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Celestina’s Influence on La casa de Bernarda Alba

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Celestina’s Influence on La casa de Bernarda Alba

Abstract

This study argues that the breadth and depth of influence of Fernando de Rojas’s Celestina on Federico García Lorca’s La casa de Bernarda Alba is much greater than previously acknowledged. García Lorca borrowed from Rojas not only motifs, images, and characterization, but also symbols, structure, and the effusive rhetoric that characterizes Celestina and Melibea’s mode of expression. Lorca’s La casa contains a microcosm of the social institutions and cultural dynamics that predominate in Celestina ’s world and, by extension, in Rojas’s society. In this comparative analysis, I hope to show the far-reaching influence that Celestina has had since its publication in 1499 up to the twentieth century. By reading Lorca’s play from this perspective, I also uncover new levels of meaning that help us interpret La casa based on the systems of intertextual relations that underprop La casa ’s foundations.
Vol.:(0123456789)
Neophilologus (2021) 105:223–238
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11061-021-09669-7
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Celestinas Influence onLa casa de Bernarda Alba
LuisF.LópezGonzález1
Accepted: 2 January 2021 / Published online: 2 February 2021
© The Author(s) 2021
Abstract
This study argues that the breadth and depth of influence of Fernando de Rojas’s
Celestina on Federico García Lorca’s La casa de Bernarda Alba is much greater
than previously acknowledged. García Lorca borrowed from Rojas not only motifs,
images, and characterization, but also symbols, structure, and the effusive rhetoric
that characterizes Celestina and Melibea’s mode of expression. Lorca’s La casa con-
tains a microcosm of the social institutions and cultural dynamics that predominate
in Celestina’s world and, by extension, in Rojas’s society. In this comparative analy-
sis, I hope to show the far-reaching influence that Celestina has had since its publi-
cation in 1499 up to the twentieth century. By reading Lorca’s play from this per-
spective, I also uncover new levels of meaning that help us interpret La casa based
on the systems of intertextual relations that underprop La casa’s foundations.
Keywords Celestina· Bernarda Alba· Melibea· Adela· Desire· Characterization·
Influence
The craft of reading cognitively correlates with the art of writing. Joseph T. Snow
states that when writing, any author may be reflecting, at least in part, the sum of his
experiences and of his history of readings. Consciously or unconsciously, he notes,
authors recast some of their reading experiences into even the most original work:
“The material is later absorbed and modified in its new environment” (2008, 81).
Snow’s insightful opinion is undoubtedly true of Federico García Lorca whose most
celebrated play, La casa de Bernarda Alba (1936), is deeply indebted to Fernando
de Rojas’s Celestina (1499). Largely because Lorca aims at reproducing “un docu-
mental fotográfico” (2011, 138),1 a realistic feature it shares with Celestina, La casa
contains not a single mention of an author or work. The hovering presence of Celes-
tina in Lorca’s drama, however, is too extensive to ignore.
* Luis F. López González
lf.lopez@vanderbilt.edu
1 Vanderbilt University, Nashville, USA
1 I quote from Vilches de Frutos’s edition. From now on, I offer the page number in the text.
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L. F. López González
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Thanks to Christian de Paepe and Manuel Fernández-Montesinos García’s archi-
val work on Lorca’s personal library, we know that Lorca owned the 1932 Espasa-
Calpe edition of Rojas’s Celestina. The physical description of Lorca’s copy by De
Paepe and Fernández-Montesinos García suggests that Lorca studied Rojas’s work
scrupulously. Lorca’s copy of the book lacks the back cover—itself a sign of use—
and it contains “anotaciones y pasajes destacados y subrayados a lápiz negro y rojo
y a plumilla en tinta negra” (2008, 118). Lorca’s intellectual engagement with this
work can be discerned not only through his written annotations in the margins, but
also by the different colors used to highlight and underline certain sections of Celes-
tina, which indicates that he planned to return to those scenes later.
The connection between Celestina and La casa has been obliquely suggested by
both Rojas and Lorca scholarship (Sears 1992, 94; Klein 1991, 3). Eduardo Galán
Font, though, is the only critic who has taken on the task of pointing out some obvi-
ous similarities between both dramas; most prominently, he observes, the affair of
Calisto and Melibea lies behind that of Pepe el Romano and Adela, and similar
social conditions pave the way for the women’s suicides. In a recent paper, María
Valeria Mancha (2019) explores the dramatic effects of unattainable love in rela-
tion to Melibea and Adela, focusing on the patriarchal oppression that provokes their
suicides.
