Search Browse On This Day Map Quotations Timeline Research Free Datasets Remembered About Contact

The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

Thu 7 Sep 2006 In: Books View at NDHA

Unfortunately, this review is too late for Downstage Wellington's season related to the play in question. It won the Tony Award for Best Play in 2002, and is about a love triangle between Martin, an architect, Stevie, his wife, and Sylvia...a goat. Edward Albee, the author of this unconventional black comedy, has already won multiple previous Tonies and Pulitzers for his prodigious dramatic output, and The Goat was no exception. However, I'm sorry, but while the play script is a witty black comedy of manners, I suspect I'm not the only one who felt slightly queasy at the underlying theme- bestiality. It wouldn't have been any different if Martin had been bonking a male goat, either, as I do not believe that most nonhuman animals have the ability to consent to interspecies sex. If consent isn't there, it becomes interspecies rape/sexual violation, although I do not believe The Goat should be censored out of existence for simply raising discussion about that issue. Throughout the play, Sylvia remains a cipher, implying that she is merely an object for Martin to project his fantasies of desire upon, which I find objectionable. How does he know she 'consented?' We are told nothing about her behaviour that would lead us to infer this either way. As for Martin, I noticed that there was an out-of-focus quality to his depiction, as if Martin was suffering from some form of mental illness. At one point during the text, it is suggested that he may be experiencing early-onset Alzheimers, although it is also possible that he may have experienced a psychotic episode related to the onset of schizophrenia. It made his actions difficult to empathise with. Stevie is a different matter. It's one thing to learn that one's partner has betrayed one outside the boundaries of what one thought was a stable, loving relationship. However, Stevie is unprepared for the fact that her husband's apparent paramour is nonhuman. To put it delicately, though, what about the risk of cross-species STIs or transmissible infections? I assume that Martin used a condom? Or as reviewer, am I being too pedestrian and rationalist? Well, no, not really. In the case of zoophiles, it does appear to be the case that the forensic pathologists model does meet the criteria of woefulness. As Jens Rydstrom noted in his study of Swedish anti-bestiality legislation and offender profiles, most zoophiles are rural, male substance abusers who have developmental and/or intellectual disabilities, which contribute to their upsetting the livestock or poultry. Martin is an urban professional. That said, though, I grant that Albee may be suggesting that Martin is suffering from an additional mental illness that facilitated his act of interspecies sexual abuse. And then there's Billy, their young and bewildered gay male son. Billy is just as repulsed as his mother by the disclosure of his dad's zoophilic desires, leading to some amusing exchanges in which homophobia is met with rejoinders related to Martin's paraphilia. Hey, at least Billy is interested in the same species! Exactly. As for Stevie, I found her likeable and her anger and violent retribution against Martin's object of desire was appropriately tragic. Shades of Clytemnestra and Medea in classical Greek tragedy, both of whom engage in wholesale slaughter to rid themselves of impediments to their own freedom of action. Martin deserved some retribution from her, although I question whether mutilation and slaughter of Sylvia was suitable punishment. I would have had him committed. Given that it is subtitled "Notes Toward A Definition of Tragedy," though, I suspect that the abstract and surreal nature of Martin's behaviour may have been deliberately intended to emulate and evoke the elements of classical Greek tragedy. All in all, then, Albee's work deserves the plaudits that have been granted to this work. Recommended: Edward Albee: The Goat, Or Who is Sylvia? New York: Overlook Press: 2003. Jens Rydstrom: "Sodomitical Sins are Threefold: Typologies of Bestiality, Masturbation and Homosexuality in Sweden: 1880-1950:" Journal of the History of Sexuality: 9:3: June 2000: 240-276. Jens Rydstrom: Sinners and Citizens: Bestiality and Homosexuality in Sweden: 1880-1950: Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 2003. Craig Young - 7th September 2006    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Thursday, 7th September 2006 - 12:00pm

Rights Information

This page displays a version of a article that was automatically harvested before the website closed. All of the formatting and images have been removed and some text content may not have been fully captured correctly. The article is provided here for personal research and review and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of If you have queries or concerns about this article please email us