Analysis of the “Wit” Play by Margaret Edson

Pages: 2
Words: 683


Wit by Margaret Edson is a dramatic work exploring incurable diseases, the power of language, and what makes life worth living. In her play, the author explores the inner life of an English professor suffering from an incurable disease. As the woman nears death, she asks tough questions about what she did wrong and what’s next. The encounter with death undoubtedly affects the reflection on the meaning of success and the idea of life.

Play Characters

The main character is Vivian Bearing, a professor of seventeenth-century poetry at the university who specializes in the poetry of John Donne. Throughout the play, she undergoes cancer treatment, which proves unsuccessful. Vivian values hard work and ambition but begins to question those values as her life draws close. Her doctor, Jason Posner, strives for success by any means, which Vivian initially respects very much in him. He goes against her last word to continue his cancer research and get all the data he needs for the study. With a softer and more human personality, their opposite can be called Susie Monahan, Bearing’s nurse. While Dr. Posner focuses on Vivian as a way to achieve his goals as a body, Susie sees and supports Vivian’s personality.

The Main Theme of the Play

Throughout the play’s action, the main character tries not to fall into sentimentality, which is associated with weakness. Vivian is concerned with mortality, but more so with the death of her life’s work. Even when she gets worse, the heroine thinks she will be remembered as an outstanding connoisseur of the poetry of the 17th century. Sonnets are at the center of her attention all the time; Vivian perceives life as a series of intellectual puzzles that can be sorted out in the same way as poems. Vivian’s attitude changes towards the end of the play when she says that this is not the time to solve problrms, “Now is a time for, dare I say it, kindness” (Edson 22). Margaret Edson, using Wit, criticizes scientists and doctors who are ready to do everything for the sake of knowledge. Vivian Bearing’s research focuses on language and the mind, while Posner personifies medical scientists for whom a person is, in most cases, just a body. Margaret Edson raises the theme of humanity and kindness and opposes scientific detachment.

Character Language

In her work, the playwright gave her characters a uniqueness through language. Vivian, a professor of English literature, uses a high language in her speech. It means that she builds her speech in a complex way and uses a complex vocabulary. Vivian also often quotes famous poets, such as Shakespeare and Donne, and often says in poetic form herself: “You cannot imagine how time … can be … so still. It hangs. It weighs. And yet there is so little of it” (Edson 11). Vivian uses her language to the fullest, which is not the case with Dr. Posner, who constantly abbreviates words to speed up his speech. Doctors often use professionalism without stopping and talking quickly, thinking that others automatically understand them; so does Vivian.

Play Atmosphere

The whole play takes place in the hospital, periodically interrupted by the main character’s memories, but there are no abrupt scene changes. The reader or viewer sees a typical hospital atmosphere: everyone around is dressed in white – “She wears two hospital gowns,” medical equipment is everywhere – “chest x-ray” (Edson 1-2). Various sounds also support this atmosphere, such as “diagnostic tests are suggested by light and sound” (Edson 3). However, these are all the sounds that are accompanied by constant silence, forcing the situation and emphasizing the presence of death.


The play, written by Margaret Edson, is very realistic and raises many problems that modern man also faces. The audience is shown the story of a well-known specialist in language and poetry in one’s environment. A woman perceives life as a means to achieve her goal, however, faced with an incurable disease, she rethinks her choice, but it is already too late. The writer teaches her readers a lot through a short but meaningful play.

Work Cited

Edson, Margaret. Wit: A Play. Media Production Services Unit, Manitoba Education, 2013.