History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Spanish Pre-WWII< History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now
Federico García LorcaEdit
Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) is the dominant figure of early to middle 20th century Spanish theatre for such intensely poetic dramas as "Bodas de sangre" (Blood wedding, 1933), "Yerma" (1934), and "La casa de Bernarda Alba" (The house of Bernarda Alba, 1936).
Time: 1930s. Place: Spain.
A bridegroom's mother asks her neighbor about a rumor concerning the bride, when she was courted by another man. The neighbor confirms the rumor, specifying that the man's name is Leonardo Felix. The mother is abashed at this news, as the Felix family has been feuding with hers for a long time, because of whose enmity she lost a husband and a son. The bridegroom's mother and the bride's father agree on the financial aspects of the wedding match. A woman servant asks the bride about a man heard talking to her at her window the previous night, knowing it was Leonardo, but the bride denies it. During the wedding preparation at the mother's house, the bride is seen throwing her wreath down in frustration. The first invited guest to arrive at the wedding is Leonardo. The servant sternly reproaches the bride for appearing in front of him in her petticoat. "Today is a day of forgiveness," the bride's father points out, to which the bridegroom's mother responds: "I'll put up with it, but I don't forgive." The bride looks sullen. When the bridegroom hugs her, she asks him to let go. The mother takes her son apart to advise him during the course of his married life. "If she's acting foolish or touchy, caress her in a way that will hurt her a little," she counsels. As more guests arrive, the bride's father discovers he cannot find his daughter, nor can anyone. Leonardo's wife rushes in with awful news. "They've run away," she announces. In the bridgroom mother's view, the "hour of blood" has struck. Surrounded by his friends, the bridegroom swears this oath: "Do you see this arm? Well, it's not my arm. It's my brother's arm, and my father's arm, and that of all the dead in my family." Soon afterwards, the bridegroom catches up to Leonardo and fights him. They kill each other. When Leonardo's wife wants to learn more about the event, her mother becomes angry. "You, back to your house," she commands. "Brave and alone to your house, to grow old and to weep, but behind closed doors." On seeing the bride return alone, the bridegroom's mother wishes never to recognize her again, "so that I won't sink my teeth in her throat," she adds.
Time: 1930s. Place: Spain.
Yerma has been married for two years to Juan and is yearning for child. A neighbor arrives announcing her own pregnancy. "In just five months!" Yerma exclaims. One year later, Yerma consults an old woman, who asks her whether she trembles with desire when her husband's near. "No," answers Yerma, "I have never noticed it." Once she did, but that was with Victor, a neighbor. After five years of marriage, still nothing! Juan complains she goes out too much. "The sheep in the fold and women in the house!" he exclaims. After receiving a good price from Juan for his possessions, Victor goes away to another village. Yerma is all the more inclined to stay out of the house longer than Juan wishes. In answer to her husband's continued complaints, she says: "You and your people imagine you're the only ones who look out for honor, and don't realize my people have nothing to conceal. Come on now. Come near and smell my clothes. Come close. See if you can find an odor that's not yours, not from your body." Things do not improve with the passing of time. Juan is pushed to the extreme. "This is the last time I'll put up with your continual lament for dark things, outside of life, for things in the air, for things that haven't happened and that neither you nor I can control, for things that don't matter to me," he warns. Yerma is outraged. She surprises Juan by grabbing him by the throat and not releasing him until he dies.
"The house of Bernarda Alba"Edit
Time: 1930s. Place: Spain.
Following her husband's recent death, Bernarda Alba intends to tighten the reins over her five daughters. She asks daughter #3, Adela, to give her a fan, then throws it down, too bright for the occasion. She keeps her demented mother locked in her room. She strikes her eldest, Angustias, on learning she peeped about looking at men on the day of the funeral. She permits none of her daughters to have suitors. Magdalena and hump-backed Martirio, daughters #2 and 4, respectively, discuss Pepe's courting of Angustias. Although Martirio pretends to be glad, Magdalena knows that neither she nor Adela, the youngest, are happy about it and that Pepe's real objective is money. The four eldest seem resigned, but Adela, enraged, is not content with their living conditions. "I don't want my skin to be like yours," she says to Magdalena. When Bernarda sees Angustias wearing powder, she roughly wipes it off her face. Late at night, Angustias is heard by Martirio to speak to Pepe at her bedroom window. A servant reports this to Adela, who does not believe it. "Too bad that body of yours will go to waste!" the servant comments. Bernarda learns that someone has stolen Pepe's picture from Angustias and she intends to find out who. It is Martirio, pretending it was just a joke. Alone with Adela, Martirio accuses her of speaking with Pepe even later than he does with Angustias. Bernarda begins to entertain the possibility of marrying her eldest, expecting negotiations to begin in a few days. Late at night, Martirio warns Adela to keep away from Pepe, more for herself than for Angustias. Adela defies her. "I can't stand this horrible house after tasting his mouth," she says. One night, Pepe's whistling is heard. Martirio cries out at the sound. Bernarda enters in a rage. She takes out a shotgun and leaves the room in quest of Pepe. A shot is heard. She comes back to say he is dead, at which Adela rushes out, but in fact Bernarda knows she missed him. Hearing a strange noise, the family enter Adela's room and discover her hanging from a rope.
