John Reddick). I find it a very difficult medium to jump into without much historical/social/etc. context and Lorca's plays accentuate this point. While the plot itself is very simple, the deeper metaphorical narrative is somewhat lost on me. I need John Reddick to come hold my hand and guide me through a deep sea of meaning and symbolism...but I will give it my best shot. Thankfully I am not entirely alone, reading the Penguin Modern Classic edition, there is a lovely introduction by Christopher Maurer, which I find to be incredibly helpful for at least establishing the most basic facts.
Supposedly Spanish theater in the 1920's was in crisis. Lorca considered "everything that is now in Spain is dead. Either the theater changes radically or it dies away forever. There is no other solution." I'm not entirely sure what he meant by this, but he took his place alongside Miguel de Unamuno and Ramon del Valle-Inclan to create a new form of minimalism that distilled plays down to their most essential elements, stripping away cluttered language and scenery, seeking to expose the more crucial and pertinent issues: faith, free will, personal identity, artistic creation and the conflict between the individual and society. Influenced by Shakespearian and classical tragedy (although with more of a Woody Allen feel than Euripides) Lorca's plays are painted with a spectrum of references and metaphors that go from the obvious to the obscure.
Within the first few lines of the play the plot is somewhat clearly outlined for us. The Bridegroom is about to get married to the Bride, who recently was dating a member of the Felix family, Leonardo. While that may be water under the bridge...the awkward variable is that the Felix family has murdered the Bridegroom's father and brother. As the Bridegroom makes his way to his vineyard (a status of his wealth and the reason the Bride has accepted the Bridegroom and rejected Leonardo) he picks up a knife and triggers his mother's PTSD:
Mother: (muttering as she looks for the knife) The knife! The knife! Damn all of them! And the monster who invented them!
Bridegroom: Lets change the subject.
Mother: And the shotguns and the pistols and the smallest knife- and even the pitchfork and the hoe!
Mother: Anything that can cut into a man's body! A beautiful man, with life like a flower in his mouth, who goes out to the vineyards or to his own olive groves, because they are his, inherited...
Bridegroom: (lowering his head) Mother, be quiet!
Mother: and that man does not return. Or if he does, it's only to have a palm placed over him or a dish or rock salt, so his body won't swell. I don't know how you dare to carry a knife on you! Or why I allow that serpent inside the cupboard!
The Mother definitely wears the pants in this relationship. While the Bride is not the Mother's first choice, the son has a tremendous burden of providing heirs that will firmly establish their lineage to perpetuity. While allowing her son to marry the Bride, she constantly hints that she was with another man, that there's something suspicious about her behavior and that perhaps she can't be trusted, foreshadowing the fateful trajectory both mother and son find themselves being swept along.
In the next scene we are introduced to Lorca's reinvention of the Greek chorus and the plot progresses almost sinisterly through song. As Leonardo's wife sits with her mother-in-law, who is gently rocking a child, they both sing dark and inappropriate lullabies akin to Marie's lullabies in Woyzeck only significantly longer and more disturbing.
Mother-in-law: Go to sleep, my rose- The horse begins to cry. His wounded hooves, His frozen mane, And in his eyes, A silver dagger. They went to the river, Down to the river! The blood was flowing Stronger than water.
I think Lorca is a little heavy handed with the chorus. The songs feel surreal and indecipherable. Why doesn't the horse want the water? Is the mare that awaits foreshadowing the Bride? Or is that too simplistic...Why is the horse crying?
Eventually Leonardo shows up and rescues the reader from having to parse out more oblique references and the play jumps back into a narrative dialogue. Leonardo was unaware that the Bride was about to be married...and even though he's been married to the Wife and they have a small child...something fishy is definitely going on. (Spoiler alert: he's a peeping tom and rides his horse to death every night to stand under the window of the Bride and watch her...)
When Leonardo realizes the Bride is about to get married he's annoyed but to add insult to injury his mother has to remind him how wealthy everyone else is; the Bride and Groom are from wealthy families and the joining of the families is cause for celebration for everyone except Leonardo. If he had been wealthy perhaps he would have married the Bride to begin with, but skipping a socioeconomic bracket and marrying beneath your status...while maybe ok for the prince and Cinderella, generally is frowned upon, at least in Spanish culture of the 1920's.