These two articles have uncovered but the surface of Lorca’s debt to Celestina.
In my study, I hope to show that Lorca’s literary borrowings are deeper than the
references and motifs suggested by Galán Font and Mancha. The intertextuality can
be observed not only in the edifice of La casa, but also in the dramatic thrust of
Bernarda, Adela, and Poncia’s characterization, which recalls that of Celestina and
Melibea. Lorca is deservedly renowned for his poetic genius, a gifted artist who pos-
sessed a heightened sense of aesthetic sensibility and a clear consciousness of his lit-
erary craft, but he was also an avid and discerning reader. During a 1935 interview,
the poet was asked if he read a lot, to which he replied: “Tuve épocas de leerme dos
libros diarios” (Del Río 1972, 283). Lorca was steeped in Renaissance, Golden Age,
and modern as well as Elizabethan literature, as is suggested by the great breadth of
authors and books that made up his personal library.2 Celestina, whose historical
influence, cultural value and relevance in Spanish literature is incontestable, looms
large among Lorca’s readings. This opinion is supported by Lorca’s Celestinesque
renewal of motifs, symbols, imagery, representation of public and private spaces,
social structure, dialogue, and characterization. Some borrowings, of course, are
more unmistakable than others, which begs the question: Were his loans conscious
or unconscious? The reality is that we do not have a direct answer to this query.
Instead, Lorca’s text speaks for itself, and it reveals that the Andalusian poet had a
profound understanding of Rojas’s drama.
2 For Lorca’s indebtedness to Shakespeare’s theater, see Andrew A. Anderson (1985).
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Celestina’s Influence on La casa de Bernarda Alba
Celestina andLa casa de Bernarda Alba
What came to be known as Celestina was published by Fernando de Rojas in 1499
with the title Comedia de Calisto y Melibea. It contained sixteen acts with introduc-
tory paratexts. Rojas explains in a caustic preface to the 1502 Seville edition that he
was importuned by his readers to expand the work. To please his audience, he added
five more acts, and printed the complete work with a slightly different title: Tragico-
media de Calisto y Melibea. Later editors titled it Celestina for the procuress who
has a larger-than-life presence in the storyline. Since the outline of this evolution is
included in every old and modern edition of Celestina, Lorca certainly was aware
of it. Lorca’s first dramatic piece Tragicomedia de don Cristóbal y la señá Rosita
(1922), a guiñol that contains the same social criticism and motifs of unattainable
love that undergird his three tragedies—Bodas de sangre, Yerma, and La casa—as
well as the historical play Mariana Pineda, pays homage to Celestina. “Tragico-
media” is a label as firmly attached to Rojas’s masterpiece as is the title character’s
name, which has been made into a verb in contemporary Spanish.
The similarities become more remarkable in the actual contexture of La casa.
The ages of multiple characters from both works are the same. In his mournful
planctus (plaint), Pleberio apostrophizes Melibea’s body, lamenting the dissonance
of life: “Más dignos eran mis sesenta años de la sepultura que tus veynte” (2001,
608).3 Adela is also 20years old. When Magdalena censures the impending wed-
ding of Pepe el Romano with Angustias, who is 40, she believes that Pepe should
marry Adela instead because she “tiene veinte años” (177). Bernarda, like Pleberio,
is 60years old. Her age only appears in the cast of dramatis personae: “Bernarda,
60 años.” Rojas borrowed the sixty-twenty idea from Diego de San Pedro’s Cár-
cel de Amor (1492). Leriano’s mother reflects upon the world-upside-down theme
beside her son’s deathbed: “Más razón havía para que conservases los veinte años
del hijo moço que para que dexases los sesenta de la vieja madre” (1971, 173–74).