Almost as intense as Lorca is "La malquerida" (The passion flower, 1913) by Jacinto Benavente (1866-1954), more in the realistic style of Gerhart Hauptmann, marked by strong social commentary amid the lower social classes and peasantry.
"The passion flower"Edit
Time: 1910s. Place: Rural Spain.
Acacia has turned away her intended, Norbert, a cousin of hers, and no one understands why. She is now engaged to be married with Faustino, son to Tio Eusebio, a friend of Esteban, her stepfather. Acacia's mother, Raimunda, observes a strangeness in the relation between her daughter of a previous marriage and her husband. "He never comes nor goes without bringing her a present," observes Raimunda, but yet "she would never let him kiss her even as a child, much less now." After the two had spent all day together, Raimunda informs Acacia that Faustino has been shot to death. Although no one saw the murder, many in the village suspect Norbert is the culprit, from spite at losing Acacia. He is accused of murder and put on trial but is judged to be innocent. Nevertheless, Tio Eusebio has a hard time preventing his four sons from avenging Faustino's death on Norbert's head. Tio Eusebio tells Raimunda and Esteban that he believes Norbert hired someone to kill his son, based on comments of a servant in Esteban's house, Rubio, who has been blurting out suspicious matters at a tavern while in a drunken state. Wishing to settle the matter in her own mind, Raimunda sends for Norbert, who reveals he knows who is the culprit but refuses to say anything out of fear of retaliation from the murderer. She puts pressure on him by mentioning Rubio's suspicion of someone being hired to do it. He confesses that Rubio bragged he was now "master of the house" after murdering on his master's behalf. Raimunda is stunned. She had heard her daughter called the passion flower; now she wants to know why he left her. "They told me to leave her because she was promised to Faustino," he answers. They threatened to kill him if he refused, then killed Faustino so that Norbert could be blamed. "The passion flower!" exclaims Raimunda when she next sees Acacia. "Your honor is a scorn and a byword, bandied about in men's mouths." Her daughter denies having done anything wrong. "Why was it you never called him father?" she asks concerning her stepfather. "Because a child has only one father," answers Acacia, swearing that she hated him as soon as he entered the house for following her around "like a cat", though always successfully defending herself. When Tio Eusebio's boys arrive with guns to kill Norbert, Raimunda calls Esteban and accuses him of murder. Though he denies it, she takes out a gun to defend Norbert. The boys succeed in wounding him, but, because of Esteban's interference, are unable to kill him. Esteban is willing to give up, but his wife reminds him that such a decision will ruin the honor of the house. Instead, she wants to send Acacia away to her sister-in-law. Acacia overhears this and refuses to go, threatening to denounce her stepfather, but when he offers to surrender, she calls him back and kisses him. "He is the only man I ever loved," she finally admits. Hearing Raimunda call aloud "murderer", he takes Acacia by the hand. When his wife gets in his way, he shoots her. As she lays dying, she confidently says to her daughter: "This man cannot harm you now."
Gregorio Martinez SierraEdit
A more quiet drama, "Cancion de cuna" (The cradle song, 1911) by Gregorio Martinez Sierra (1881-1948), is also worthy of note.
"The cradle song"Edit
Time: 1910s. Place: Madrid, Spain.
On the prioress' birthday in a convent of enclosed Dominican nuns, a cradle is left bearing a baby girl. An attached letter from the mother begs the prioress to keep her baby instead of sending her to an orphanage. The nuns' attending physician proposes to adopt her, but the prioress consents to have the wife of the gardener care for the infant's wants. Although happy in their midst for eighteen years, Teresa decides to leave the nuns and marry Antonio, an architect. To Sister Joanna of the Cross, her favorite surrogate mother, she says she was first seduced by his voice, "a voice that seems as if it had been talking to one ever since one's birth," she says. Sister Joanna is frightened for her, having always thought of earthy love "as a flower that one finds at the side of the road" sure to pass away. Antonio arrives to speak behind a grille and curtain. "It is impossible to know Teresa and not love you," he declares on hearing Sister Joanna. Alone with Teresa, he says that she has changed his entire outlook on life. "In the innermost chamber of my soul was stored the love I have for you, and, if you had not come and opened the door yourself and helped me find it, I would have passed all my life in ignorance without knowing anything was there," he declares. "One day I heard your voice, and, summoned by you, I searched through the castle and in the other courts began to find- ah! under how many cobwebs all covered up with dust- humility and devotion, warmth of heart, pity and faith in so many holy things." When all the other sisters arrive, he is ready to take her away. "See, we give her to you with a great love and may you make her happy," says the prioress. "I answer her happiness with my life," he answers. Before going, Teresa embraces Sister Joanna with passion. Left alone, Sister Joanna collapses on her knees beside an empty chair.
