The House of Bernarda Alba

by Federico Garcia Lorca

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What do the maids say about Bernarda Alba before her return from Mass?

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At the beginning of act 1 of Federico Garcia Lorca's 1936 play, The House of Bernarda Alba, the title character and her five daughters are attending the funeral of Bernarda's husband. While awaiting their imminent return, two women servants of Bernarda—Poncia, age sixty, and one unnamed, in her fifties—are cleaning the house while discussing their employer, a woman for whom both feel a consuming hatred. Some choice excerpts are as follows:

She's coming! Make sure the whole place is clean. If Bernarda doesn't find everything gleaming she'll pull out the little hair I have left. . . .

Tyrant of all she surveys. She could squat on your chest for a year and watch you die slowly without wiping that cold smile from her cursed face. . . .

She's the cleanest; she's the most decent; she's the loftiest of beings. Her poor husband deserves a good rest.

After mentioning that Bernarda was detested by her husband's family, Poncia describes her long years of misery in service to Bernarda, finishing her diatribe with the imprecation, "May needles prick out her eyes."

The dialogue of the servants is an apt foreshadowing of the fate of all who suffer under the iron rule of this woman, who has refused to allow any of her five daughters, now aged twenty to forty, to be courted by a man.

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