The symmetry between their ages could have been derived from San Pedro’s work,
but more likely was derived from Rojas’s work. Poncia and Celestina, who was a
prostitute just like Poncia’s mother, are also the same age. Although Pármeno esti-
mates that Celestina is 72 years old (“sus seys dozenas de años a cuestas” 293),
the go-between claims otherwise, referring to herself as “una vieja de sesenta años”
(497). In light of Pármeno’s appraisal, Peter E. Russell wonders if Celestina’s state-
ment represents mere “vanidad” (2001, 497). For my part, I see no reason to doubt
Celestina’s assertion, which is expressed in earnest during a moment of high tension
and existential threat. A similar discrepancy can be observed in La casa, not with
regard to Poncia’s, but Angustias’s age.4 Lorca lists Poncia in the dramatis personae
as a 60-year-old servant. Lorca breaks with Rojas regarding Pepe’s age, but not by
3 I quote from Russell’s edition. From now on, I offer the page number in the text.
4 When Poncia asks Bernarda for Angustias’s age, the latter says that she is 39 (125), but Magdalena
later says that Angustias is 40. Lorca, just as Rojas had with Celestina’s age, never reconciles these two
contradictory statements.
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L. F. López González
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much. During her first visit to Pleberio’s house, Celestina tells Melibea that Calisto
is 23years old (336). Pepe, if Magdalena is correct, is 25 (176).
Melibea and Adela, both of whom are reportedly unattractive,5 are ailed by the
same condition: lovesickness. They also exhibit comparable physiological manifes-
tations. Although Galán Font compares Adela’s sickness with Calisto’s, the simili-
tudes between Adela’s and Melibea’s ailments are far more striking. The first word
of Melibea’s lovesickness comes during the banquet scene of act IX when Lucre-
cia, whom Melibea has sent to call upon Celestina to treat her sudden affliction,
avers that Melibea feels “muy fatigada de desmayos y dolor del coraçón” (436). As
soon as Celestina crosses the threshold, Melibea reveals her lovesickness, invoking
the imagery of the serpent in her chest eating her heart alive: “Madre mía, que me
comen este coraçón serpientes dentro de mi cuerpo” (441). The metaphorical use
of the serpents here is meant to evoke the serpentine oil that Celestina employed in
her love spell (“¡O serpentino azeyte!” 342).6 Lorca takes full advantage of this sug-
gestive image by making Poncia describe Adela’s lovesickness: “La encuentro sin
sosiego, temblona, asustada, como si tuviera una lagartija entre los pechos” (190).
In an even more direct fashion, Adela paraphrases Melibea’s words, expressing her
desire to escape her confinement in order to allay “lo que nos muerde” (213), in
reference to Melibea’s figurative biting serpents. Although Calisto had also claimed
to have felt “dentro del pecho aguijones” (233), Lorca’s expressions were likely
inspired by Melibea’s words. Adela’s illness is evident to and commented upon by
nearly everyone in the house. Poncia, who, just as Celestina does within her own
society, knows everything about everyone in the house, states: “Esa niña está mala”
(199). Angustias adds that her eyes are starting to look like those of a crazy per-
son. When Adela enters the scene, she confirms her malady: “Tengo mal de cuerpo”
(200), a syntax reminiscent of Areúsa’s phrase “mal de la madre,” uttered at the out-
set of act VIII. Adela’s symptoms, however, mirror those of Melibea. As seen above,
Poncia finds the following signs in Adela: restlessness (“sin sosiego”), trembling
(“temblona”), and fear (“asustada”), while Martirio notes her sleeplessness: “¡No
duerme apenas!” (199). Like Poncia, Lucrecia perceives Melibea’s “poco sossiego”
(restlessness), “meneo de tus miembros” (trembling) change of facial hue, fear, and
sleeplessness (453). The connections are patent even in the use of language. But the
overarching condition that likens the two protagonists is their acute case of lovesick-
ness, a psychoaffective illness that controls their emotions and sensory perception.
Melibea and Adela’s irrepressible passion leads them to reject the stringent social
norms that repress basic women’s rights and police female sexuality. Their desires,
metaphorically represented as serpents and lizards, are eating them alive. Both
5 See Elicia’s and Areúsa’s rather unsavory descriptions of Melibea during the banquet scene in act IX
(421). Even Calisto, who describes Melibea in act I as a type of the pulchra puella, acknowledges that
other ladies are comelier than Melibea (355). In the opening scene of act I, Poncia has some colorful
words to describe Bernarda’s daughters: “Le quedan cinco mujeres, cinco hijas feas” (144).
6 The use of magic and its effects is and has been one of the most outstanding points of contention in
Celestina scholarship. For my part, I believe, with Russell, Severin, and those who defend the efficacy
of the hilado, that Rojas makes a great effort to show the connection between Melibea’s lovesickness and
Celestina’s spell cast in act IV.
