At 2 a.m. on the campus of a New England college, a middle-aged professor of history and his wife return home from a party. Their life together, after 20 years of marriage, is dominated by violent arguments tempered by occasional moments of tenderness. George, the husband, is a victim of lost idealism--a fact that his wife, Martha, eagerly points out by constantly comparing him to her father, the president of the college. Martha conceals her own vulnerability and frustration behind a show of loud vulgarity. She has created an imaginary son, and George has indulged her in the pretense, partially for his own sake as well. Earlier in the evening, Martha invited a faculty couple, Nick and Honey, to drop by for a drink; as soon as they arrive, Martha begins making flagrant advances toward the younger man. Honey, embarrassed by Martha's behavior and unaccustomed to so much liquor, becomes ill. Intoxicated, Nick confides to George that he married Honey because she falsely told him that she was pregnant. The long night of drinking and quarreling wears on, and Martha eventually lures the opportunistic and drunken Nick to her bedroom upstairs, while George watches their shadows from the yard below. When he learns that Martha has told Honey about their son, George brutally destroys his wife's fantasy by announcing that the son is dead. He then reduces her to hysteria by conducting a mock funeral service in Latin. With the coming of dawn, the guests depart. Physically and emotionally exhausted, George and Martha share a moment of silence.