Federico García Lorca
The House of Bernarda Alba (La casa de Bernarda Alba): Act II
A drama of women in the villages of Spain - 1936
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright, All Rights Reserved. Made available as an individual, open-access work in the United Kingdom, 2007, via the Poetry in Translation website. Published as part of the collection ‘Four Final Plays’, ISBN-10: 1986116565, March 2018.
This work may be freely reproduced, stored and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose. Conditions and Exceptions apply. Permission to perform this version of the play, on stage or film, by amateur or professional companies, and for commercial purposes, should be requested from the translator.
Please note that Federico García Lorca's original, Spanish works may not be in the public domain in all jurisdictions, notably the United States of America. Where the original works are not in the public domain, permissions should be sought from the representatives of the Lorca estate, Casanovas & Lynch Agencia Literaria.
(The bright white interior of Bernarda’s house. The doors on the left lead to the bedrooms. Bernarda’s daughters are seated on low chairs, sewing.Magdalena embroiders. La Poncia is with them.)
Angustias I’ve finished cutting the third sheet.
Martirio It’s for Amelia.
Magdalena Angustias, shall I do Pepe’s initials as well?
Angustias (Drily) No.
Magdalena (Loudly) Adela, are you coming?
Amelia She’s lying down.
La Poncia She’s got something. She’s restless, quivering, frightened, as if she had a lizard between her breasts.
Martirio She’s got nothing more than what we all have.
Magdalena All except Angustias.
Angustias I’m fine, and anyone who doesn’t like it can go to the devil.
Magdalena Well, one has to say the best things about you have always been your figure and your sensitivity.
Angustias Fortunately, I’ll soon be free of this hell.
Magdalena Perhaps’ you won’t be!
Martirio Let’s change the subject!
Angustias And, besides, better an ounce of gold in one’s coffer than a pair of dark eyes in one’s head!
Magdalena In one ear and out the other.
Amelia (To La Poncia) Open the door to the courtyard, and see if we can have a little fresh air in here.
(La Poncia does so.)
Martirio All last night I couldn’t sleep with the heat.
Amelia Nor I!
Magdalena I got out of bed to cool myself. There was a black storm cloud and even a few drops of rain.
La Poncia It was one in the morning, and the earth was still fiery. I got out of bed too. Angustias was at the window with Pepe.
Magdalena (Ironically) Was it as late as that? What time did he leave?
Angustias Magdalena, why ask since you saw him?
Amelia He left at about half past one.
Angustias Yes. How do you know that?
Amelia I heard his cough, and the hooves of his mare.
La Poncia But I heard him leaving at four!
Angustias Then it wasn’t him!
La Poncia I’m sure it was!
Amelia It seemed to me too…
Magdalena How odd!
La Poncia Listen, Angustias, what did he say to you the first time he came to your window?
Angustias Nothing. What would he say? Trivial things.
Martirio What’s truly odd is that two people who don’t know each other should suddenly meet at an open window and become engaged.
Angustias I don’t find it astonishing.
Amelia It would make me feel strange.
Angustias No it wouldn’t, because when a man comes to your window he already knows from the coming and going, from the give and take, that the answer can only be yes.
Martirio Fine, but he still has to ask.
Angustias Of course!
Amelia (Curious) So, what did he say?
Angustias Well, nothing much. ‘You know I’m after you, that I need a good woman, a modest one, and that it’s you if you’ll agree.’
Amelia Things like that embarrass me!
Angustias Me too, but you have to suffer them!
La Poncia And did he say anything else?
Angustias Yes, he never stopped talking.
Martirio And you?
Angustias I couldn’t speak. My heart almost leapt out of my mouth. It was the first time I’d been alone at night with a man.
Magdalena And such a handsome man.
Angustias His figure’s not bad.
La Poncia That’s how it is between people who have a little experience, who know how to speak and wave their hands about…The first time my husband Evaristo el Colorín came to my window…ha, ha, ha!
Amelia What happened?
La Poncia It was quite dark. I saw him there and as he approached he said: ‘Good evening.’ ‘Good evening,’ I said in reply, and then we were silent for half an hour or more. Sweat bathed my whole body. Then Evaristo came closer, closer, as if he wanted to squeeze through the bars, and said in a whisper, ‘Come here, let me feel you!’
