The House of Bernarda Alba

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The House of Bernarda Alba
Written by Federico García Lorca
Characters Bernarda Alba (60)
María Josefa (80s)
Angustias (39)
Magdalena (30)
Amelia (27)
Martirio (24)
Adela (20)
Maid (50)
Poncia (60)
Criada (50)
Prudencia (50)
Beggar woman
Little girl
Women mourners
First woman
Second woman
Third woman
Fourth woman
Date premiered 1945
Original language Spanish
Genre Drama

The House of Bernarda Alba (Spanish: La casa de Bernarda Alba) is a play by the Spanish dramatist Federico García Lorca. Commentators have often grouped it with Blood Wedding and Yerma as a "rural trilogy". Lorca did not include it in his plan for a "trilogy of the Spanish earth" (which remained unfinished at the time of his murder).[1]

Lorca described the play in its subtitle as a drama of women in the villages of Spain. The House of Bernarda Alba was Lorca's last play, completed on 19 June 1936, two months before Lorca's death during the Spanish Civil War. The play was first performed in 1945. The play centers on the events of a house in Andalusia during a period of mourning, in which Bernarda Alba (aged 60) wields total control over her five daughters Angustias (39 years old), Magdalena (30), Amelia (27), Martirio, (24), and Adela (20). The housekeeper (La Poncia) and Bernarda's elderly mother (María Josefa) also live there.

The deliberate exclusion of any male character from the action helps build up the high level of sexual tension that is present throughout the play. Pepe "el Romano", the love interest of Bernarda's daughters and suitor of Angustias, never appears on stage. The play explores themes of repression, passion, and conformity, and inspects the effects of men upon women.

Plot summary[edit]

Upon her second husband's death, domineering matriarch Bernarda Alba imposes a eight-year mourning period on her household, in accordance with her family tradition. Bernarda has five daughters, aged between 20 and 39, whom she has controlled inexorably and prohibited from any form of relationship. The mourning period further isolates them and tension mounts within the household.

After a mourning ritual at the family home, eldest daughter Angustias enters, having been absent while the guests were there. Bernarda fumes, assuming she had been listening to the men's conversation on the patio. Angustias inherited a large sum of money from her father, Bernarda's first husband, but Bernarda's second husband has left only small sums to his four daughters. Angustias' wealth attracts a young, attractive suitor from the village, Pepe el Romano. Her sisters are jealous, believing that it's unfair that Angustias, plain and rather sickly, should receive both the majority of the inheritance and the freedom to marry and escape their suffocating home environment.

Minerva Mena in La casa de Bernarda Alba

Youngest sister Adela, stricken with sudden spirit and jubilation after her father's funeral, defies her mother's orders and dons a green dress instead of remaining in mourning black. Her brief taste of youthful joy suddenly shatters when she discovers that Angustias will be marrying Pepe. Poncia, Bernarda's maid, advises Adela to bide her time: Angustias will probably die delivering her first child. Distressed, Adela threatens to run into the streets in her green dress, but her sisters manage to stop her. Suddenly they see Pepe coming down the street. She stays behind while her sisters rush to get a look—until a maid hints that she could get a better look from her bedroom window.

As Poncia and Bernarda discuss the daughters' inheritances upstairs, Bernarda sees Angustias wearing makeup, which symbolizes freedom within the Generation 98 culture.[citation needed] Appalled that Angustias would defy her orders to remain in a state of mourning, Bernarda violently scrubs the makeup off her face. The other daughters enter, followed by Bernarda's elderly mother, Maria Josefa, who is usually locked away in her room. Maria Josefa announces that she wants to get married; she also warns Bernarda that she'll turn her daughters' hearts to dust if they cannot be free. Bernarda forces her back into her room.

It turns out that Adela and Pepe are having a secret affair. Adela becomes increasingly volatile, defying her mother and quarreling with her sisters, particularly Martirio, who reveals her own feelings for Pepe. Adela shows the most horror when the family hears the latest gossip about how the townspeople recently dealt with a young woman who shamelessly delivered and killed an illegitimate baby.