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Celestina’s Influence on La casa de Bernarda Alba
heroines disavow their parents, ironically, not on the altar of personal freedom or
individuality. Instead, Melibea and Adela merely seek a shift of allegiance. They
yearn to submit their bodies, their wills, and their lives to their lovers. In act XVI,
Pleberio and Alisa reflect upon the transience of life, noting that their own lives are
coming to an end, which leads them to think about making arrangements for Meli-
bea’s marriage. Upon hearing her parents’ misguided thoughts, Melibea concedes
that she is utterly subjected to Calisto’s will: “Haga y ordene de mí a su voluntad”
(547), thus actualizing Celestina’s prophetic words of act XI.7 In Lorca’s drama,
Adela recasts the same sentiment: “Seré lo que [Pepe] quiera que sea” (272). Con-
fronted with the possibility of renouncing her lover, Adela affirms her subjectivity,
womanhood, and sexuality: “¡Mi cuerpo será de quien yo quiera!” (202), a subver-
sive cry that really means “my body belongs to Pepe.” This interpretation is later
confirmed when she breaks Bernarda’s cane and, overtaken by anger, screams: “¡En
mí no manda nadie más que Pepe!” (275). The verbs “ordenar” (Melibea) and “man-
dar” (Adela) suggest intertextuality, as well as a breakdown of the girls’ sense of
self. Melibea pushes the limits even further: “Si [Calisto] passar quiere la mar, con
élyré; si rodear el mundo lléveme consigo; si venderme en tierra de enemigos, no
rehuyré su querer” (547). Both Melibea and Adela consider themselves mere objects
of their lovers’ whim.
Echoing his ballad “La casada infiel” from Romancero gitano and Bodas de san-
gre, Adela states that Pepe takes her to the juncos (reeds) of the river (“orilla”),
imagery that recalls María Josefa’s longing to marry a handsome man at the sea-
shore. Adela, subsequently, expresses a desire to flee with her lover, albeit tamping
down the melodramatic tone that has arched over the entire interaction with Mar-
tirio: “Yo me iré a una casita sola donde él me verá cuando quiera” (272–73). The
notion of escaping to a distant place with their lovers is clearly articulated through
similar wording (Melibea: “Con él iré”; Adela: “Yo me iré”). Because of their ina-
bility to marry the men they love, Melibea and Adela reject marriage unequivo-
cally, invoking the malcasada or malmaridada leitmotif. While eavesdropping on
Pleberio and Alisa’s plan to marry her, Melibea tells Lucrecia: “Más vale ser buena
amiga que mala casada” (547), then adding “no quiero marido, no quiero ensuciar
los ñudos del matrimonio.” She ends by disavowing her parents and, by extension,
all the social mores that her parents advocate and incarnate: “¡Que ni quiero marido,
ni quiero padre ni parientes!” (551). The same response can be discerned in Adela.
She tells Martirio, who is also sick with love for Pepe, that she would rather face
social ostracism and physical pain than accepting—like all the female protagonists
of Lorquian tragedies, as well as the Tragicomedia de don Cristóbal—a marriage
of convenience: “Me pondré delante de todos la corona de espinas que tienen las
que son queridas de algún hombre casado” (272). Beyond the Christological under-
tones, Adela claims to be not only willing but even eager to endure the fate and suf-
fering of those who, like Librada’s daughter or even Novia from Bodas de sangre,
succumb to the urges of the flesh out of wedlock. Her explicit rejection of family
7 Celestina: “[Melibea] es más tuya que de sí misma, más está a tu mandado y querer que de su padre
Pleberio” (460).
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L. F. López González
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expectations and social values is on full display when she stops Bernarda’s author-
ity in its tracks by breaking her cane and interjecting: “¡Aquí se acabaron las voces
de presidio!” (275). At this juncture, Adela is determined to escape the house and
her mother’s domination at any cost. She is so alienated by her lovesickness that the
aberrant nature of her desire for her sister’s betrothed is a nonfactor in her decision
to elope with Pepe. Melibea’s dramatic expression “no quiero padres ni parientes”
becomes Adela’s worldview. Lorca renews and beautifies Melibea’s principle by
making Adela defend her feelings: “Nos enseñan a querer a las hermanas. Dios me
ha debido dejar sola, en medio de la oscuridad, porque te veo como si no te hubiera
visto nunca” (274). Adela’s repudiation of family bonds is reminiscent of Melibea’s,
but the most salient feature that unites both characters is their effusive rhetoric with
which they communicate with others throughout the dramas, a saliency that renders
both women dramatically forceful and tragically memorable.
