Federico García Lorca
The House of Bernarda Alba (La casa de Bernarda Alba): Act III
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.
Subject to certain exceptions, this work may be freely reproduced stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose. 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 .
(Four white walls, bathed in pale blue light, in the internal courtyard of Bernarda’s house. It is night. The setting should be utterly simple. The doorways, illuminated by interior lighting, cast a bright glow on the stage. In the centre a table with an oil lamp, at which Bernarda and her daughters are eating. La Poncia is serving them. Prudencia is seated apart. As the curtain rises there is a complete silence, broken only by the sound of plates and cutlery. )
Prudencia I should go. It’s been a long visit. (She rises.)
Bernarda Stay. We never see each other.
Prudencia Has the last bell for the rosary sounded?
La Poncia Not yet.
(Prudencia sits down.)
Bernarda And how is your husband?
Prudencia The same.
Bernarda We never see him either.
Prudencia You know what he’s like. Since he quarrelled with his brothers over the inheritance he never goes out the front door, he uses a ladder and climbs over the wall by the stable-yard.
Bernarda So like a man. And your daughter…?
Prudencia He hasn’t forgiven her.
Bernarda He’s right.
Prudencia I don’t know what to say. It makes me suffer.
Bernarda A disobedient daughter ceases to be your daughter and instead becomes your enemy.
Prudencia I let it flow over me. The only comfort I have is to take refuge in the church, but now I’m losing my sight I’ll have to stop going so the children won’t mock at me. (A heavy blow against the wall is heard.) What was that?
Bernarda The stallion, he’s shut in, and kicks at the wall. (Calling out) Hobble him, and let him out in the yard! (In a lower voice) He must be hot.
Prudencia Are you going to let him loose on the new mares?
Bernarda At dawn.
Prudencia You’ve done well to increase your stable.
Bernarda By dint of pain and money.
La Poncia (Interrupting) And now she’s got the best stable in the region! It’s a shame prices are so low.
Bernarda Would you like some honey and cheese?
Prudencia I don’t feel like eating.
(Another blow is heard.)
La Poncia Dear God!
Prudencia That went straight to my heart!
Bernarda (Rising angrily) Do I have to say everything twice? Let him out to roll in the straw! (She pauses, and as if speaking to the stable lads) Shut the mares in the stable, but let him out, before he brings the wall down. (She goes back to the table and sits down) Ay, what a life!
Prudencia You have to do a man’s work.
Bernarda That’s right. (Adela gets up from the table) Where are you going?
Adela For a drink of water.
Bernarda (Calling) Bring a jug of fresh water. (To Adela) You can sit down. (Adela sits)
Prudencia And Angustias, when does she get married?
Bernarda They’ll ask for her hand in three days time.
Prudencia You must be very happy!
Angustias Of course!
Amelia (To Magdalena) Now, you’ve spilt the salt!
Magdalena Thing’s can’t be worse for you than they are already.
Prudencia It always brings bad luck.
Bernarda Enough of that!
Prudencia (To Angustias) Has he given you the ring yet?
Angustias (Displaying it) See for yourself.
Prudencia It’s beautiful. Three pearls. In my day pearls signified tears.
Angustias Well times have changed.
Adela I don’t think so. Such things mean the same. An engagement ring should be set with diamonds.
Prudencia That’s more appropriate.
Bernarda With pearls or without them, it’s what you make of things.
Martirio Or what God makes of them.
Prudencia They tell me your furniture is fine too.
Bernarda It’s cost me a small fortune.
La Poncia (Intervening) The best piece is the wardrobe, with a mirror.
Prudencia I’ve never seen a wardrobe with a mirror.
Bernarda All we had was a chest.
Prudencia What’s important is that everything works out for the best.
Adela One can never tell.
Bernarda There’s no reason why it shouldn’t.
(The distant sound of bells is heard.)
Prudencia The last call. (To Angustias) I’ll visit again so you can show me your trousseau.
Angustias Whenever you wish.
Prudencia God give us goodnight.
Bernarda Goodbye, Prudencia.