(They all laugh. Amelia rises, runs to the door, and peers out.)
Amelia Ay! I thought mother was coming.
Magdalena Then we’d have been for it! (They continue laughing.)
Amelia Shush…she’ll hear us!
La Poncia Afterwards he behaved very well. Instead of chasing after other things he bred linnets till the day of his death. It’s good for you single women to know that a fortnight after the wedding a man forgoes bed for the table, and later on the table for the tavern. And the woman who can’t accept it will waste away, crying in a corner.
Amelia You accepted it.
La Poncia I could handle him!
Martirio Is it true you struck him on occasions?
La Poncia Yes, and nearly blinded him.
Magdalena That’s how all women should behave!
La Poncia I’m of your mother’s school. One day he said something to me, who knows what, and I slaughtered all his linnets with the rolling pin. (They laugh.)
Magdalena Adela, child, the things you’re missing.
Amelia Adela. (Pause.)
Magdalena I’ll go and find her! (She exits.)
La Poncia The child is ill!
Martirio Of course, she barely sleeps!
La Poncia What does she do instead?
Martirio How do I know what she does!
La Poncia You know better than I, you only have a wall between you.
Angustias Envy is eating her.
Amelia Don’t exaggerate things.
Angustias I can see it in her eyes. She’s beginning to look like a madwoman.
Martirio Don’t talk about madness. This is the one place where such words should not be spoken.
(Magdalena enters with Adela.)
Magdalena You weren’t asleep, then?
Adela I felt unwell.
Martirio (Pointedly) Didn’t you sleep well last night?
Adela (Angrily) Leave me alone! Sleeping or waking, it’s nobody’s affair but mine! I’ll do as I want with my own body!
Martirio I’m merely concerned for you!
Adela Concerned, or inquisitive. Weren’t you sewing just now? Well carry on. I wish I were invisible, so as to walk through these rooms without you forever asking where I’m going!
Servant (Entering) Bernarda is asking for you. The man with the lace is here.
(They exit, and as they do so Martirio looks fixedly at Adela.)
Adela Stop staring at me! If you want you can have my eyes, that are hardly used, and my shoulders to bear that hump you carry, but turn your head away when I pass.
La Poncia Adela, she’s your sister, and the one that loves you most!
Adela She follows me everywhere. She even looks into my room to see if I’m asleep. She doesn’t let me breathe. And always it’s: ‘What a shame about that pretty face! What a shame about that body, that no one will ever see!’ It’s not so! My body will be for whomever I want!
La Poncia (Pointedly in a low voice) For Pepe el Romano, is that it?
Adela (Startled) What do you mean?
La Poncia What I say, Adela!
Adela Be silent!
La Poncia (Loudly) Did you think I hadn’t noticed?
Adela Lower your voice!
La Poncia Suppress such thoughts!
Adela What do you know about it?
La Poncia Old women can see through walls. Where do you go at night when you get up?
Adela You should have your eyes put out!
La Poncia My hands are as full of eyes as my head when it comes to this business. For all my thinking about it I don’t known what you’re up to. Why else were you standing there half-naked at the window with the light on when Pepe was here the second time he came to talk with your sister?
Adela That’s not true!
La Poncia Don’t be such a child! Let your sister be, and if it’s Pepe el Romano you want, reconcile yourself. (Adela weeps.) Besides, who says you can’t marry him? Your sister Angustias is not well. She won’t survive her first child. She’s narrow-waisted and old, and from my experience I’d say she’ll die. Then Pepe will do what all the widowers here do: he’ll marry the youngest and prettiest, and that’s you. Cling to that hope and forget him for now. Do what you like, but don’t act against the law of God.
Adela Be silent!
La Poncia I won’t be silent!
Adela Mind your own business, you nosy traitor!
La Poncia I shall be your shadow!
Adela Instead of cleaning the house and praying for the dead when you go to bed, you go around like an old sow poking around in men and women’s business, so you can slobber over it.
La Poncia I keep watch, so that people won’t spit when they pass this door!
Adela What vast affection you suddenly feel for my sister!
La Poncia I’ve no loyalty to any of you, but I want to live in a decent house. I don’t want my old age to be tarnished.