A little girl walks onto the set and starts rattling off everything the Groom has recently bought for the Bride at the local general store, everything of course of the finest quality. This only serves to make Leonardo more apoplectic, as his simmering rage begins to boil over the top his wife confusedly asks what's wrong (duh! He's obviously in love with the Bride but couldn't marry her because he's too poor!) and in a huff Leonardo races off to either engage in more peeping or sulk.
Next we meet the Bride, who seems anything but excited to be getting married. The appropriate spouse has been chosen and after he earned enough to finally buy that last vineyard, his wealth and status have reached the acceptable marriageable quotient...not exciting, not dangerous and mercurial like Leonardo, but bland and expected. While the Bride mulls over the upcoming doom she is about to tether herself to, her maid mentions that someone has been standing under the tree by her window and suggests it's the Groom...but the Bride knows it's Leonardo...and the seed of possibility is sewn in her disconsolate heart.
Eventually it is the day of the wedding and the chorus is excited. They sing the refrain "The bride is awakening" over and over interjected between comparisons between the Bridegroom and golden flowers...or emphasizing the purity of the virginal Bride.
As the wedding day progresses the Wife realizes she has been thrown aside. Leonardo refuses to ride with her in their carriage but has to ride his old nag, free and alone, so he can work on the appropriate degree of rage mixed with the appropriate amount of charm. The rest of the Second Act is a frenetic mix of the Bride being despondent and distant while the Groom tries to enact any amount of excitement regarding their nuptials. The Wife is running around looking for Leonardo, then someone realizes the Bride is not in her room napping after all...and the unimaginable has come to pass- the Bride has run off with Leonardo!
Act Three feels like a concoction of Greek tragedy, naturalism and a Salvador Dali painting. Three woodcutters stand around talking about the fact that the Bride has run off with Leonardo and the Groom has saddled his horse and run after them...their escape is futile but that does not negate the genuine honesty of the action:
First Woodcutter: You must follow the course of your blood.
Second Woodcutter: But blood that is spilled is soaked up by the earth.
Third Woodcutter: What of it? Better to be dead with no blood than alive with it festering.
Next the Moon and a Beggar woman/Death consort on the unlikely survival of the lovers. The Moon agrees to assist in the slow and painful demise of Leonardo and the Bridegroom. The Beggar woman tells the Moon to shine on "his vest and open the buttons, then the daggers will know their way." The Moon agrees and ups the ante:
Moon: Let them be a long time dying. Let blood hiss softly through my fingers. See my ashen valleys waken, Anxious for this trembling fountain.
Before the ultimate climax, the Bride and Leonardo are seen racing through the forest and stop to decide who is the most responsible for their elopement. The Bride begs Leonardo to go back, to give her the gun and she can fight it out alone with the Bridegroom...Leonardo while not about to leave does not take responsibility for what has happened. Like all men in this play he is a passive victim, willing to suffer the consequences of fate but not without piping up a tiny offering of his lack of agency:
Leonardo:...Because the blame's not mine! The blame belongs to the earth, And to the smell that comes from your breasts and from your braids.
Eventually their dialogue turns from the "love sonnet" genre to the "I hate myself for loving you" genre. The Bride tells Leonardo that she must obviously be crazy for loving him, she doesn't want to share his bed or his food...but simultaneously longs to be with him...but since they're talking about it, the Groom really was a great guy, super honest and genuine...at this point they both realize that there is no escape. They have made a terrible and hasty decision to run away, the Bride still in her wedding dress...during the wedding celebration! The timing is so bad... but now what? The only option is to try and outmatch each other with their love and affection and demand to be the one who dies first. The Bride realizes they probably won't kill her and instead she will live out the rest of her life a social pariah, someone to throw apple cores at while laughing about her unfortunate but self inflicted misery. Leonardo promises the only way they will get to her is if he is dead...but considering the Moon and Death are already guiding the Bridegroom through the underbrush...his oath doesn't hold much water. And the next time we see the Bride she is alone, preparing the spend the rest of her life begging people to kill her as her wedding dress slowly turns to rags around her shoulders.
While the women in this play have slightly more agency than the men, it is really the social constructs of Spanish culture that has become the new Aphrodite preparing to teach Hippolytus a lesson. The lovers have defied the God/Social strictures and the only punishment is a slow and painful death that begins the first time the lovers lay eyes on each other. They can never be together, but rather than families feuding and a secret love affair, it is not their families keeping the lovers apart but the vague expectation of a pecuniary culture.
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