George is a 46-year-old history professor at a small college in New England. He is thin, and his hair is starting to go gray. George is married to Martha, whose father is the college president. According to Martha, her father had chosen George to take over the college presidency but soon realized that George was not sufficiently skilled socially to assume the position. George drinks to excess and is miserably unhappy.
Martha is 52 years old, six years older than George. Albee describes her as "a large, boisterous woman, looking somewhat younger ... ample, but not fleshy." Although she and George do not have children, she does not work outside the house. Among university wives in the 1960s and before, it was common for the wife to stay home and entertain her husband's colleagues. Her father is the president of the college, which gives her great social status on campus. Like George, she drinks too much and is bitterly disillusioned by her failed marriage. She has affairs, sleeping with George's coworkers.
Nick is a professor of biology at the college where George teaches. He is 28 years old, "well put-together, good-looking," and married to Honey. Appalled by George and Martha's vicious behavior toward each other, to him, and to Honey, Nick nonetheless remains the entire evening, participates in George and Martha's attacks on each other, drinks to excess, and tries to have sex with Martha. Nick initially accepts Martha's invitation because he is new to the college and feels he must socialize with his colleagues. He would especially want to socialize with Martha because her father is the college president. He and Honey do not have any children.
Honey, age 26, is Nick's wife. She is described as "a petite blonde girl, rather plain." Honey is what is called a "faculty wife," her function being to support and further her husband's career. During the evening she drinks too much and frequently goes to the bathroom to vomit. She is sensitive and offended by the foul language George and Martha use. During the evening it emerges that Nick and Honey married because they both assumed she was pregnant. However, Honey had a hysterical pregnancy, also called a "false pregnancy," in which a woman secretes hormones that puff her body in a way that makes it appear as though she is pregnant. Honey has never had a real pregnancy.