Monday, 24 August 1998

Federico Garcia Lorca: Plays Two (1920-1936)

Translation: Gwynne Edwards
Edition: Methuen
Review number: 108

This volume contains The Butterfly's Evil Spell, The Love of Don Perlimpin, The Puppet Play of Don Christóbal, The Shoemaker's Wonderful Wife and When Five Years Pass.

The second volume of Lorca plays printed by Methuen contains rather less well known plays than the first. They span over fifteen years of writing, from the very beginning of Lorca's career to the end of his life, and cover a wide range of degrees of naturalism and surrealism; yet their unity of tone is quite remarkable.

The Butterfly's Evil Spell was Lorca's first play, produced while he was still a student in Madrid in 1920. It's characters are all insects (which was one reason for the play's hostile reception). It tells of the love of Sylvia (representing feminine beauty) for the poet Boybeetle (representing idealistic youth). But he has fallen for the Butterly, who has fallen, injured, into the world of ground-living insects. She seems to represent the idealistic and unattainable world that youth yearns for. The theme of the shadow of death falling over the young as they age, a major part of Lorca's work even at this early period, is represented by the transient fireflies, the threatening Scorpion and the dying butterfly who will still separate Sylvia and Boybeetle. The play shows distinct traces of one of Lorca's major influences, the plays of Maeterlink, particularly The Blue Bird which has a closely related plot.

The Shoemaker's Wonderful Wife also deals with the contrast of youth and old age, here in the context of the traditional farce plot of an old man married to a young woman. The henpecked showmaker and childless, flirtatious wife don't fit in and so are objects of ridicule in their small town, a microcosm of the narrow-minded Spanish culture in which Lorca lived and where he had to keep his homosexuality a close secret. By the second act, things are even worse; the shoemaker, disheartened by his continual failure to satisfy his wife's desires and expectations, leaves; she ends up in the socially unacceptable position of running an inn to make ends meet. Yet, contrary to the prurient beliefs of the town, she remains faithful to his memory. This allows Lorca to make important points about the true meaning of honour, another major theme of his, particularly the contrast between public reputation and private virtue.

The old man and the young wife appear again in the next play in the set (actually slightly earlier chronologically), which has the full title The Love of Don Perlimpín and Belisa in the Garden: An Erotic Print in Four Scenes. Belisa is married off by her mother, but even on her wedding night is unfaithful, receiving five lovers who represent all the races of the earth while Don Perlimpín is asleep. Once he becomes aware of his inability to satisfy the passions of his young wife, Don Perlimpín invents a young lover for her. When to save his honour he has to fight and kill the young man he himself is discovered dying in the garden; transcending his impotence, he has managed to become the man Belisa is longing for.

The Puppet Play of Don Cristóbal is an extremely short piece (under twenty pages) written for puppets manipulated by Lorca himself to allow an escape from the whims of actors, directors and impresarios and to continue a move away from the suffocating traditions of Spanish commercial theatre. The traditions of puppet theatre were more spontaneous, with a different more vernacular style of language referred to in the prologue as coming "fresh from the earth".

Don Cristóbal, a doctor, needs money to marry; he gains this by murdering and robbing a patient, presumably a parable based on Lorca's feelings about the real world's patient/doctor relationships. With this money, he buys Dona Rosita from her mother, only to find that she is not the pure chaste bride he hoped for.

When Five Years Pass is a surrealist play, whose bizarre characters include the football player, who never speaks, just smokes and embraces his girlfriend. It too is a play about youth and aging, about the end of idealism, about death even in the midst of life. None of the parts are named, which makes their nature seem more allegorical even than the characters in the other plays.

The young man, rejected by the girl, goes away for five years, rejecting in his turn the deperate advances of his secretary. The first act is mainly a conversation between the young man and the old man - another aspect of the young man - about the nature of memory. This is interrupted by the friend, advocate of a hedonist lifestyle (and yet another aspect of the young man). The second act tells the story of the five years from the point of view of the girl, knowing that her family destine her eventually to marry the young man. This part is about growing up, and the contrasting viewpoints seem to represent the different ways we have of understanding the world around us - as, I suppose, it is the nature of surrealist art to do.

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