Adela Your advice is useless. It’s too late. I’d not just ignore you, but also my mother, in order to quench this fire that licks me from head to foot. What can you say of me? That I lock myself in my room and won’t open the door? That I don’t sleep? I’m cleverer than you. See if you can catch this hare in your hands.
La Poncia Don’t defy me, Adela, don’t defy me! Because I can shout out loud, light all the lamps, and set the bells ringing.
Adela Bring four thousand yellow flares, and set them up on the walls of the stable-yard. No one can escape the fact that what is to happen will happen.
La Poncia You want the man as much as that!
Adela Yes, as much as that! Gazing into his eyes I feel as if I’m slowly drinking his blood.
La Poncia I won’t listen to you.
Adela You’ll listen! I was afraid of you. But now I’m stronger than you!
Angustias Forever arguing!
La Poncia Of course. In all this heat she insists I go and fetch her something from the store.
Angustias Did you buy that bottle of scent for me?
La Poncia The dearest one: and the powder. I’ve put them on the table in your room.
Adela Not a word!
La Poncia We’ll see about that!
(Martirio, Amelia and Magdalena enter.)
Magdalena (To Adela) Have you seen the lace?
Amelia The lace for Angustias’ wedding sheets is beautiful.
Adela (To Martirio, who is holding some lace) And that?
Martirio It’s for me. For a petticoat.
Adela (Sarcastically) One has to have a sense of humour!
Martirio (Pointedly) For my own eyes. I don’t need to show off to anyone.
La Poncia No one sees you in your petticoat.
Martirio (Pointedly looking at Adela) Sometimes they do! But I adore underwear. If I were rich I’d have it of finest linen. It’s one of the few pleasures left to me.
La Poncia This lace is fine for a baby’s bonnet or for a christening gown. I could never dress mine in it. Let’s see if Angustias can hers. If she starts having children you’ll be sewing day and night.
Magdalena I’ve no intention of sewing a stitch.
Amelia Much less look after someone else’s children. Look at the neighbours down the street, martyrs to four little idiots.
La Poncia They’re better off than you are. At least they have a laugh and you can hear them fighting!
Martirio Then go and serve them.
La Poncia No. I’ve been sent to serve in this convent!
(Distant bells are heard, as if through several walls.)
Magdalena It’s the men going back to work.
La Poncia It struck three a moment ago.
Martirio In this heat!
Adela (Sitting down) Oh, if I could only be out in the fields too!
Magdalena (Sitting down) Each class to its own!
Martirio (Sitting down) That’s so!
Amelia (Sitting down) Ay!
La Poncia There’s nothing like being in the fields at this time of year. Yesterday morning the harvesters arrived. Forty or fifty strapping men.
Magdalena Where have they come from this year?
La Poncia From a long way off. They’re from the mountains. A happy crowd! Like sun-scorched trees! Shouting and throwing stones! Last night a woman with a sequined dress arrived in the village and danced to an accordion, and fifteen of the men hired her and took her off to the olive grove. I watched them from a distance. The one who organised the hiring was a young man with green eyes, lean as a sheaf of wheat.
Amelia Is that a fact?
Adela Well, it’s possible!
La Poncia Years ago one of these women came here and I gave her money myself so my eldest could go with her. Men must do these things!
Adela Everything is forgiven them.
Amelia To be born a woman is the great crime.
Magdalena Not even our eyes are our own.
(The sound of singing is heard in the distance. It draws nearer.)
La Poncia That’s them. They have some fine songs.
Amelia They’re off to the reaping, now.
Chorus The reapers are leaving,
they’re off to the reaping,
and with them the hearts
of all the girls watching.
(Tambourines, and carrañacas – traditional instruments, small wooden or metal plates scraped with sticks – are heard. Pause. All the women listen, in a silence pierced by sunlight.)
Amelia The heat doesn’t bother them.
Martirio They reap amidst the fiery rays.
Adela I’d like to be a reaper so I could come and go at will. Then I’d be able to forget what’s gnawing at us.
Martiria What is it you need to forget?
Adela Each of us has something.
Martirio (With feeling) Each of us!
La Poncia Hush! Hush!
Chorus (Far off)
You girls there from the village
open your doors and windows;
the reaper wants your roses
to brighten his sombrero.
La Poncia What a song!
You girls there from the village
open your doors and windows…
…the reaper wants your roses
to brighten his sombrero.