The five daughtersGod go with you.
(Pause. Prudencia exits.)
Bernarda We’ve finished. (They rise.)
Adela I’m going to the main door to stretch my legs and get some air.
(Magdalena sits down in a low chair against the wall.)
Amelia I’ll go with you.
Martirio And I.
Adela (With suppressed hatred) I won’t get lost.
Amelia Darkness begs company.
(They leave. Bernarda sits. Angustias is clearing the table.)
Bernarda I’ve told you, I want you to talk to your sister Martirio. What happened with the photograph was a joke and should be forgotten.
Angustias You know she doesn’t like me.
Bernarda Each sees into their own heart. I never pry into hearts, but I desire a united front and family harmony. Do you understand?
Bernarda Then that’s fine.
Magdalena (Half-asleep) Anyway, you’ll have left here before you know it! (She falls asleep)
Angustias Not soon enough.
Bernarda What time did you finish talking last night?
Bernarda What does Pepe have to say?
Angustias He seems distracted. He talks to me as if he’s thinking of something else. If I ask him what’s on his mind, he just says: ‘We men have our own worries.’
Bernarda You shouldn’t ask him; that’s even more true when you’re married. Speak if he speaks, and look at him when he looks at you. You’ll be better off that way.
Angustias Mother, I think he hides a great deal from me.
Bernarda Don’t try and find out what it is, don’t question him, and, above all, don’t let him ever see you cry.
Angustias I should be happy and I’m not.
Bernarda It’s no matter.
Angustias I often gaze at Pepe through the bars of the window, and his image is blurred, as if he were cloaked in a shroud of dust thrown up by his sheep.
Bernarda You’re not well, that’s all.
Angustias I hope it’s that!
Bernarda Is he here tonight?
Angustias No. He’s gone to the city with his mother.
Bernarda Then we’ll retire early. Magdalena!
Angustias She’s asleep.
(Adela, Martirio and Amelia enter.)
Amelia What a dark night!
Adela You can’t see two feet in front of you.
Martirio A fine night for thieves, or for someone who needs to hide.
Adela The stallion was in the centre of the yard. So white! Twice as big, and filling the darkness.
Amelia That’s right. He was frightening. Like a phantom!
Adela The sky is filled with fistfuls of stars.
Martirio She stared at them so hard she almost strained her neck.
Adela Don’t you love them too?
Martirio What happens above the rooftops means nothing to me. What goes on inside these four walls is enough for me.
Adela That’s typical.
Bernarda She has her ways as you have yours.
Angustias Good night.
Adela You’re off to bed already?
Angustias Yes, Pepe’s not here tonight. (She exits.)
Adela Mother, when a meteor passes, or there’s a flash of lightning, why do people say:
Blessed Santa Barbara
in the sky with paper
you’re writ, and holy water?
Bernarda In past days they knew many things that we’ve forgotten.
Amelia I shut my eyes so as not to see them.
Adela I don’t. I like to see things flash out fire that have been dormant for years and years.
Martirio Those things have nothing to do with us.
Bernarda And it’s best not to think of them.
Adela What a beautiful night! I’d like to stay up late to catch the breeze from the fields.
Bernarda But it’s time for bed. Magdalena!
Amelia She’s fast asleep.
Magdalena (Annoyed) Leave me in peace!
Bernarda It’s time for bed!
Magdalena (Rising in a bad mood) You can’t let anyone alone! (She exits muttering)
Amelia Good night. (She exits.)
Bernarda You two, go on now.
Martirio Why isn’t Angustias’ fiancé coming by tonight?
Bernarda He’s away.
Martirio (Looking at Adela) Ah!
Adela Till the morning. (She exits)
(Martirio has a drink of water and exits slowly looking towards the door of the stable-yard. La Poncia enters.)
La Poncia You’re still here?
Bernarda Enjoying the silence and unable to understand what this ‘serious thing’ is that’s supposed to be going on here.
La Poncia Bernarda, forget about it.
Bernarda Everything is as it should be in this house. My vigilance guards against all.
