The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?

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The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?
Goat albee book cover methuen.jpg
Book cover (Methuen)
Written by Edward Albee
Characters Martin
Date premiered March 10, 2002
Place premiered John Golden Theatre
New York City, New York
Original language English
Genre Drama
Setting Drama

The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, a full-length play written by Edward Albee, premiered on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre on March 10, 2002 where it ran for 309 performances. The European Premiere took place at Vienna's English Theatre in 2003 and a production opened in London in 2004. Albee's play drew film stars Bill Pullman and Mercedes Ruehl to Broadway. Ruehl was later replaced by Sally Field, and Pullman was replaced by Bill Irwin.

The tale of a married, middle-aged architect, Martin, his wife Stevie, and their son Billy, whose lives crumble when Martin falls in love with a goat, the play focuses on the limits of an ostensibly liberal society. Through showing this family in crisis, Albee challenges audience members to question their own moral judgment of social taboos.

The play also features many language games and grammatical arguments in the middle of catastrophes and existential disputes between the characters. The name of the play refers to the song "Who is Sylvia" from Shakespeare's play The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Proteus sings this song, hoping to woo Silvia. It is also referred to in an earlier work of Albee's, Finding the Sun (1982).


  • Stevie Gray — the wife of Martin who, until Sylvia, had been his one and only love
  • Martin Gray — a fifty-year-old award-winning architect who falls in love with a goat
  • Billy Gray — Stevie and Martin's gay, emotionally sensitive, seventeen-year-old son
  • Ross Tuttle — a family friend and host of a television program


Scene 1[edit]

The play opens with Martin and Stevie in their suburban living room on his fifteth birthday. They prepare for Ross's interview but Martin is distracted and cannot remember anything. Stevie casually asks Martin about a woman's business card in his pocket and his odd scent. Martin denies having an affair with a woman but confesses to falling in love with a goat named Sylvia. Stevie laughs it off, thinking it is a joke. Stevie leaves when Ross arrives. Attempting to celebrate Martin on his show for being the youngest architect to win the Pritzker Prize as well as being chosen to design a multi-billion dollar city, Ross gets frustrated at Martin’s inability to concentrate on the interview. Martin confides in Ross that the source of his absent-mindedness is his affair with Sylvia that had started when he was searching for a country home. Amazed that Martin could fall in love with anyone but Stevie, Ross asks repeatedly, "Who is Sylvia?" When shown a picture of her, Ross screams that Sylvia is a goat.

Scene 2[edit]

Stevie confronts Martin about a letter Ross had written about Martin’s affair and identity of Sylvia. Billy is shocked, crying as he flees to his room. In this scene, he enters and exits sporadically. Stevie reads the letter aloud and then recounts the normalcy of her life before she opened it. She realizes that Martin was telling the truth in Scene 1 and that she was right to worry about the business card and the odd scent. The card belongs to a member of a support group for bestiality. Martin discloses that members sought animal company as a coping mechanism. For him, Martin declares that Sylvia is not just an animal; she has a soul and reciprocates his love. During his explanations, Stevie breaks various objects and overturns furniture. Finally, she exits, vowing revenge.

Scene 3[edit]

Billy enters the ruined living room where Martin remains. Billy remarks that Martin and Stevie are good people and are better parents than most of his classmates'. However, he begins crying once he realizes that Martin's bestiality had torn his normal, happy family beyond repair. He then proclaims his love and kisses Martin. Ross comes in and witnesses Billy's deep, sobbing kiss. Despite being initially outraged, Martin hugs Billy to comfort him. Martin defends the kiss to a contemptuous Ross, mentioning that a friend had gotten an erection from having his baby on his lap, heavily implying that the friend was himself. Upon Ross' disgust, Martin challenges his judgement and interference on the family. Ross justifies his letter as Martin's actions would bring bad publicity. Stevie returns, dragging a dead goat. She killed Sylvia because she could not stand the idea that Sylvia had loved Martin as much as Stevie did. Ross freezes, Billy cries, and Martin breaks down.


Alber places parentheses around the play's subtitle: "Notes toward a definition of tragedy. The original Greek meaning of the word tragedy is "goat-song."[1] The play maintains Aristotle's six elements of a tragedy in addition to the three unities.[2] The play's resemblance to a Greek tragedy continues as Greek theater is linked to Dionysus. As the god of ritual madness, he inspires ecstasy that frees his followers from fears and subverts hegemony. Bestiality is considered taboo in contemporary society. Martin's relationship with Sylvia then defies convention. Unlike the other members in the support group, Martin does not understand why bestiality is wrong because he is blinded by love and happiness.

On the other hand, Stevie resembles the maenads with her increasingly frenzied actions.[3] The play also alludes to Eumenides. Before the interview starts, Ross hears "a kind of...rushing sound...wings, or something,"[4] to which Martin replies, "It's probably the Eumenides."[5] The noise disappears and Martin corrects himself because "[the Eumenides] don't stop."[6] The allusion foreshadows Stevie's vow for vengeance, carrying it out so fully that it ends the play.

The Goat is also a problem play. Albee questions, among other concepts, social morality in relation to taboos, the perception of female identity by contrasting Stevie to Sylvia, and the arbitrary nature of social standards and conventions by juxtaposing Martin's distaste for homosexuality with his bestiality.[7]

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • 2002 Drama Desk Award for Best New Play
  • 2002 Tony Award for Best Play
  • 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
  • 2006 Helpmann Award for Best Play


  1. ^ Gainor, J. Ellen (2005). "Albee's The Goat: Rethinking tragedy for the 21st century". In Bottoms, Stephen. The Cambridge Companion to Edward Albee. Cambridge. pp. 199–216. ISBN 978-0-521-83455-1. 
  2. ^ Allan, Davin (April 8, 2013). "Notes Towards a Definition of Tragedy". Literatured. Retrieved March 17, 2014. 
  3. ^ Arnesen, Iris J. (November 2007). "Preview: The Goat, Or Who is Sylvia by Edward Albee". The Rogue Theatre. The Opera Glass. Retrieved March 17, 2014. 
  4. ^ Albee, Edward (2003). The Goat Or, Who is Sylvia? (Notes Toward a Definition of Tragedy). 
  5. ^ Albee, Edward (2003). The Goat Or, Who is Sylvia? (Notes Toward a Definition of Tragedy). 
  6. ^ Albee, Edward (2003). The Goat Or, Who is Sylvia? (Notes Toward a Definition of Tragedy). 
  7. ^ Rád, Boróka Prohászka (Spring 2009). "Transgressing the Limits of Interpretation: Edward Albee's "The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (Notes toward a Definition of Tragedy)"". Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies (Centre for Arts, Humanities and Sciences (CAHS)) 15 (1): 135–153. Retrieved March 16, 2014. 

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