Federico Garcia Lorca

(From Brooklyn College’s The House of Bernarda Alba. Cathy’s concept for the show is downright creepy and really cool.)

Federico Garcia Lorca was possessed of an intrinsic innocence; portrayals of him as “childlike” are quite accurate. He loved all, accepted all, and asked nothing less in return. He was intensely devoted to his craft. He wrote early, often, and about everything. He embraced avant-garde movements like surrealism, but publicly “disavowed any link to revolutionary art movements,” according to Leslie Stainton in Lorca: a Dream of Life. He was influenced by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali. His first love was music: he excelled as a pianist, loved the music of his native Andalusian Spain, and once wrote that “[n]ever in poetry will I be able to say as much as I would have said in music.” Another lifelong love was puppet theater. As a child he was so enamored with the theater that he bought a miniature theater and invented stories to be performed on its stage. He and his friends routinely used cardboard cutouts to “put on a puppet show.”

Mediterranean theater has made extensive use of puppets since it was under Muslim rule. Islamic law generally forbade the use of human actors, so puppets were used to breathe life into their representations. Inspired by Andalusian tradition, Lorca wrote his first stage play, The Butterfly’s Evil Spell. It was written for puppets but performed by humans, and failed. Only later did Lorca achieve theatrical success.

Lorca was utterly apolitical – to be sure, he had leftist sympathies and dreamed of a better life and society for all. But the nuts and bolts of policy were, to him, “boring.” Furthermore, the realization that he was a homosexual man in a country insistent on strict masculinity further disinclined him to associate with specific political movements. In 1923, General Miguel Primo de Riviera had staged a coup d’etat, which promised that the country would become “a man’s movement.”  Lorca, in contrast, abhorred violence, and was horrified by what he saw as the sepulchral achievements of WWI and the Spanish Civil War.

Enter General Francisco Franco. His army won battle after battle for Spanish land. He “routinely decapitated…prisoners and displayed their severed heads as trophies.” He received military and financial assistance from Mussolini and Hitler. An internal attempt to oust him was unsuccessful, and he took Madrid in 1939, ensuring that all of Spain was his. As one Lorca biographer wrote, “four decades of dictatorship followed.”

Nicholas Round writes that Lorca was arrested not merely for alleged leftist activities, but for the all-too common error of being in “the wrong place at the wrong time” during a war, and “ex illis est” – being thought of as “Other” partly because of his homosexuality. Though he fled to a Loyalist household, he was seized in a daylight raid led by Ramon Luis Alonso, who held a grudge against Lorca; Alonso had sneeringly referred to him as “the poet with the swollen head.” Alonso attributed Lorca’s arrest to his writing: “[h]e’s done more damage with a pen than others have with a pistol.”

Lorca was imprisoned, and shuttled to various government buildings. Ultimately, he was handcuffed to another prisoner, led out to an olive grove, and executed by firing squad. The works he left behind “encapsulate the split that characterized Lorca himself: his profound and deeply personal conviction that without sorrow, joy was inconceivable; without death, life incomprehensible.”