Monday, October 25, 2010

Do you hear me!? Silence, I said silence! Silence! - a noisy nightmare from Federico García Lorca

Federico García Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba (1936) begins with noise:

SERVANT   I’ve got the pain of those bells right inside my head.

  PONCIA enters, eating bread and sausage.

PONCIA   Over two hours of gabbling and wailing. (11)

It ends with the bells again:

BERNARDA   No-one say a word!  She died a virgin.  Tell them to ring the bells twice at dawn.

Not quite – the actual end, a few lines later - not bells at all:

BERNARDA   I’ll have no tears!  We’ll look death in the face.  Be quiet!  (To another weeping daughter.)  Quiet I said!  You can cry when you’re alone.  We’ll drown in a sea of mourning.  She was Bernarda Alba’s youngest daughter and she dies a virgin.  Do you hear me!?  Silence, I said silence!  Silence! (64)

In between is a noisy female nightmare, a tyrannical mother, her five daughters, a senescent grandmother, all trapped in their house, trapped by Spanish mourning customs, but also by that inflexible, spirit-crushing mother.  They all tear each other to pieces.

BERNARDA   I said silence!  I could see this storm coming but I never thought it would break so soon.  You’ve poured hate on my heart like a hail storm.  But I’m not so old yet.  I’ve got five chains, one for each of you and these walls my father built to keep you in.  Not even the weeds will know of my desolation.  Now get out! (42)

The House with the Green Shutters and its nightmarish tyrant of a father begins to seem almost pleasant.  At least the character’s in Brown’s novels are allowed to leave the house.  The House of Bernarda Alba is worse, much worse.  Spain was worse.

BERNARDA   Quiet!  Behave yourselves!  Oh if only I had a bolt of lightning in my fist! (62)

One is tempted to read the play politically, if only because that lightning struck Lorca.  He was silenced – murdered by fascists – a month after he finished this play. Age 38.

Tranlsation by Rona Munro, 1999, Nick Hern Books.

Those interested in Lorca, and others, will want to visit Prof. Mayhew at ¡Bemsha SWING!.


  1. Wow, it's been quite a while since I read this (with Blood Wedding and Yerma). The lightning struck not just Lorca but his (and other writers') works as well through censorship.

  2. That classic New Directions paperback, right? I'm doing something strange here - reading a different translation, and reading the play by itself.

    I've never read Lorca before. He's bracing.

  3. Unfortunately not...I would have liked that version but I have the '90s FS&G paperback. As much as I liked the plays, I enjoyed the poetry even more. Highly recommended.