(The sound of the singing grows fainter.)
La Poncia They’re turning the corner now.
Adela Let’s go and watch them from the window of my room.
La Poncia Take care not to open it too wide, because they’re up to shoving at it to see who’s looking at them.
(The three of them leave. Martirio remains seated on the low chair with her head in her hands.)
Amelia (Approaching) What is it?
Martirio The heat is making me ill.
Amelia No more than that?
Martirio I wish it was November, with days of rain and frost; anything but this interminable summer.
Amelia It will pass and return again.
Martirio Of course! (Pause) What time did you go to sleep last night?
Amelia I don’t know. I sleep like a log. Why?
Martirio Nothing, only I thought I heard someone in the stable yard.
Amelia You did?
Martirio Very late.
Amelia And you weren’t scared?
Martirio No. I’ve heard it on other nights.
Amelia We should be on guard. Might it have been the farmhands?
Martirio The farmhands aren’t here till six.
Amelia Perhaps a young mule that needs breaking in.
Martirio (In a low voice, full of hidden meaning) Ah, yes! A young mule, one that needs breaking in.
Amelia We should warn the others.
Martirio No! No, say nothing. It’s probably my imagination.
(Pause. Amelia starts to leave.)
Amelia (In the doorway) What is it?
Amelia Why did you call to me?
Martirio It slipped out. It was unintentional.
Amelia Go and lie down for a while.
Angustias (Entering angrily in a way which creates a sharp contrast with the previous pauses.) Where is the photograph of Pepe that was under my pillow? Which of you has it?
Martirio Neither of us.
Amelia It’s not as if Pepe was a silver Saint Bartholomew.
(La Poncia, Magdalena and Adela enter.)
Angustias Where is the photo?
Adela What photo?
Angustias One of you has hidden it.
Magdalena How dare you say that to us?
Angustias It was in my room and now it’s not.
Martirio Maybe it slipped out to the stable yard in the night? Pepe likes to stroll in the moonlight.
Angustias Don’t waste your wit on me! When he comes I’ll tell him.
La Poncia No, don’t do that! It will turn up! (Looking at Adela)
Angustias I want to know which one of you has it!
Adela (Looking at Martirio) Someone does! But not me!
Martirio (Pointedly) Naturally!
Bernarda (Entering leaning on her stick) What’s this noise in my house amidst all this stifling silence? The neighbours must have their ears glued to the walls.
Angustias They’ve stolen my fiancé’s photograph.
Bernarda (Fiercely) Who has? Who?
Angustias They have!
Bernarda Which of you was it? (Silence) Answer me. (Silence. To La Poncia) Search their rooms, and their beds. This is what comes of not keeping you all on a tighter leash. But I’ll haunt your dreams! (To Angustias.) Are you sure?
Bernarda You’ve searched for it properly?
Angustias Yes, Mother.
(They are all standing. An awkward silence ensues.)
Bernarda At my time of life, you’d make me drink the bitterest venom a mother has to swallow. (To La Poncia, entering) You found it?
La Poncia Here it is.
Bernarda Where did you find it?
La Poncia It was…
Bernarda Don’t be afraid to say.
La Poncia (Surprised) Between the sheets of Martirio’s bed.
Bernarda (To Martirio) Is that true?
Martirio It’s true.
Bernarda (Advancing and striking her with her stick) May you be cut to pieces, you good-for-nothing! You sower of discord!
Martirio (Angrily) Don’t you hit me, Mother!
Bernarda As much as I want!
Martirio If I let you! Do you hear? Get away from me!
La Poncia Show your mother some respect.
Angustias (Restraining Bernarda) Leave her alone. Please!
Bernarda Not a tear in her eyes.
Martirio I’ll not cry just to please you.
Bernarda Why did you take the photo?
Martirio Can’t I even play a joke on my sister? Why else would I want it?
Adela (Jealously) This was no joke: you’ve never liked jokes. It was something else in you seeking expression. Out with it now.
Martirio Be quiet, and don’t make me talk, because if I do the walls will close in from shame!
Adela An evil tongue never stops inventing things!
Magdalena You’re both mad.
Amelia And thinking evil thoughts about us.
Martirio Others do worse things than that.
Adela Until they strip them naked and throw them in the river.
