Federico Garcia Lorca and the Renewal of Spanish Theatre

Federico García Lorca (1898 - 1936)

Federico García Lorca (1898 – 1936)

On June 5, 1898, Spanish poet, playwright, and theatre director Federico Garcia Lorca was born. He is among the leading figures of the Generación del 27, which includes poets such as Vicente Aleixandre, Dámaso Alonso, Rafael Alberti, Pedro Salinas, Jorge Guillén and Gerardo Diego. Together with Ramón del Valle-Inclán, he renewed the Spanish theatre, which was frozen in late Romantic formulas and flat naturalism.Black are the horses.

The horseshoes are black.
On the dark capes glisten
stains of ink and wax.
Their skulls are leaden,
which is why they do not weep.
With their patent leather souls
they come down the street.
– Federico Garcia Lorca, “Romance de la Guardia Civil Española” from Primer romancero gitano (1928)

Federico García Lorca – Youth in Granada

Federico García Lorca was born Federico del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús García Lorca in Fuente Vaqueros, Granada, Spain. His father was a wealthy noble farmer, patriarchal but liberal-minded. His mother was a village schoolteacher interested in music and literature. In 1909 the family moved to the provincial capital of Granada, where the father rented a respectable house with a garden in the city centre. During his school years Federico received music lessons and he became so enthusiastic about music that he considered studying music after graduating from school. However, the father was in favour of studying law at the University of Granada, and so the seventeen-year-old enrolled not only in the Faculty of Law but also in the Faculty of Philosophy. As a student, Federico spent most of his time in the artistic and literary circles of the provincial capital and made his first attempts at writing. The poetic models of these years were Rubén Darío the creator of Modernismo and the pioneers of Spanish poetry in the 20th century, the Andalusians Antonio Machado and Juan Ramón Jiménez, whose influence was reflected in the first volume of poetry by the young Federico, published in 1918 under the title Impresiones y paisajes (Impressions and landscapes), whose printing was financed by his father.

The Residencia des Estudiantes

Lorca set off for Madrid in the spring of 1919 to complete his studies at the university, in accordance with his father’s wishes, but also with the intention of taking part in artistic and intellectual life in the capital. He moved into the Residencia de Estudiantes, an institution founded in 1910 on the model of the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, according to liberal and cosmopolitan principles, where he found not only the ideal atmosphere for studying and writing, but also for friendly and intellectual exchange. At the Residencia he soon became the centre of a wide circle of friends, which included the young Catalan Salvador Dalí,[1] who studied painting at the Madrid San Fernando Academy of Art, and the budding filmmaker Luis Buñuel. Lorca, who published his second volume of poetry Libro de poemas (Book of Poems) in 1921, soon found his way into Madrid’s theatre life. Despite a first failure with the modernist play El maleficio de la mariposa (The spell of the butterflies), Lorca wrote the Tragicomedia de don Cristóbal y la señá Rosita in 1922, a farce in the style of French puppet theatre, which, although it did not make it onto the stage, is considered a finger exercise to the later work La zapatera prodigiosa (The prodigious shoemaker, 1930). During these intense years up to 1925, he also wrote the poems that were published in 1927 under the title Canciones, the modernist drama Mariana Pineda, which was also performed in 1927, and above all the first drafts for the volume of poetry Romancero gitano, which appeared in 1928 in the publishing house of the Revista de Occidente published by Ortega y Gasset and suddenly made Federico García Lorca famous. The first creative period of the poet culminates in the poems of the Romancero, in which the traditional folk song – romance – is given new content and formally expanded. On a personal level, the success of the Romancero coincided with the end of his friendship with Dalí, who moved to Paris in the spring of 1929 to work with Buñuel on the film .

