Blood Wedding – A Study Guide

By David Goodwin

Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding) premiered on March 8th, 1932 in Madrid and was a breakthrough work for its author.   At the time of its premiere, Federico Garcia Lorca was a relatively obscure Spanish poet, best known for his Gypsy Ballads.  The critical and commercial success of the play marked the beginning of what was for Lorca a rapid ascension to being the most well known and beloved dramatic poet of the Spanish language of his generation.  A few days after the premiere, Lorca told a friend that the play represented his “first real triumph.”  The play was to be the first in a trilogy of rural tragedies that drew heavily on Lorca’s childhood in the Andalusia region of Spain.   While Blood Wedding contains both stylistic and thematic elements that Lorca had been exploring for many years in his poetry and plays, by incorporating elements ofclassical tragic form, the play marked a departure from his previous dramatic works, which were almost entirely surrealistic or farcical.  While Blood Wedding is dense with lyrical symbolism and incorporates elements of surrealism,  it juxtaposes these elements with a more naturalistic plot structure  than Lorca hadpreviously employed.   

 

The Road to Blood Wedding

Federico Garcia Lorca was born on June 5th, 1898 in Fuentevaqueros, a village near Granada, Spain.   His father was a prosperous landowner who moved the family to Granada in 1909.   Lorca would later come to be inextricably associated with Granada in the public mind, and indeed, the eclectic mix of Arabic and Gypsy cultures that shaped the city would have a strong influence on Lorca’s work – particularly through the music of the region.    Music was in fact, Lorca’s first passion and he was by all accounts, an enormously gifted pianist.  He ultimately conceived of poetry as a variety of music and despaired of publishing his own work, as he felt it was an oral, rhythmical art that could not find appropriate representation in print.

(Photograph of Lorca, 1914.)

(Photograph of Lorca, 1914.)

A servant in the Lorca household named Dolores introduced Federico as a child to the peasant and gypsy folklore of Granada that would later come to dominate his works.   We see echoes of this relationship in Blood Wedding, in the scenes between the young bride (the character closest in temperament to Lorca himself) and the servant.   Dolores also assisted the child’s first theatrical ventures, which consisted of presenting plays in a small puppet theater which the boy had purchased in Granada.   These were, by all accounts, highly involved affairs, with Federico creating original works, designing costumes, and directing the stage action.  As a child, he also enjoyed acting out Mass to the servants and other children of the household, and was entranced by the spectacle and high drama associated with the ritual. 

In 1919, Lorca moved from Granada to Madrid to commence studies at the Residencia de Estudiantes.  The move was critical in his development as an artist, thrusting him into an environment where the major modern artistic movements of the day, Dadaism and Surrealism, were beginning to change the course ofcontemporary culture.    At the Residencia he also formed friendships with a number of young artists who would come to have a defining role in the cultural future of Spain, and in some cases, the world.  Among these were the poet Emilio Prado, filmmaker Luis Bunuel, and most importantly, the painter Salvador Dali.    For several years Dali and Lorca were close friends and the painter came to exert a profound influence on Lorca’s aesthetics.  While Lorca never officially joined the Surrealist movement as Dali later did, Lorca’s early plays and poetry are largely surrealist, eschewing conventional representations of reality in favor of dreamlike logic and representation.

(Little Ashes, painting Salvador Dali, 1928.   Lorca’s likeness can be seen in the bottom right quadrant, one of many Dali works in which the poet appears in some fashion.)

(Little Ashes, painting Salvador Dali, 1928.   Lorca’s likeness can be seen in the bottom right quadrant, one of many Dali works in which the poet appears in some fashion.)

Lorca’s first play, The Butterfly’s Evil Spell was produced in 1920.  Written entirely in verse and consisting of a cast composed entirely of insects, the play follows the doomed courtship of  a cockroach who falls in love with a wounded butterfly, who ultimately abandons him upon regaining the power of flight.  The production was a bitter disappointment for Lorca, as an uncomprehending public met the play largely with laughter and jeers.  The show closed after a single evening of performances.   Despite its commercial failure, the play contains many of the themes that Lorca would explore in his poetry and plays for the remainder of his life and that are central to Blood Wedding: the cost of dreams and passions that contradict societal norms, the interwoven nature of love and death, and the inevitable erosion of artifice to reveal to the true nature of individuals.

