García Lorca, Federico (1898–1936)

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Spanish poet, playwright, musician, and artist.

Federico García Lorca is one of the great creative geniuses in the literary and cultural history of Spain, and, along with Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616), his country's most celebrated and universal figure. One of the most striking characteristics of his creativity is his dazzling versatility. Primarily known for his poetry and theater, he was also an accomplished pianist, a composer of enduring popular songs, adept with the flamenco guitar and conversant with its culture, and a talented graphic artist, whose drawings and paintings have been increasingly recognized and acclaimed. This multifaceted talent gives a special vitality and richness to each of his creative dimensions. His drawings reflect and express the pain and private dilemma expressed in his poetry. His poetry skillfully exploits the lyric qualities of popular song and the dramatic possibilities of the folk ballad. And his theater enhances beautifully its dramatic portraits and representations with songs, lullabies, and lyric poetry.

Lorca's life and works must be understood against the background of an emerging modern Spain, undergoing a historical period of crisis and transition, from roughly the 1830s to the 1930s. The Carlist civil wars of the nineteenth century (1833–1839, 1872–1876) pitted the struggle of a "new" liberal Spain, embodying the democratic aspirations of middle class, and, toward the end of the century, working class peoples, against "old" Spain, traditional, monarchical, and oligarchical, embodying the power and privileges of the great landowners, a financial and industrial elite, the Catholic Church, and the army. This struggle of the "two Spains," left unresolved at the conclusion of the nineteenth century, reasserted itself again dramatically during the first four decades of the twentieth century. The triumph of the Second Spanish Republic (1931–1939), through democratic elections, augured well for the new Spain. But the oscillating fortunes of the new government, progressive for the first two years, regressive and repressive over the next two, led finally to the election on 16 February 1936 of the Popular Front government, the most advanced democracy in Spanish history. The radical measures of the new government provoked the insurrection by Francisco Franco (1892–1975) on 17 July 1936 and the explosion of yet another and more violent civil war (1936–1939), in which the nationalist forces of Franco were only able to prevail because of the decisive intervention and support of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. Lorca, along with hundreds of citizens of his native Granada, was assassinated by a fascist squad on the outskirts of his city one month after the July uprising. The poet was a brilliant member of a resurgent new Spain, and one of the first victims of the treachery, terror, and cruelty of old Spain.

Lorca was born in Fuente Vaqueros, a small village a few miles west of Granada. His father was a prosperous farmer and his mother a dedicated schoolteacher, and he was always to enjoy the support and affection of a large and talented family. He was a precocious child and developed early into a gifted pianist and skillful mimic, who would delight family and friends at parties and social gatherings with improvised dramatizations. In 1915, he entered the University of Granada where he studied law and developed a serious interest at the same time in literature and folklore.

In 1919, he left Granada for Madrid, where he spent eight of the next ten years at the Residencia de Estudiantes (Residence of students), a kind of Spanish version of an Oxford College. Its liberal and progressive atmosphere and close friendships with the leading creative talents of his generation—Rafael Alberti (1902–1999), Luis Buñuel (1900–1983), and Salvador Dalí (1904–1989)—were to have an important influence on his intellectual and artistic development. In 1921, he published his first work, Libro de poemas (Book of poems). In 1927, he published what was almost immediately acknowledged as a major work of poetry, Canciones (Songs); scored his first dramatic success with a play, Mariana Pineda, based upon the Spanish liberal heroine of the early nineteenth century; and held a show of colored drawings in Barcelona. The appearance of his Romancero Gitano (Gypsy ballads) in 1928 was an immediate success, converted its author into a national celebrity within a few weeks, and became one of the most celebrated volumes of Hispanic poetry in the twentieth century.

The overwhelming success of this volume "for the wrong reasons," according to Lorca, and an emotional crisis caused by a failed personal relationship plunged the poet into a period of deep depression. On the advice of family and friends, he traveled abroad and took up residence at Columbia University for much of the nine months he spent in the United States. His experience of New York City was at once painful and liberating and inspired some of his most exciting and profound work. Poeta en Nueva York (Poet in New York, 1929–1930) is perhaps his supreme poetic masterpiece. Written during the Wall Street crash of 1929, it portrays a surrealistic vision of the megalopolitan jungle of the urban center, expresses compassion for the oppressed African American community of Harlem, horror at the impersonal, mechanistic forces of a cruel, inhuman system, and moral outrage at the betrayal of Christianity by Western civilization. The poetic personality lays bare the anguish of his tormented soul and makes explicit certain inner secrets of psyche—his condition of homosexuality, contained, but disguised, in the earlier poetry. Lorca began, though did not complete, two plays at this time, two masterpieces of experimental theater: El público (The public), and Así que pasen cinco años (Once five years pass). Dream autobiography, the themes of homosexual love and identity, the drama of a divided personality and the various masks it assumes, are the means by which Lorca introduces entirely new material to the Spanish stage and through which he proposes to create a revolutionary theater.