La Poncia Nothing you can see, that’s true. Your daughters live as though they were shut in a cupboard. But neither you nor anyone else can see inside someone’s heart.
Bernarda My daughters can breathe tranquility.
La Poncia That matters to you because you’re their mother. I’ve enough to do looking after this house.
Bernarda So you’re saying nothing.
La Poncia I keep to my place, in peace.
Bernarda The fact is there’s nothing to say. If there was grass here you’d be the first to let the neighbours’ sheep in to graze.
La Poncia I conceal more than you think.
Bernarda Has your son seen Pepe here again at four in the morning? Are people still repeating a litany of lies against this house?
La Poncia No one says a thing.
Bernarda Because they can’t, because there’s nothing for them to sink their teeth into. My vigilance has seen to that!
La Poncia I don’t want to say anything, Bernarda, because I don’t know what you’re after. But don’t be so certain.
Bernarda I’m utterly certain!
La Poncia Perhaps a lightning bolt will suddenly strike you! Perhaps a blood clot will suddenly block your heart!
Bernarda Nothing will happen. I’m alert to all your suspicions.
La Poncia All the better for you then.
Servant (Entering) I’ve finished washing the dishes. Do you need anything else, Bernarda?
Bernarda (Rising) Nothing. I’m going to bed.
La Poncia What time do you want me to call you?
Bernarda Don’t bother. I’ll sleep well tonight. (She exits.)
La Poncia When you can’t fight the tide, the easiest thing is to turn your back on it.
Servant She’s so full of pride she has a mote in her eye.
La Poncia I can’t do anything about it. I want to stop things before they go any further, but they frighten me too much. You hear this silence? Yet there are storms brewing in each of these rooms. The day they break out they’ll sweep us all away. I’ve had my say.
Servant Bernarda thinks no one can match her, but she doesn’t know the effect a man can have on a house full of single women.
La Poncia It’s not all Pepe el Romano’s fault. It’s true that last year he was after Adela, and she was mad about him, but she should have kept to herself and not incited him. A man is a man,
Servant Some say he’s been talking with Adela too often at night.
La Poncia They’re right. (Whispering) And there have been other things.
Servant I don’t know what will happen here.
La Poncia I’d like to cross the water and leave this warring house.
Servant Bernarda is hastening the wedding on, and maybe nothing will happen.
La Poncia Things have already gone too far. Adela is determined, while the others keep watch on her all the time.
Servant Martirio too?
La Poncia She’s the worst. She’s a poisonous well. She knows Pepe is not for her and she’d drown the world if she could so no one else should have him.
Servant They’re wicked girls!
La Poncia They’re women without a man that’s all. In such cases even blood ties are forgotten. Shhh! (She listens)
Servant What is it?
La Poncia (Rising) The dogs are barking.
Servant Someone must have passed the door.
(Adela enters in white bodice and petticoat.)
La Poncia Haven’t you been to bed?
Adela I wanted a drink of water. (She drinks from a glass on the table.)
La Poncia I thought you were asleep.
Adela I was thirsty. And you two: aren’t you going to bed?
La Poncia Let’s be gone.
Servant We’ve earned our sleep. All day, Bernarda never lets me rest.
La Poncia Bring the lamp.
Servant The dogs are barking like mad things.
La Poncia They’ll stop us sleeping.
(They leave. The stage is almost dark. María Josefa enters carrying a lamb in her arms.)
María Josefa Little lamb, my little one,
we’ll go, down to the sea.
The little ant shall open his door,
I shall give you milk and more.
Flowers there’ll be at Bethlehem Gate.
You and I don’t want to sleep.
By itself the door will open
we’ll hide along the shore
deep inside a reef of coral.
Flowers there’ll be at Bethlehem Gate.
(She goes out singing. Adela enters. She looks around her carefully, and vanishes through the door to the stable-yard. Martirio enters through another door and stands centre-stage in a state of agonised alertness. She is also in her petticoat. She has covered herself with a waist-length black shawl. María Josefa enters.)
Martirio Grandmother, where do you think you’re going?