The consensus in Lorca scholarship is that La casa was built on the pillars of the
themes of love, death, and honor,8 all of which are fatefully interconnected. These
same premises are at work in Celestina; they not only sustain the plot, but also push
the narrative to its tragic end. In both works, love evolves into an all-consuming
desire, a physical condition that Ricardo Castells calls “grotesque realism,” a type
of human behavior that revolves around the materiality of the body, rather than of
higher ideals. Assisted by Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the body and the grotesque,
Castells describes “grotesque realism” as a rejection of ingrained social values in
favor of immediate gratification. He argues that “Calisto makes the transition from
the ethereal Melibea to the physical presentation of Melibea when he describes the
young woman in descending order as a collection of cabello, ojos, pestañas, nariz,
dientes, and tetas” (1992, 15). After fulfilling his desire, Calisto perceives Melibea
as a sexed object, nothing more. Indeed, Calisto later equates Melibea to a dainty
bird that he has to pluck (unclothe) before consumption (“señora, el que quiere
comer el ave, quita primero las plumas” 584). Pepe, who is set to marry Angustias,
also treats Adela as mere delicacy, a savory dish to appease his appetite before his
wedding. Melibea and Adela suffer a similar degradation. Both of them are raised
cosseted by affluent families, expected to reach their families and society’s most
sacred ideals—a traditional marriage, a family, and a devout life. They are raised to
become mirror images of their mothers. Instead, they abandon their upbringings to
pursue their intense desires. This “grotesque realism” fuels their transgression and
rebellion, dishonors their families, and results in death. As Miguel A. Martínez’s
briefly, yet eloquently, puts it, “Adela se rebela, lucha y muere” (1970,64). Although
attenuated by Pleberio’s less stern authority, the same holds true for Melibea.
Rojas also inspired Lorca in Bernarda’s characterization. Pleberio and Bernarda
have more features in common than their age. They blur and often efface the line
that divides gender roles. Stephen M. Hart has seen masculine features in Bernarda’s
8 “Bernarda Alba and her five daughters are immersed in a violent affair involving love, death, and
honor” (Sharp 1961, 230), later echoed by Richards: “The tragedies center around the familiar Spanish
preoccupation with love, death, and honor—themes which bring into play individual feeling, universal
necessity, and the norms that characterize a particular society” (1983, 215).
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Celestina’s Influence on La casa de Bernarda Alba
characterization, going as far as calling her “mujer varonil” (1989, 65). In act VII, it
is Celestina who describes Claudina, Pármeno’s mother, as “mujer varonil,” in both
cases without the positive connotations with which the term was usually employed
in the Middle Ages (Swietlicki 1985). Hart opines that Bernarda “has fully internal-
ized the phallocentric system of masculine dominance, using it for her own ends”
(1989, 66). After the death of her second husband, she adopts the roles of father and
mother; she has to tend to her lands and horse-breeding trade, while also educat-
ing (subjugating) her daughters and managing her household. Prudencia comments
upon Bernarda’s gender ambiguity: “Bregando como un hombre” (245). Bernarda,
just as Pleberio does, derives her power from the possession and exploitation of
the land, an outmoded form of the pre-modern (and pre-Rojas) feudalism that Isaac
Rubio terms “sociedad semifeudal” (1980, 172). A similar blurring of gender lines
can be observed in Pleberio’s characterization. His planctus (literally “weeping”),
which is modelled after that of Leriano’s mother in Cárcel, helps to portray him
as an effete and feminine figure. His crying, whining, and helplessness, behaviors
generally attributed to women in the Middle Ages, are a far cry from the dominant
medieval male figures of, inter alia, El Cid, El Marqués de Santillana, and Jorge
Manrique who adopt a stoic outlook when facing loss. In keeping with the courtly
love aesthetics, a genre that informs not only Pleberio’s discourse but also his world-
view, his weak and womanly plaint portrays an overtaken man, ill-suited to face
the vicissitudes of life. As such, the final lament would be more proper for his wife
Alisa.
Pleberio and Bernarda are not only self-delusional regarding their daughters’
innocence and obedience. They also err in not marrying their daughters in a timely
manner, a parental oversight that has puzzled generations of Celestina scholars.
