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The crux of melancholy: Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance
Modern Drama
  • Allan C Pero, The University of Western Ontario
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Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance has been read variously as a play about responsibility, a play about friendship, a play about a crisis of (usually American) masculinity, and a play exploring the "source" of that crisis (regrettably, that most usual of suspects), Woman herself. It has been less often read as a text that explores the problem of melancholy's relation to desire and the labyrinth of choices that inform that problem. Albee himself contends that the play is about the loss of choice, or that Agnes and Tobias have, in a sense, missed their appointment with agency. The implications of this assertion require more attention, which brings me to Epictetus. The question posed in the epigraph points not only to a forgetting of the journey's intent – the inn is not a destination, only a point on the path that leads home – but also to the misrecognizing of the inn as a permanent abode. This misrecognition is not simply misunderstanding but should be thought of in Lacanian terms; that is, it is a kind of méconnaissance, a misrecognition of their place in the symbolic order, a kind of knowledge that is paradoxically based on a denial of lack. In the passage from Epictetus, this denial is prompted in part by how captivating the provisional space is; it implies an identification with place and the lack it is meant to fill as if it were home. It is, in other words, a domestication of the uncanny, a means of imposing familiarity on strangely recognizable difference. This struggle with identifying certain places as one's own – the difficulty, as Edna puts it to Julia, of being "dispossessed, and suddenly dispossessing" (121) – is a persistent vein in Albee's dramatic work: The Zoo Story, The Ballad of the Sad Café, The Play about the Baby, or more recently, The Goat are four different and differing examples. [End Page 174]

Citation Information

Pero, Allan. "The Crux of Melancholy: Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance." Modern Drama, vol. 49 no. 2, 2006, p. 174-187. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/mdr.2006.0066