Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1059

By the time of his death, Lorca was widely considered one of the greatest poets of the modern era, perhaps of all time. Since The House of Bernarda Alba differs from Lorca's other works in his attempt to employ a more realistic style, critics have differed in their assessment of the play's value in Lorca's canon. Most have found it a work of real theatrical power, demonstrating Lorca's versatility as a writer. A minority, however, have suggested that the work pales in comparison to Lorca's more lyric poetry and drama.

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Lorca's assassination was a shocking tragedy, not only to his Spanish audience, but to lovers of his writing all over the world. Some critics were particularly indignant about the circumstances surrounding Lorca's death. "Lorca was assassinated, and his books burned," wrote William Rose Benet in a 1937 review of Lorca's Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter, "but his burning words live on in the present book, beyond the reach of the bloody ape [i.e., Franco]." Benet praised the "fierceness" in Lorca's poetry, calling some of his images "staking and beautiful." Eulogizing Lorca a year after "his criminal and stupid murder," Rolfe Humphries praised Lorca's versatility and his ability "to write both simply and subtly at the same time." While dwelling on the lasting value of Lorca's poems, Humphries also praised Lorca as a total artist, saying that "in achieving a synthesis of all that...he had received from the world of dance and painting, music and theater, he abandoned nothing of value, and was able to work his erudition down into the substance of his art." The American poet William Carlos Williams observed in the Kenyon Review that Lorca "belonged to the people and when they were attacked he was attacked by the same forces." Williams praised the reality and immediacy of Lorca's verse, his skill at "invoking the mind to start awake."

At the time of Lorca's death, Humphries and other critics have noted, Lorca's work was not widely available in English. This fact has certainly been remedied in subsequent decades, but translation of Lorca's writing continues to be a tricky issue. Some critics have claimed that qualities of Lorca's style, especially his feel for the sound of language, are impossible to capture in translation. These critics suggest that the strength of Lorca's plays, meanwhile, is limited to their language. Others, however, have pointed out the quality of Lorca's stagecraft, suggesting the plays remain dramatically viable in translation (This is especially true for a prose work like The House of Bernardo Alba). There is merit to both perspectives, and unsurprisingly, while Lorca's plays are respected by the English-speaking public, they retain their greatest impact in their original language.

The House of Bernarda Alba finally premiered in Argentina nearly a decade after Lorca's death. Critics there hailed the work, comparing Lorca's drama to the works of the great Golden Age playwrights of Spain. A reviewer in La Nation identified Lorca's work with that of Calderon de la Barca, who also focuses intensely on issues of honor. This same critic, according to Dennis Klein, observed that in the present play, Lorca as strong realist dominates over Lorca the poet. Another critic, writing in the publication Blanco y Negro, traced patterns throughout the trilogy of plays about the lives of Spanish women. While praising both Blood Wedding and Yerma, this critic, according to Dennis Klein, concluded that "the tragic inspiration of Garcia Lorca reaches its summit in this work."

Not all critics have been as enthusiastic about Lorca's last play, however. Reviewing the 1960 production for the American television series "The Play of the Week," John P. Shanley noted in the New York Times that Lorca's "talent for poetic imagery" was demonstrated in selections...

(The entire section contains 1059 words.)

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