Federico Garcia Lorca
The greatest Spanish poet and playwright of the twentieth century,
Federico Garcia Lorca was executed at the age of 38 by Franco’s
Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War. Two months earlier, he
had finished a first draft of his best play, "The House of
Bernarda Alba," telling a journalist that "my work has
The precocious son of a liberal landowner, Lorca was born June
As a teenager, he studied music and wrote poems, reciting them in
local cafes. He attended the University of Granada, majoring in
philosophy and law, but gave them up for art, literature, and drama.
In 1919 he transferred to the University of Madrid, and the following
year his first play opened in Madrid, "The Butterfly’s Evil
Spell." It closed after one performance. At the age of 23,
he published his first volume of poetry, and seven years later "The
Gypsy Ballads," which made him famous. In 1929 he studied English
at Columbia University in New York, where he continued his interest
in drama in association with local theater groups. His book of poetry
about his experiences there, "Poet in New York," was not
published until after his death.
Returning to Spain in 1931, he started his own theater company
composed mostly of students, "La Barraca," touring the
country with free performances of Spanish classics by such writers
as Cervantes, Calderon, and Lope de Vega. They also performed "rural
tragedies," by Lorca, including "Blood Wedding" (1933)
and "Yerma," (1934). "The House of Bernarda Alba"
was completed in draft in 1936.
"Blood Wedding" is a lyrical work that concerns a woman
who, on the night of her wedding, elopes with her lover, whose family
is engaged with hers in a blood feud. "Yerma" is another
poetic tragedy, about a woman who yearns for a child, but whose
husband is sterile. She cannot leave him because of the strict moral
code of her rural society that also prevents her from turning to
another man. The only course left for her is to murder her husband.
Both plays were produced in New York in the fifties, at Circle in
the Square Theatre, directed by Jose Quintero.
"The House of Bernarda Alba," revived most recently at
the National Theatre in London, starred Penelope Wilton in the title
role. A moralistic, domineering mother of five daughters, she keeps
them confined within the house, each sexually frustrated and yearning
to escape the mother’s tyranny. Most tragic is the fate of the youngest
daughter, who sneaks out at night to meet her lover. When their
illicit love is discovered by Bernarda, the daughter commits suicide,
believing her mother caused the death of her lover.
In an earlier revival in London, Joan Plowright appeared as Bernarda,
a role Lorca wrote for Spanish tragic actress Margarita Xirgu.
"La Barraca," his touring company, also performed two
farces by Lorca, "The Prodigious Cobbler’s Wife" (1930)
and "The Love of Don Perlimplin with Belisa in her Garden"
(1933). His devotion to surrealism, which he shared with such friends
as filmmaker Luis Bunel and artist Salvadore Dali, is illustrated
by two of his plays, "When Five Years Pass" and "The
Audience." Dali created the set for Lorca’s historical verse
drama, "Mariana Pineda " (1929), which treated Granada’s
19th century martyr, executed for conspiring against
tyrant Ferdinand VII.
His plays’ political implications, his liberal leanings, his being
a homosexual, and his anti-Franco activities all contributed to
Lorca’s books being burned and to his own execution. In the early
morning of August 19, 1936, Franco’s men shot him in a field at
the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and threw him into an unmarked
Although Lorca’s writings were banned during his lifetime, and
burned in Granada, where even speaking his name was forbidden, his
works have grown steadily in popularity since his death. The plays
are performed in Spain and in translation throughout the world.
A recent production at the Arcola Theatre in 2008 in London by the
Baraca group celebrated Lorca with a surrealistic play that incorporated
segments of his works. The group of young performers takes its name
from the theater company founded by Lorca in 1931.