New York was followed by three months of a successful and joyful visit to Cuba. Liberated to an important degree and having a heightened awareness of himself and society, Lorca was ready to return to Spain and to participate with great energy and commitment in the cultural and educational programs of the Second Spanish Republic. He returned to Spain in June of 1930 and from this time until his assassination, he devoted himself primarily to the theater. Here, as nowhere else, did he passionately identify himself with the needs, interests, and education of the Spanish common people. He wrote Bodas de sangre (Blood wedding) and saw it play with great success throughout 1933 in Madrid, Barcelona, and Buenos Aires. He founded his own theater group, La Barraca (The hut or cabin), composed mostly of students playing during vacation time. With a government subsidy, he and his group traveled throughout Spain performing to rural audiences. The purpose was to bring the classics to the forgotten people, lost in the isolated and remote areas of rural Spain, and to put them in contact with the best tradition of Spanish art and theater.

In 1933–1934, Lorca again traveled overseas, to Buenos Aires and Montevideo, where he produced mainly Spanish classical plays. At this time, he met and formed a close friendship, a fraternal bond, with the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904–1973). Back in Spain, Lorca brought to a conclusion his tragic trilogy, Bodas de sangre, Yerma (the name of the female protagonist and a word meaning "barren"), and La casa de Bernarda Alba (The house of Bernarda Alba), completing this latter, his masterpiece, by mid-June 1936, just two months before his violent death. In these rural dramas, the playwright depicts with intensity and artistry the drama, the feuding, and the suffering of the Spanish people, with special sympathy for women, seen as victims of an inhuman social and moral code. Through his theater, Lorca believed he could raise the level of consciousness of his audience and develop the sensibility of his people to prepare them for social change, for movement into a more humane and liberated world. Indeed, throughout his work, in both poetry and theater, he was the champion of the marginalized and the dispossessed, the Andalusian gypsies of southern Spain, the black community of Harlem, the women of rural Spain, and homosexuals everywhere. It is clear that he was seen as a dangerous social force, as a threat to the old order, by the traditionalist, fascist, homophobic ruling authorities of Granada and Seville who ordered his execution.

The lyric cry of Federico García Lorca on behalf of the downtrodden, his dramatic protest against social injustice, and his redemptive vision of a liberated humanity speak to the twenty-first century with as much urgency as in his own day. He has left an enduring legacy of the very best poetry and the ater written in the twentieth century.

See alsoSpain; Theater.


Primary Sources

García Lorca, Federico. Collected Plays. Translated by James Graham-Luján and Richard L. O'Connell. London, 1976.

——. Once Five Years Pass and Other Dramatic Works. Translated by William Bryant Logan and Angel Gil Orrios. New York, 1989.

——. Obras completas. Edición de Miguel García-Posada. 4 vols. Barcelona, 1996–1997.

——. Collected Poems. Rev. ed. Translated by Catherine Brown et al. New York, 2002. The most complete collection of Lorca's poetry available in English.

Secondary Sources

Barea, Arturo. Lorca: The Poet and His People. London, 1944.

Edwards, Gwyne. Lorca: The Theatre Beneath the Sand. London, 1987.

García Lorca, Francisco. Federico García Lorca y su mundo. Edición y prólogo de Mario Hernández. Madrid, 1992.

Gibson, Ian. Vida, pasión y muerte de Federico García Lorca. Barcelona, 1992.

Morris, C. Brian. Son of Andalusia. The Lyrical Landscapes of Federico García Lorca. Liverpool, 1997.

Smith, Paul Julian. The Theatre of García Lorca. Cambridge, U.K., 1998.

Stainton, Leslie. Lorca. A Dream of Life. New York, 1999.

Michael P. Predmore

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García Lorca, Federico (1898–1936)

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García Lorca, Federico (1898–1936)