María Josefa Are you going to open the door for me? Who are you?
Martirio What are you doing here?
María Josefa I escaped. Who are you?
Martirio Go to bed.
María Josefa You’re Martirio, I see that now. Martirio: with the face of a martyr. When are you going to have a child? This is mine.
Martirio Where did you find the lamb?
María Josefa I know it’s a lamb, but why shouldn’t a lamb be a child? It’s better to have a lamb than nothing at all. Bernarda with a leopard’s face:Magdalena with a hyena’s.
Martirio Don’t raise your voice.
María Josefa True. It’s all quite dark. Because I’ve white hair you think I can’t have a child, but I can: children, children, and more children. This child will be clothed in white, and there’ll be another child and another and they’ll all be snow-white, and we’ll be like the waves, every one of us. Then we’ll know everything, and our heads will be white, and we’ll be sea-foam. Why is there no sea-foam here? Here there are only mourning shawls.
Martirio Hush, hush.
María Josefa When my neighbour had a child, I would take it chocolate and afterwards she would bring me some, and so it was, always, always, always. You’ll have white hair, but the neighbours won’t visit you. I want to take a walk but I’m afraid the dogs will bite me. Will you go with me till we’re past the fields? I don’t like fields. I like houses, but houses that are wide open, and the women, our neighbours, sleeping in their beds with their little children, and their men outside sitting on chairs. Pepe el Romano is an ogre. All of you want him. But he’ll devour you. Because you’re grains of wheat. No, not grains of wheat. Tongue-less frogs!
Martirio (Energetically) Come, you must go to bed. (She pushes at her.)
María Josefa Yes, but you’ll let me out later, won’t you?
Martirio Of course I will.
María Josefa (Weeping) Little lamb, my little one,
we’ll go, down to the sea.
The little ant shall open his door,
I shall give you milk and more.
(She exits. Martirio shuts the door through which she has gone, and moves towards the door to the stable yard. She hesitates then advances a few more steps.)
Martirio (Whispering) Adela. (Pause. She continues to the door. Loudly) Adela!
(Adela appears. Her hair is tousled.)
Adela Why are you calling me?
Martirio Leave that man alone!
Adela Who are you to speak to me like that?
Martirio It’s not the role of an honest woman.
Adela Wouldn’t you love to be there yourself!
Martirio (Loudly) It’s time for me to speak out. This can’t go on.
Adela It’s only just beginning. I’ve had the courage to take what I want. The spirit and power you lack. I’ve felt death beneath this roof and I’m off to seek what is mine, what belongs to me.
Martirio That man without a soul came here for another woman. You intercepted him.
Adela He came for the money, but his eyes were on me all the time.
Martirio I won’t allow you to take him. He’s to marry Angustias.
Adela You know as well as I he doesn’t love her.
Martirio I know.
Adela You know, because you’ve seen: he loves me.
Martirio (Desperately) Yes.
Adela (Coming closer) He loves me, he loves me.
Martirio Stick a knife in me, if that’s what you wish, but don’t speak those words again.
Adela That’s why you don’t want me to see him. You don’t care if he embraces someone he doesn’t love. Nor do I. He can live with Angustias for a hundred years. But it’s him embracing me that’s so terrible for you, because you love him, you love him too!
Martirio (Dramatically) Yes! I can say it without shame. Yes! Let my bitter heart split open like a pomegranate. I love him!
Adela (Impulsively, moving to embrace her) Martirio, Martirio, it’s not my fault.
Martirio Don’t touch me! Don’t try to soften my heart. My blood is no longer like yours, and even if I wish to see you as a sister now I only see you as the other woman. (She pushes her away)
Adela There’s no remedy here. Whoever must drown will drown. Pepe el Romano is mine. He will take me to the rushes by the shore.
Martirio He will not!
Adela I can’t stand the horror of living under this roof having tasted the sweetness of his mouth. I’ll be whatever he wants me to be. With the whole village against me; scorched by their tongues of fire, hounded by those who call themselves decent people, I’ll stand before them all with a crown of thorns on my brow, the one that a woman loved by a married man wears.