Bernarda Wicked girl!
Angustias It’s not my fault that Pepe el Romana fell for me.
Adela For your money!
Martirio For your fields, and your orchards.
Magdalena That’s right!
Bernarda Silence, I said! I knew the storm was coming, but I didn’t expect it so soon. Ay! What a shower of stones rains down on my heart! But I’m not an old woman yet and I’ve halters for all five of you and this house that my father built so that not even the weeds will know my desolation. Get out of here! (They leave. Bernarda sits desolate. La Poncia stands near the wall. Bernarda composes herself, bangs her stick down and speaks) I shall have to take a firm grip! Remember, Bernarda, it’s your duty!
La Poncia Can I say something?
Bernarda Speak. I’m sorry you had to hear that. It’s not good to have an outsider mixed up in family matters.
La Poncia What I’ve seen, I’ve seen.
Bernarda Angustias must get married at once.
La Poncia You must get her away from here.
Bernarda Not her. Him!
La Poncia Yes, you must get him away from here! A good thought.
Bernarda I don’t think. There are things you can’t and shouldn’t think about. I command.
La Poncia And you think he’ll be prepared to go?
Bernarda (Rising) What’s going on in that head of yours?
La Poncia Of course he’ll marry Angustias!
Bernarda Say it. I know you well enough to spot when you’re ready to stab with your knife.
La Poncia I’ve never considered a warning to be murder.
Bernarda You’re going to warn me of something?
La Poncia I’m not accusing you of anything, Bernarda. I’m merely saying: open your eyes and see.
Bernarda And what is there to see?
La Poncia You’ve always been sharp. You can see the evil in people a hundred miles off. I’ve often thought you can read others’ minds. But it’s different with your daughters. Now you’re blind.
Bernarda You mean Martirio?
La Poncia Indeed, Martirio… (Expressing curiosity) Why did she hide the photo?
Bernarda (Protective of her daughter) After all she says it was just a joke. What else could it be?
La Poncia (Sarcastically) You believe that?
Bernarda (Energetically) No I don’t. You’re right!
La Poncia Fair enough, it’s your family. But if it was the neighbour across the street, what then?
Bernarda Now you’re beginning to twist the knife.
La Poncia (With sustained cruelty) No Bernarda; something serious is in the wind here. I don’t wish to blame you, but you’ve not allowed your daughters their freedom. Martirio is made to fall in love readily, whatever you may say. Why didn’t you let her marry Enrique Humanes? Why on the very day he was going to come to her window did you send him a message not to come?
Bernarda (Forcefully) I’d do it a thousand times over! My blood will not mix with that of the Humanes family as long as I live! His father was a farmhand.
La Poncia And this is what your pride has brought you to!
Bernarda I’m proud because I’ve a right to be. And you haven’t, since you know very well what you come from.
La Poncia (With hatred) Don’t remind me! I’m old now, and I’ve always been grateful for your protection.
Bernarda (Imperiously) It doesn’t seem like it!
La Poncia (Her hatred smoothly concealed) Martirio will forget about him.
Bernarda And if she doesn’t the worse for her. I don’t think there is ‘something serious’ going on here. Nothing’s going on here. It’s only what you’d like to be happening! And if anything does be sure it won’t escape these walls.
La Poncia I don’t know about that! There are those in the village who can also read hidden thoughts from afar.
Bernarda How you’d love to see me and my daughters on the road to the nearest brothel!
La Poncia No one knows where anyone will end up.
Bernarda I know what my end will be! I and my daughters! The brothel was fitting for a certain dead woman…
La Poncia (Fiercely) Bernarda! Respect my mother’s memory!
Bernarda Then don’t persecute me with your evil thoughts!
La Poncia It’s better if I have nothing to do with it.
Bernarda That’s what you should do. Work and keep silent about things. That’s the duty of anyone who’s paid to work.
La Poncia But I can’t. Do you think Martirio is better suited to marry Pepe than…say Adela?
Bernarda I don’t see why.
La Poncia (Pointedly) Adela. She was made to be a Romano’s fiancé!
Bernarda Things are never as we’d wish them.
La Poncia But it’s hard to go against one’s true inclinations. It seems wrong to me that Pepe is with Angustias, and it seems wrong to others too, and even to Nature herself. Who knows whether they’ll pay for it somehow!