Pleberio and Alisa only consider betrothing Melibea after they believe that death
is upon them and feel the need to fulfill the moral obligation of arranging their
worldly affairs before departing to the next life. An analogous dereliction is high-
lighted by Poncia in La casa. The servant reminds Bernarda of her refusal to accept
Enrique Humanes as Martirio’s fiancé, an accusation that the matriarch dismisses
hubristically by pointing out Enrique’s humble origins. After the death of Antonio
María Benavídez, the daughters’ hope of finding suitable husbands is bleaker since
Bernarda has vowed to lock them in for eight years, in addition to the fact that she
is convinced that her social position is above that of any other man in town. Just
as Bernarda treats her daughters as symbolic capital or commodity with whom to
increase her own honor and wealth, Pleberio too has subjected Melibea to what Julio
Rodríguez Puértolas calls “un amor ya cosificado y mediatizado por los más típi-
cos ‘valores’ de la burguesía” (2007, 30), adding, “Pleberio, una figura patética, sin
duda, no es inocente. La cosificación a que ha sometido a su hija así lo demuestra”
(2007, 31). Theresa Ann Sears notes in Pleberio’s lament a selfish preoccupation
with his own suffering, rather than with his daughter’s death (1992, 102). The same
can be said about Bernarda’s stone-cold egotism and disregard for her daughter’s
suicide. Pleberio and Bernarda behave selfishly and constantly put their self-interest
above their daughters’ wellbeing. The last parallel worth pointing out between Ple-
berio and Bernarda is the identical position they hold within the family structure,
society, and the storyline as heads of their households. They are representatives of
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L. F. López González
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the business class, tasked with the onerous responsibility of maintaining the fami-
lies’ honra.
The notion of honra is, to be sure, an abstract and an undefinable cultural ideal as
well as a shared experience and an axiological construct. As such, honra is an intrin-
sic part of Hispano-Roman ontology (see Aguilar Piñal 1986). Properly speaking,
therefore, it cannot be said to belong to a particular author or milieu. The premium
that premodern, modern, and even postmodern Spaniards placed on this concept is
well known, making it difficult to assign influence of one author over another. Yet
we would do a disservice both to Rojas and Lorca if we were to ignore the parallels
that stem from its application in the plots. The first element to notice is the correla-
tion between (des)honra and death, which is already on full display in King Alfonso
X’s Siete Partidas (ca. 1252–84). Julio Caro Baroja has studied the implications of
honra in medieval society, culture, and literature, noting that in Alfonsine legisla-
tion: “La pérdida de la honra se equiparaba a la pérdida de la vida” (1964, 414). This
assertion holds tragically true for Celestina and La casa. Caro Baroja offers a strik-
ing diagram that further illustrates the prominence that medieval societies placed on
this system of values:
Honra Deshonra
Fama
Infamia
Vida Muerte
This paradigm lays bare the teleology of an ill reputation, which causes dishonor
and death. Conversely, a good standing leads to honorability and life. The notion of
“fama” (repute) as the springhead of life is unequivocally affirmed in Jorge Man-
rique’s celebrated “Coplas a la muerte de su padre” (1477). This elemental ideal is
no mere literary conceit. It was an essential part of human relations and a core tenet
of social institutions.
Rojas and Lorca not only understood these imperatives. They recognized the
seed for tragedy hidden beneath. They knew that their societies valued people not in
proportion with personal virtue or moral integrity, but with appearances and public
opinion. Guided by this sociological awareness, they sought to make their characters
reflect upon and live through these idiosyncrasies that rewarded repute with honor
and life, and punished dishonor with exclusion and death.
Melibea consistently equates her loss of honra to the loss of her life. In act X, she
claims to prefer death over losing her good name. When Celestina insinuates her
illicit union with Calisto, Melibea complains: “Más agradable me sería que rasgases
mis carnes y sacasses mi coraçón” (448–49). After the death of Pármeno and Sem-
pronio at the hands of the police, Calisto likewise favors death over dishonor: “Plu-
guiera a Dios que fuera yo ellos y perdiera la vida y no la honrra” (506–07). Lorca
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Celestina’s Influence on La casa de Bernarda Alba
actualizes this ideal through the deaths of Adela and Librada’s daughter, who had
a premarital affair, gave birth, and killed the baby. Upon hearing the uproar of the
crowd stoning the hapless girl, Bernarda calls for her expeditious lynching, evok-
ing, as Ann Bugliani observes, the Biblical story of Mary Magdalene (2001, 84).