Lorca continued to write plays over the next decade, dabbling in historical melodrama (Mariana Pineda), farce (The Shoemaker’s Prodigous Wife), as well as continuing to create highly experimental surrealist works (The Public).   However, to most Spaniards, prior to Blood Wedding, he was best known as the author of Gypsy Ballads, a collection of poems that were inspired by research he did into traditional Andalusion gypsy music with the celebrated composer Manuel de Falla.   Gypsy Ballads drew upon rural gypsy folklore, Lorca’s own childhood memories, and traditional Spanish ballads, colliding all of these influences with Lorca’s keen poetic sensibility.    The novel lyrical hybrid glimpsed first in Gypsy Ballads in many ways foreshadows the stylistic conventions of Blood Wedding:  a juxtaposition of traditional and experimental forms whereby Lorca draws upon his observations of rural Spanish life and filters them through his own distinctive poetic imagination.

That Blood Wedding had a more forceful impact in production than any of Lorca’s previous plays is attributable in part no doubt, to his experience in the two years prior to the play’s completion as the director of  “La Barraca”, a nationally funded stage company whose intent was to raise public awareness of Spain’s cultural heritage by staging productions of classical Spanish plays in provincial areas of the country that had little access to theater.   During his years as director of the company, beginning in 1931, he staged productions of works by Lope de Vega, Calderon, Cervantes and other canonical Spanish authors that he felt were ill represented in the commercial theater of the time.    Like countless writers before and after, the experience of directing actors and staging works for an audience sharpened Lorca’s skills as a playwright.  The experience of staging classical texts also aroused in him a hunger to create a form of tragedy that would more directly reflect the world he inhabited.

(Lorca, in his uniform as director of “La Barraca”, 1931)

(Lorca, in his uniform as director of “La Barraca”, 1931)

Sources and Themes

The direct inspiration for Blood Wedding came from a newspaper article Lorca had come across several years prior which reported the story of a bride in the rural Spanish province of Almeria who had run away with her cousin, revealed later to be her beloved,  on the day she was to be wed.  The bridegroom had gone in search of the two, eventually discovering them and killing the cousin.   In reimagining the events surrounding the story, Lorca introduced the element of a long-standing feud between the families of the bridegroom and the cousin (named Leonardo in the play.)  He also introduced the character of the Mother, making her grief and desire for revenge integral to the story.  In addition to adding complexity, this allowed Lorca to explore themes of revenge as well as the preoccupation with family honor which was an inescapable part of the society that Lorca had grown up in.  Also in Lorca’s version, the bridegroom and cousin ultimately kill one another in a knife fight, as opposed to the single murder of the cousin by the bridegroom in the original story.

In its depiction of characters struggling against inevitable and bewildering forces over which they have no ultimate control, Blood Wedding recalls the work of the classical tragedians.  In classical tragedy, those forces are given names and identities in a pantheon of Gods who execute their wills with little regard for how their actions affect the lives of mortals.  In Lorca’s tragedy, those forces are relocated to the earth, to the relentless powers of instinct, nature, and passion against which human enterprise is ultimately useless.   At the same time Blood Wedding is decidedly modern, combining elements of both naturalism and surrealism, eventually shedding all pretense of representational reality in the play’s third act, when the scene shifts to a deeply allegorical forest and the character of the Moon arrives to directly address the audience.

The theme of man’s relationship to the forces of nature, both his embrace and denial of those forces, runs throughout much of Lorca’s work and is central to Blood Wedding.    Prior to the wedding, there is a sung musical interlude (“Oh Let the Bride Awaken Now”) which is almost pastoral in its celebration of the cycles of nature, ebullient in its glorification of the impending nuptials.  Marriage being the primary means by which human desire is accommodated and integrated into society at large, it represents the peaceful coexistence of nature and society, a model through which the most powerful (and potentially destructive) human passions are made acceptable and controllable.    Almost as soon as this ideal is presented and celebrated however, it is shown to be highly fragile and illusory, as the scene draws to a close and the bride is discovered to be missing, having rode off on horseback with her former love, Leonardo.   The inevitable triumph of nature and instinct ceases to be celebrated and takes on darker, more frightening dimensions as the promise of marriage is obliterated by the tidal forces of desire and revenge.