Bernarda Here we go again…You slip things in to give me bad dreams. And I don’t want to listen to you, because if I did understand all you were saying I’d be tempted to scratch your eyes out.
La Poncia It won’t come to it!
Bernarda Fortunately my daughters respect me, and have never gone against my wishes!
La Poncia That’s so! But as soon as you let them free they’ll be climbing the roof.
Bernarda I’ll hurl stones to bring them down again!
La Poncia You’ve always been the pluckiest!
Bernarda I was always a fiery one!
La Poncia But it’s strange how things turn out! At her age: you should see Angustias’ enthusiasm for this fiancé of hers! And he seems taken with her too! My son told me that yesterday when he went past with the oxen at four thirty in the morning, they were still talking.
Bernarda At four thirty!
Angustias (Entering) That’s a lie!
La Poncia That’s what they told me.
Bernarda (To Angustias) Well?
Angustias Pepe has been leaving at one, for more than a week. God strike me dead if I’m lying.
Martirio (Entering) I heard him leaving at four as well.
Bernarda But did you see him with your own eyes?
Martirio I didn’t want to look out. Don’t you talk to him from the window in the alleyway?
Angustias No, I talk to him from my bedroom window.
(Adela appears in the doorway)
Bernarda What has been going on here?
La Poncia Beware what you might find! Anyway, it’s clear that Pepe was at one of the windows at four in the morning.
Bernarda You know that for certain?
La Poncia Nothing’s certain in this life.
Adela Mother, don’t listen to her: she wants to destroy us all.
Bernarda I’ll find out for myself! If the people in this village want to make false accusations they’ll find me hard as rock. We’ll not speak of this any more. Sometimes people will throw mud at others to destroy them.
Martirio I’ve no wish to tell lies.
La Poncia There must be something in it.
Bernarda There’s nothing in it. I was born with my eyes open. And they’ll stay open till the day I die.
Angustias I have a right to know what’s going on.
Bernarda Your only right is that of obedience. Nobody tells me what to do. (To La Poncia) And you: keep to your own affairs. No one will take a step here without my knowing!
Servant (Entering) There’s a big crowd at the top of the street and all the neighbours are at their doors!
Bernarda (To La Poncia) Run, and see what’s happening! (The women start to run off) Where are you going? I always knew you were the sort of women who can’t wait to display themselves at windows, and break your mourning vow. All of you, to the courtyard!
(They leave as does Bernarda. Distant murmurs are heard. Martirio and Adela enter and stand listening, not daring to take another step towards the exit.)
Martirio Be grateful I kept my tongue in check.
Adela I could have spoken too.
Martirio And what would you have said? To wish is not to do!
Adela The one who does is the one who can, and who gets there first. You wished but you couldn’t have him.
Martirio You won’t have him much longer.
Adela I’ll have him all to myself!
Martirio I’ll snatch him from your arms!
Adela (Pleading) Martirio, let us alone!
Adela He wants me to live with him!
Martirio I saw him embrace you!
Adela I didn’t want him to. It’s as if I was dragged along by a rope.
Martirio I’ll see you dead first!
(Magdalena and Angustias appear. The noise outside increases.)
La Poncia (Entering with Bernarda) Bernarda!
Bernarda What’s going on?
La Poncia Librada’s daughter, the unmarried one, has had a daughter and no one knows who the father is.
Adela A child?
La Poncia And to hide her shame she killed it, and buried it under some rocks; but the dogs, with more heart than many a human creature, dug it up and, as if guided by God’s hand, left it on her doorstep. Now people want to kill her. They’re dragging her down the street, and there are men running along the paths, and out of the olive-groves, shouting loud enough to make the earth tremble.
Bernarda That’s right, let them bring olive branches and pick-handles, and let them kill her.
Adela No, no, not kill her!
Martirio Yes, and let us go see.
Bernarda And may she who tramples on her honour pay the price.
(A woman’s cry and a great uproar are heard outside.)
Adela Let them only release her! Don’t go outside!
Martirio (Gazing at Adela) May she pay what she owes!
Bernarda (In the archway) Finish her off before the police come! A burning coal in the place of her sin!
Adela (Clutching her belly) No! No!
Bernarda Kill her! Kill her!