Bernarda stresses the punitive function of society, which operates to repress human
desire, screaming from inside the house: “Que vengan todos para matarla” and then
“que pague la que pisotea su decencia” (239). Looking at Adela, Martirio echoes
her mother’s draconian expression: “¡Que pague la que debe!” (240). Martirio’s fury
is not directed against Librada’s daughter, but against Adela. Bernarda, who is still
unaware of Adela’s transgression, urges a swift murder: “¡Acabar con ella antes que
lleguen los guardias! ¡Carbón ardiendo en el sitio de su pecado!” (240). Medieval
scholars will discern a direct reference to the legend of María Coronel in Bernarda’s
last exclamation. María Coronel, as recounted in Juan de Mena’s Laberinto de For-
tuna (1444), San Pedro’s Cárcel, and others, allegedly mutilated her genitals with
hot coals in order to quell her burning lust when her husband was at a military cam-
paign against the Andalusian Moors. Francisco Sánchez de las Brozas (1523–1600)
uses terminology and syntax to describe María Coronel’s effacement that recall Lor-
ca’s (“metióse un tizón ardiendo por su natura” Cummins 1990, 92). Bernarda’s hys-
terical screams “¡Matadla! ¡Matadla!” convey her intransigent sense of morality and
her vindictiveness. Her visceral reaction is informed by the fact that she appraises
her sense of morality and subjectivity by contrast of libertine women, such as this
wretched girl, Paca la Roseta, and Poncia’s mother. For Bernarda, only lowborn
women can express and exercise their sexuality: “¡Ésa es la cama de las malnaci-
das!” (275), a distinction also articulated by Celestina to explicate Melibea’s initial
rejection in act IV: “Si assí no fuesse, ninguna diferencia havría entre las públicas
que aman, a las escondidas donzellas” (353).
Gossip, a cultural phenomenon associated with honor and reputation, contributes
to the tragic end in Rojas’s and Lorca’s dramas. Magdalena verbalizes the anxiety
caused by the fear of slander: “Nos pudrimos por el qué dirán” (172). “El qué dirán”
can be broadly defined as a type of malicious gossip, aimed at defaming and harm-
ing others. Bernarda’s decision to confine her family inside the house is only tan-
gentially informed by the mourning of her late husband. She isolates her daughters
(and her mother) to protect them from defamation. Dennis A. Klein is correct in
noting that Bernarda simultaneously controls others and is controlled by the fear of
“quedirán” (1991, 67). Amelia blames this culture of toxic discourse for her and her
sisters’ woes: “De todo tiene la culpa esta crítica que no nos deja vivir” (168). Ber-
narda does not allow her mother outside of her room-cell because she is afraid peo-
ple will see her and turn her into fodder for gossip. When María Josefa escapes from
her chamber, Bernarda asks the Criada to move her away from the well. The servant
misconstrues Bernarda’s motives, reassuring her “no tengas miedo que se tire” to
which Bernarda retorts: “No es por eso. Pero desde aquel sitio las vecinas pueden
verla desde su ventana” (160). Even Poncia, who is likely the product of prostitu-
tion, lives in fear of being sullied by ignominy. She makes it abundantly clear that
she does not care about the intramural brawls and the ensuing suffering that plague
a family riven by envy and hate. She only mediates disputes because “quiero vivir
en casa decente. ¡No quiero mancharme de vieja!” (206). Mostly for selfish reasons,
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232
L. F. López González
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Bernarda takes this social axiology to the extreme. She knows that a stain on her
daughters’ good name besmirches everyone within the household. C. Brian Morris
reminds us that Bernarda perceives her daughter’s isolation as an ideal way of life
and dismisses other modes of existence because they threaten her own social stand-
ing (1986, 131). Lorca represents “el qué dirán” as a weapon, wielded to hurt others,
as showcased in Mujer 3.a’s sotto voce insult to Bernarda: “¡Lengua de cuchillo!”
(151).