Martirio Be silent!
Adela Yes, yes. (Quietly) Let’s go to sleep, let him marry Angustias. I don’t care. I’ll go and live in a little house all by myself, where he can see me whenever he wants, when need overcomes him.
Martirio That won’t happen as long as I’ve a drop of blood in my veins.
Adela Not to you, who are weak: but I can bring a wild stallion to its knees by lifting my little finger.
Martirio Don’t raise your voice, it disturbs me. My heart is gripped by so evil a force that, regardless of my wishes, it’s smothering me.
Adela They tell us to love our sisters. God must have abandoned me, in the midst of darkness, because I see you more clearly than ever before.
(The sound of someone whistling is heard and Adela runs to the door, but Martirio blocks her passage.)
Martirio Where are you off to?
Adela Get away from the door!
Martirio Push past me if you can!
Adela Away! (They struggle.)
Martirio (Shouting) Mother! Mother!
Adela Let me go!
(Bernarda appears. She is wearing petticoats and a black shawl.)
Bernarda Quiet. Quiet. A pity I haven’t a lightning bolt in my hand!
Martirio (Pointing at Adela) She was with him! Look at her petticoat covered with straw!
Bernarda A bed of straw is the bed of a whore! (She approaches Adela angrily.)
Adela (Confronting her) That’s enough of your gaoler’s voice! (She takes hold of her mother’s walking stick and breaks it in half.) That’s how I treat the tyrant’s rod. Don’t take another step. No one but Pepe can command me!
(La Poncia and Angustias enter.)
Adela I’m his woman. (To Angustias) Listen, go into the yard and tell him so. He’ll rule this whole household. He’s there now, breathing like a lion.
Angustias Dear God!
Bernarda The shotgun! Where’s the shotgun? (She exits in haste)
(Amelia enters upstage, looking on in terror, her head against the wall. Martirio exits.)
Adela No one can stop me! (She starts to exit.)
Angustias (Restraining her) You’ll not leave here in triumph, you thief, to dishonour our house!
Magdalena Let her go: so that we’ll never have to see her again!
(A gunshot is heard.)
Bernarda (Entering) Go on, look for him now if you dare!
Martirio (Entering) That’s the last of Pepe el Romano.
Adela Pepe! My God! Pepe! (She rushes out.)
La Poncia Did you finish him off?
Martirio No! He galloped off on his horse!
Bernarda It wasn’t for want of trying. But we women are poor shots.
Magdalena Why say such things, then!
Martirio For her benefit! I’d like to pour a whole river of blood over her head.
La Poncia You witch.
Magdalena You she-devil!
Bernarda It’s better this way. (A thud is heard.) Adela! Adela!
La Poncia (At the door.) Open up!
Bernarda Open up now. Don’t think this house can hide your shame.
Servant (Entering) You’ve woken the neighbours.
Bernarda (In a low harsh voice) Open the door, before I break it down! (Pause. Total silence.) Adela! (She moves away from the door.) Bring an axe! (La Poncia pushes open the door and goes inside. She utters a scream and reappears.) What is it?
La Poncia (Clasping her hands to her throat) Pray God none of us may end like that!
(The sisters shrink back. The servant crosses herself. Bernarda gives a cry and steps forward.)
La Poncia Don’t go in!
Bernarda No. No, I shall not! Pepe: you may have fled for your life now through the dark branches, but one day you’ll be brought low. Cut her down! My daughter died a virgin! Carry her to her room and dress her as a maiden. No one will dare say a word! She died a virgin! Tell them to ring the bells twice at dawn.
Martirio She was a thousand times fortunate: to have had him.
Bernarda And no tears. Death must be stared straight in the face. Silence! (To another daughter) Silence, I say! (To another) You can shed tears when you’re alone. We’ll drown ourselves in a sea of mourning! She, the youngest of Bernarda Alba’s daughters died a virgin. Do you hear? Silence, Silence I say! Silence!
Friday the 19th of June, 1936.