Tension explodes as family members confront one another and Bernarda pursues Pepe with a gun. A gunshot is heard outside. Martirio and Bernarda return and imply that Pepe has been killed. Adela flees into another room. With Adela out of earshot, Martirio tells everyone else that Pepe actually fled on his pony. Bernarda remarks that as a woman she can't be blamed for poor aim. Immediately she calls for Adela, who has locked herself into a room. When Adela doesn't respond, Bernarda and Poncia force the door open. Soon Poncia's shriek is heard. She returns with her hands clasped around her neck and warns the family not to enter the room. Adela, not knowing that Pepe survived, has hanged herself.

The closing lines of the play show Bernarda characteristically preoccupied with the family's reputation. She insists that Adela has died a virgin and demands that this be made known to the whole town. (The play alludes that Adela and Pepe had an affair; Bernarda's moral code and pride keep this from registering). No one is to cry.


  • Bernarda – A widow who exerts excessive will over her daughters. She is preoccupied with ideas of honor and tradition, in particular relating to the role of women in society, and is too proud to see the truth about her own daughters. Her walking stick is a symbol of the power she holds over the household. Bernarda's name is the Spanish version of the Teutonic name Bernard meaning "having the force of a bear".
  • La Poncia – The sturdy housekeeper of Bernarda's abode. Poncia means the "swollen ankle". In Lorca's times there was a children's story about a helpful pony named Poncia. Poncia was the most popular maestro's pet but he hurt his ankle during a performance. This is Lorca's favorite story.[citation needed]
  • Angustias – The eldest, sickly daughter. She inherited a fortune from her father, Bernarda's first husband. Her stepfather's estate has been split among the other four daughters, making Angustias the richest. Angustias becomes engaged to Pepe el Romano, who is interested only in her money. Although aware of this, she's desperate to marry and be free of her oppressive mother. Her sisters describe her as the ugliest, and Poncia doubts she'll survive childbirth. Her name comes from the Spanish word for "anguished."
  • Magdalena and Amelia – The two middle sisters. Magdalena is devastated by her father's death and tends to sleep all day. Amelia is gossipy but submissive to Bernarda.
  • Martirio – Her name is Spanish for 'Martyrdom'; this subtle allusion explains her well. She is in love with Pepe and has had a previous relationship ruined by Bernarda's destructive intervention. Her upbringing and past negative experiences with men have led to what she describes as a feeling of weakness and inferiority when in the presence of men.
  • Adela – The youngest daughter, the only one to defy Bernarda. She is in love with Pepe el Romano and carries on a secret rendezvous with him until her sister Martirio intervenes and they have a scuffle, drawing the attention of the sleeping household. Adela's guilt is revealed by the discovery of straw on her skirt. She then freely admits that she has been with Pepe el Romano. She hangs herself at the play's climax.
  • María Josefa – Bernada's mother, whom Bernarda keeps locked up in her room.
  • Maid – Another maid in Bernarda's house. She either had an affair with, or was raped by, Bernarda's late husband, Antonio. Some translations call this maid "Blanca"; others call her "Servant."
  • Prudencia – A dinner guest of Bernarda. Her name is taken from "Prudence," one of the four cardinal virtues.
  • Pepe el Romano – Angustias' suitor, Adela's lover. Although he never appears within the play, his actions create most of the drama within it.
  • Beggar with a child – She enters the courtyard during the funeral and begs scraps from the maid.
  • Women in Mourning – Mourners for the funeral of Bernarda's late husband, Antonio María Benavides.


  • Tragedy – Adela rebels against the tyranny of her mother and pays with her life. There is also tragic irony in the fact that her suicide is out of grief for the death of Pepe, who is then revealed to be alive.
  • Oppression of women – Bernarda represents the view that 'a woman's place is home'.
  • Tradition – Bernarda is desperate to uphold tradition, both in her observance of the funeral rites, and the differences between men and women.
  • Class prejudice – Bernarda uses money as a means of making herself superior, and views the villagers as unworthy of her daughters.
  • Reputation – Bernarda is preoccupied with the reputation of her family and is horrified by the idea of scandal and gossip, shown at the end of the play, when she demands it be known that Adela died a virgin.
  • Authoritarianism – Bernarda exercises a tyrant's will over the household.
  • Beauty — Beauty becomes corrupted, Lorca suggests, in an environment where people are not permitted to pursue their desires and passions. Pepe el Romano is passionate for Adela, but is bound by economic necessity to court Angustias instead. "If he were coming because of Angustias' looks, for Angustias as a woman, I'd be glad too," Magdalena comments, "but he's coming for her money. Even though Angustias is our sister, we're her family here, and we know she's old and sickly."


