. George sighs and cleans up a little. He asks politely after Martha—if she needs anything, if she’s tired. She responds shortly, and then asks again if he had to do what he did. He affirms that he did. He promises it will be better, but Martha expresses her doubts. Then she begins, “I don’t suppose, maybe, we could…” but George cuts her off.
Nick guesses correctly that George and Martha were incapable of having children, though Albee leaves even this not entirely explicit. Martha and George’s invented child has thus taken the place of the real child they cannot have, similarly to the hysterical pregnancy that took the place of the pregnancy that Honey was incapable of having. And in the process the idea of love, of family, all become muddled and illusory, just as people's views of each other are illusory. George asserts that now that the illusion is gone, that the truth is out, things will get better.
George puts his hand on Martha’s shoulder and begins singing, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” Martha answers that she is and George nods as the curtain falls.
George becomes tender with Martha, and Martha becomes more open with George, at the end of the night of debauchery and disclosure. The line, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” previously a childish lyric, is taken seriously for the first time as Martha applies it to herself and admits that she is afraid, afraid of what's hard, of herself and what's inside her mind (Virginia Woolf was a master of stream of consciousness writing, of the capturing of her character's thoughts and experiences on the page).