New York Poetry

In 1929 he travelled with a friend of the family, Fernando de los Ríos, via Paris and London to New York. There he settled in a dormitory at the University of Columbia and took some English courses, which he did not attend regularly. In the summer he spent several weeks with American friends in Eden Mills, Vermont, where he worked on his New York impressions, the later poems of the cycle Poeta en Nueva York, and then returned to New York and his student room in Columbia. In a letter to his parents, he wrote: “Have started something for the theater that can become interesting. You have to think of the theatre of the future, what is now in Spain is dead. Either the theatre will be radically changed or it will die out. There is no other solution“.  On October 29, 1929 he experienced the historic stock market crash on Wall Street,[2] which he thematized in Poeta en Nueva York. In the spring of 1930 Lorca travelled to Cuba, where he was received stormy and celebrated as the author of the Romancero gitano. To his family he wrote: “Do not forget that in America a poet is more than a prince in Europe.

Back in Spain

Federico García Lorca was homosexual, but he struggled with it and hid his sexual orientation from his family. During this time, especially in Cuba, he began to live out his homosexuality more openly. In the spring of 1930, Lorca set off to return to Spain, where the political situation had become explosive following the fall of the dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera on 18 January 1930. “Every day I read with great interest the reports on the situation in Spain. This is a volcano“, he wrote to the family in the spring. When Lorca arrived in Granada on 1 July 1930, the political situation in the country had changed considerably. The monarchy of Alfonso XIII, under whose rule the poet’s childhood and youth had been spent, was tottering, followed by the abdication of the king and the proclamation of the Republic.

Unprecedented Success

Lorca immediately took over the management of the travelling theatre La Barraca, founded by Madrid students at the end of 1931 to bring the theatre to the villages. As a director, actor, set designer, musician or stagehand, he travelled the country with La Barraca, performing the works of Cervantes,[3Lope de Vega,[4] Tirso de Molina and Calderón [5] on improvised stages to an audience as astonished as it was attentive. In the summer of 1932 he completed his own play Bodas de sangre (Blood Wedding), a great success for the author.  When social tensions erupted in the Revolution of Asturias in October 1934,  Lorca wrote one of his most famous poems, Llanto a Ignacio Sánchez Mejías (Crying to Ignacio Sánchez Mejías), in honour of his bullfighter friend Sánchez Mejías, who was killed by a bull during a corrida in the summer. Lorca’s breakthrough in 1935 was unprecedented. Not only in the field of theatre, where Yerma competed with Bodas de sangre and La zapatera prodigiosa in the performance of Lola Membrives at the Teatro Español,but also the Romancero gitano was the best-selling poetry collection of the century with six editions.

Spanish Civil War

“You have always been smart. You have always looked for the worst in people, and have been quick to notice when people are up to no good… But in the case of your children, you are blind.”
– Federico Garcia Lorca, The House of Bernarda Alba (1936)

In June 1936 Lorca had finished his latest play La casa de Bernarda Alba (Bernarda Alba’s House), and before his friends scattered off for the summer retreat, he read his work to them. He too wanted to spend the summer far from Madrid with his parents in Granada, but he repeatedly postponed his departure, which then took place on the evening of July 13th, certainly in a hurry due to the events. In Granada, Lorca went to the Huerta de San Vicente, a simple country house near the city where the family used to spend the summer. On the 18th of July the feared coup d’état took place across the country, led by the officers of the Moroccan garrison led by General Franco. The military uprising did not spread throughout Spain, and the country fell apart into two hostile parts: The Spanish Civil War had begun. Granada, like Seville or Cordoba, was one of the Andalusian cities where the putschists won.

“Death due to War-related Injuries”

When the terror unleashed by the putschists against all the Popular Front supporters boded ill, the poet left his parents’ country house and sought refuge in the city with the Rosales family, who were friends of his. Although their sons were leaders in the local Falange, the fascist organisation involved in the military coup, they could not prevent their friend Lorca from being arrested on 16 August with a large police operation from their house. He was taken to the Gobierno Civil, the headquarters of the insurgent military. From there he was transported during the night to Víznar, in the vicinity of Granada, and at dawn he was shot on the road to Alfacar, along with three other republicans, presumably on 18 or 19 August, by the large landowner Juan Luis Trescastro. He was buried right at the roadside. On the death certificate was noted “death due to war-related injuries“. The murder of Federico García Lorca was a social taboo in Spain until 1975.

Philip Levine reads Federico Garcia Lorca | LIVE from the NYPL, [11]

References and Further Reading:

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