  • Heat – in this case, often mentioned and referred to at the height of Bernarda's oppression and fury. Therefore, a symbol for Bernarda's dominating nature. Heat is also another reference to sexual desire represented by the fans and lemonade.
  • Black and white – The common Western connotations. Black represents everything bad (death, mourn, oppression, being closed in...) while white represents all things good (the truth, life, freedom). Black is mainly associated with Bernarda and all the daughters who wear black throughout the play, except Adela. . As is already said above, in her craziness she says what all the girls won't dare to say. Another possible interpretation is that white represents sterility or purity, as in the "pure" and "immaculate" appearance of Bernarda's home, and black represents oppression.
  • Green – The symbol of future death in Leyan culture, and in Hispanic culture, hope: it is worn by Adela when she confesses her love for Pepe el Romano. Can also represent jealousy, i.e. as between the sisters as they find Adela is the lover of Pepe, and over Angustias' engagement with Pepe. The passionate personality of Adela as well. In addition, for Lorca, green represents erotic passion.
  • The fan – Adela gives Bernarda a round fan decorated with red and green flowers – a symbol of Adela's uniqueness.
  • The cane – Symbolizes the power and sovereignty of Bernarda over her daughters. Adela finally breaks it near the end of the play.
  • Some of the characters' names:
    • Amelia – From Latin and Old German for "industrious"; Hebrew: "labor of God"
    • Martirio – "martyrdom"
    • Angustias – "anguishes" or "torments"
    • Adela – from the Spanish verb "adelantar" meaning "to go forward" or "to overtake".
    • Magdalena – another name of anguish, i.e., the Spanish idiom: "llorar como una Magdalena" ("to weep like Magdalene").
    • María Josefa – From the names of Jesus' parents, Mary and Joseph
    • Prudencia – Suggesting the virtue of prudence, it may also be a reference to Pontius Pilate, as she simply observes and does nothing to stop the unfairness in the household


Film adaptations include:

In 1967, choreographer Eleo Pomare adapted the play into his ballet, Las Desenamoradas,[4] featuring music by John Coltrane.

In 2006, the play was adapted into musical form by Michael John LaChiusa. Under the title Bernarda Alba, it opened at Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theater on March 6, 2006, starring Phylicia Rashad in the title role, with a cast that also included Daphne Rubin-Vega.[5]

In 2012, Emily Mann adapted Federico García Lorca's original, shifting the location from 1930s Andalusia, Spain, to contemporary Iran. This shift allows a modern audience to realize and sympathize with oppression that is prevalent in the Middle East. It permits the audience to focus on the emotional poignancy of the script and leaves them to ponder about the political background. Her adaptation opened at the Almeida Theatre under the director Bijan Sheibani, starring Shohreh Aghdashloo as the title character and Hara Yannas as Adela.[6]

Steven Dykes wrote a production named 'Homestead' for the American Theatre Arts (ATA) students in 2004 which was revived in 2013 (The Barn Theatre). The original production went onto perform at The Courtyard in Covent Garden, with members of an ATA graduate company Shady Dolls.

In August 2012, Hyderabad, India based theatre group Sutradhar staged Birjees Qadar Ka Kunba, an Urdu/Hindustani adaptation of The House of Bernard Alba. Directed by Vinay Varma and scripted by Dr. Raghuvir Sahay, the play adapted Lorca's original to a more Indian matriarch family setup. The play boasted of a cast of more than 10 women actors with Vaishali Bisht as Birjees Qadar (Bernard Alba) and Deepti Girotra as Hasan baandi (La Poncia).


  1. ^ Maurer (1992, ix).
  2. ^ Smith, Paul Julian (1996). Vision Machines: Cinema, Literature, and Sexuality in Spain and Cuba, 1983–1993. Verso. p. 20. ISBN 1-85984-079-5. 
  3. ^ Hood, John W. (2000). The Essential Mystery: The Major Filmmakers of Indian Art Cinema. Orient Longman. p. 459. ISBN 81-250-1870-0. 
  4. ^ Kisselgoff, Anna (16 February 1981). "Dance: Pomare's "Las Desenamoradas"". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-01-16. 
  5. ^ Brantley, Ben (2006-03-07). "Sex and a Monster Mother Seething in Sunny Spain". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-28. 
  6. ^ "The House of Bernarda Alba". Almeida Theatre. 

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