Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 719

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In the three plays—Blood Wedding, Yerma (1934), and The House of Bernarda Alba (1936)—that culminated his poetic and dramatic career, Federico García Lorca succeeded brilliantly where a host of modern poet-dramatists had failed; he created a true poetry of the theater. The twentieth century is dotted with half-successful attempts at poetic drama by playwrights who lacked the requisite verbal facility for writing poetry or by versifiers whose theatrical efforts are difficult to accomplish onstage. Even successful verse dramatists such as T. S. Eliot, Christopher Fry, and Archibald MacLeish offer self-consciously “poetic” and “literary” efforts that lack the impact or even the “poetry” of the best prose dramas of the period. García Lorca, who was both a great lyric poet and a practical man of the theater, fused all of the elements of the stage—language, movement, ritual, color, lighting, spectacle, and music—into a single dramatic presentation.

Much of the power of these plays comes from the way García Lorca combines a complex, sophisticated theatrical style with extremely simple dramatic situations. Although the original impulse for Blood Wedding came from a real incident, the basic plot—a bride stolen from her wedding by a lover—is a perennial one. Leonardo Felíx and the Bride are victims of their own uncontrollable emotions. He has a wife and child; she fervently desires the social and financial stability that marriage to the Bridegroom will bring. Since the entire society favors that match, they know that their passionate act will have fatal consequences. These logical and moral considerations, however, are irrelevant to them in the face of their powerful, passionate feelings.

García Lorca develops and expands the meanings of this tragedy with a dynamic synthesis of realistic, poetic, and symbolic theatrical devices. On the realistic level, he presents vivid, intense characterizations. The Bridegroom’s Mother is an impressive, anguished woman who, having lost both husband and son, expects tragedy, but resolutely pursues the family destiny all the same. The Bridegroom is likable, sensitive, but hesitant, perhaps frightened by his pending marriage to a woman who is more strong-willed and passionate than he. The Bride’s passion for Leonardo and clear disappointment at having lost him are evident from her first scene; her fervent desire for security and social respectability are doomed from the start and her troubled attempt to keep her emotions under control excites fear and pity in the audience. Leonardo—the only character in the play individualized by a name—is vital, volatile, frustrated, and overtly sexual; the intensity of his passion and the power of his attraction suggest energies and drives that are more than human. The Bride refers to him as “a dark river, choked with brush, that brought near me the undertone of its rushes and its whispered song.”

All of this realistic characterization and conflict are then reinforced and extended by García Lorca’s use of color, light, music, poetry, and symbolism. Even in the most realistic scenes there are patterns of imagery, both verbal and visual, that underscore the play’s action. The Bridegroom’s Mother broods over knives. Leonardo’s mother-in-law sings a lullaby with images of “frozen horses” and “blood flowing like water.” The Bride wears black. Leonardo identifies himself with his horse—a traditional symbol of sexual passion—and the Bridegroom is likened to “a dove/ with his breast a firebrand.”

The masterful third act offers a full realization of García Lorca’s stage poetry. The relative realism of the first two acts gives way to a stylized forest landscape, and symbolic figures replace “real” ones. The final violence is previewed by a “debate” between the Moon—a sexually ambiguous young man—and the Beggar Woman, an image of death. The Moon stands for the primal emotion that has driven the fated couple together; the Beggar Woman represents the inevitable consequence of that passion. The scene culminates with the last meeting between Leonardo and the Bride as the realistic and the symbolic fuse into a powerful acknowledgment of unbridled love, desperate loss, and heroic defiance. The play’s finale, when the bodies of Leonardo and the Bridegroom are brought in to be mourned by a stage full of bereaved women, leaves the audience completely drained of emotion—a tragic catharsis reminiscent of the greatest classical dramas.

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