Ramón del Valle-InclánEdit
More modern in approach is Ramón del Valle-Inclán (1866-1936) with "Divinas palabras" (Divine words, 1933).
Time: 1920s. Place: Spain.
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Juana La Reina is a beggar on fairgrounds, sometimes drawing good money out of pity thanks to the pitiable sight of her hydrocephalic dwarf, Laureano. She dies, after which a family quarrel breaks out between Mari-Gaila, wife to Juana's brother, Pedro, a sexton, and Marica, Juana's sister, as both consider Laureano worth a goodly amount of money in their begging activities. The dispute is settled by the mayor, who proposes that the two women alternate each week their taking possesion of him. However, Mari-Gaila treacherously takes off with the dwarf. Marica is incensed. Laureano likes to drink brandy, and is served only too well by Miguelin, a pot mender, who out of carelessness gives him a too heavy dose of it. After convulsing, the dwarf dies. This does not prevent Mari-Gaila from continuing her trek across villages, often accompanied by unsavory characters. Pedro becomes jealous of her suspicious relations with men and threatens to kill her. In a drunken stupor, he attempts to seduce his own daughter, who succeeds in defending herself. As Mari-Gaila arrives for the dwarf's funeral, she is soon in trouble with the villagers, who find her in a field with Septimo Miau, a suspicious character in her entourage. She is harassed by the villagers back to her house, to Pedro's shame, who throws himself from the roof, but without harming himself. To the threatening villagers, he cites in Spanish Christ's words to the men accusing a whore: "He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone," but without effect. In esperation he repeats the same sentence in Latin. The people, though understanding little, are yet sensitive to the divine words, deciding to move away and leave them in peace.
Alejandro Casona (1903-1965) scores an artistic success with "La barca sin perscador" (The boat without a fisherman, 1945).
"The boat without a fisherman"Edit
Time: 1940s. Place: USA and Sweden.
Richard Jordan, a financier, is assailed by plummeting stocks, nervous investors, and friends who betray him. To help him out, a gentleman in black enters while time stands still. Since murder is the only commandment Richard has not yet broken, the gentleman proposes one to complete his damnation. He refuses. The gentleman counters by saying his business dealings already have indirectly killed many people, which he acknowledges. "I can't be ruled by sentimentality," Richard says. "The heart is a business adviser." At random, the gentleman proposes a fisherman in a far-off village who has just bought a boat. Should Richard be willing to accept his offer, the tipsy fisherman will be blown by the wind off a cliff. "Why do you hesitate? A simple effort of the will, and all your fortune and power will return to you immediately," the gentleman insinuates. He offers him in addition the ruin of his worst enemy. Richard signs a paper and it is already over. To his surprise, he hears a woman cry out the dead man's name. "If only I hadn't heard that scream!" exclaims Richard. His shares rise dramatically. Two years later in the humble fisherman's cottage, Frida is forced to pay the land-rent of her widowed sister, Estela, so that she may keep the boat. Estela suspects her sister's husband, Christian, killed her husband, appearing in her dream, "like a black bolt of lightning against red blood on a cliff," she says. "You haven't regained your own peace of mind while destroying mine," says Frida while sobbing on her way out. Their grandmother bemoans the loss of a man in the house. "When you have him near, even the walls seem more secure. If they don't look at you, you don't even realize you're not a woman," she says. On this scene of poverty, Richard appears. He is instantly befriended by the two women. "What did you come seeking? A friend? Well, here you have two. Do you believe you owe us something? Well, you've more than paid us just by having come," says the grandmother. At table, Estela interrupts her reciting of the Lord's prayer. "It's a lie. I have not forgiven. I cannot forgive," she says. Two weeks later, as Richard is about to head back home, Frida bursts in, crying out that Christian has had an accident. "When passing near the cliffs, he was caught in a squall and a great wave threw him against a jagged rock that tore into his chest," she announces. In his final hour, he asks for Estela's forgiveness. Richard is stunned, at which time the black gentleman returns to remind him of their contract. "I have promised to kill and I shall kill," Richard tells him. "Who?" he asks, surprised. "The very one who signed that paper," he answer. When Estela returns, Richard, having lost his entire fortune, decides to remain with her. She starts the fire by burning the contract.