The House of Bernarda Alba

The House of Bernarda Alba Study Guide

The House of Bernarda Alba was written in 1936 during a flurry of creative activity for Lorca. He liked to say that his plays took years to form in his mind, and then a matter of weeks to write. Though this claim is not represented in the process of all his plays, it certainly rings true here.

The first inspiration for The House of Bernarda Alba was a woman who lived in one of the villages where Lorca grew up. This woman, whose name was Frasquita Alba, had five unmarried daughters whom Lorca would see walking sadly through the village. But as with all of Lorca's real-life inspirations, his goal was less to reproduce the inspiration than to use it as an archetype and symbol, putting it to use to explore his prevailing themes of repression, sexuality, and tyranny.

Lorca had been writing about women for a long time, both because that subject matter allowed him to explore the above themes and because the theater scene in Spain had more female actors than male actors. He swore that this play – which has no men on stage at all – was going to eschew his poetic and symbolist aesthetic in exchange for "not one drop of poetry! Reality! Pure realism!" He sub-titled the play, "Drama of Women in the Villages of Spain," and notes that the work should resemble "a photographic document." Yet despite his claims, Lorca's natural poetic sense and command of musical rhythm still create a highly stylized play suffused with symbols. However, unlike his earlier plays, this play is heavily indebted to the use of silence and shows a notable lack of the lyrical language for which he had been known.

Lorca never got to see his play produced, as he was assassinated by the conservative Nationals in the Spanish Civil War before it could even be accepted by a company. The play's depiction of tyranny evokes the tyranny of Franco's party that led to Lorca's own death. And yet what makes the play so timeless is its near-perfection, the way almost every line works in the service of its themes and how the atmosphere grows more and more claustrophobic, so that an audience leaves not with mere ideas of repression but with a sense of the experience of it.