The emphasis on malicious gossip is also a source of anxiety for all characters
in Celestina, from Pleberio and Melibea to Celestina and Areúsa. Fear of el qué
dirán conditions not only the way they interact with each other, but also the way
they perceive themselves and the world. In act X during Calisto’s first visit, Meli-
bea complains about being unable to see him from behind the door. Calisto, whose
cowardice is on full display throughout the drama, offers to knock it down. Meli-
bea dissuades him, adducing her reputation: “Por que mi honrra y persona estén sin
detrimento de mala sospecha seguras,” and “no quieras poner mi fama en la bal-
ança de las lenguas maldezientes” (476). Should their secret be revealed, both Cal-
isto and Melibea risk dishonor and even death. Just before Calisto’s departure from
her door, Melibea begs him to reward his servants handsomely so that “en todo te
guarden secreto” (486). Melibea is not the only one who understands the threat of
gossip. Even Celestina, whose concern for her reputation mirrors Poncia’s, wields
elqué dirán to defend herself from Pármeno and Sempronio’s aggression. Just before
her death, Celestina threatens the irate servants with spreading the secret if they do
not abate their abuse: “No queráys que salgan a plaza las cosas de Calisto y vues-
tras” (498). After Celestina’s death and the murderers’ ensuing execution, Calisto
laments, not their deaths but, the spillage of his secret into the public domain: “¡En
que anda mi hazienda de mano en mano y mi nombre de lengua en lengua!” (507).
In the vortex of his desolation, Pleberio takes solace in the fact that Melibea’s death
removes his fear of losing his honra on account of his daughter’s actions.9 Public
gossip is not only triggered by actual acts of transgression. Appearance and mal-
ice also spread harmful rumors. The sense of anxiety caused by the dread of being
exposed to dishonor that distresses all characters in Celestina as well as in Lorca’s
tragic trilogy is overwhelmingly rooted in public opinion. Melibea, Calisto, Ber-
narda, and even Poncia and Celestina, place a higher premium on appearances than
on actual acts of immorality. This helps explain why at the end of the play, Bernarda
is more concerned with covering up Adela’s affair than with losing her daughter.
She lets her fear of qué dirán supersede any telltale of motherly love, a stoniness that
stands in stark contrast to Pleberio’s openness and candor after Melibea’s suicide.
Luis Fernández Cifuentes has interpreted the spatial economy of Lorca’s La casa
in terms of borders that divide territory and people. The interior of the house, he
posits, is rendered into a “territorio conflictivo que es a la vez abierto y cerrado,
que reúne y dispersa, reprime y libera” (1986, 192). Spaces are divided and defined
9 “Agora perderé contigo, mi desdichada hija, los miedos e temores que cada día me espauorecían: sola
tu muerte es la que a mí me haze seguro de sospecha” (614). Ironically, Melibea’s loss of chastity and
suicide have caused irreparable damage to Pleberio’s reputation.
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Celestina’s Influence on La casa de Bernarda Alba
according to gender and social roles. In Rojas’s book, affluent maidens stay inside
the house to avoid unwelcomed gossip, while men and prostitutes are free to roam
around the streets less encumbered by people’s opinion. In medieval medical lore,
isolation and idleness were considered adverse both for the body and mind. Seclu-
sion was believed to augment the melancholic humor, thus creating a humoral
imbalance that resulted in depressive states, bursts of anger, madness, and suicidal
impulses.10 To this effect, Bugliani poses a chicken-and-egg paradox: Is María
Josefa insane because she is confined or is she confined because she is insane?
(2001, 85). It is thought provoking, and we will do well to recall that Adela was
already acquiring the look of a madwoman. These psychosomatic effects stress the
relevance of space in La casa and Celestina. Whereas Rojas represents the separa-
tion of female and male spaces without apparent judgment, Lorca portrays the exclu-
sion of young ladies from social and political life as criticism levelled against ultra-
conservative mores. Bernarda defines the boundaries with an evocative metaphor:
“Hilo y aguja para las hembras. Látigo y mula para el varón” (158). In Bodas de
sangre, Madre, who expresses serious apprehensions regarding Novia’s chastity and
reputation, voices her own opinions apropos gendering spaces: “¡Los varones son
del viento! […] Las niñas no salen jamás a la calle” (1995, 132). This spatial dichot-
omy takes on more misogynistic undertones in Yerma, both because it is uttered by
a man (Juan, Yerma’s husband) and because he equates women to animals: “The
sheep in the pens, and the women in their houses” (1993, 150). Bernarda adopts
this attitude as dogma, knowing full well that her social position depends largely
on never violating the boundaries that separate men from women and bien nacidas
from “mal nacidas.”
The houses are paramount in the economy of the drama because either all (La
casa) or most (Celestina) of the action takes place inside these spaces. The archi-
tectural spaces of Pleberio’s and Bernarda’s houses are virtually the same. Rojas
describes Pleberio’s house as an urban mansion with the tower from which Meli-
bea jumps to her death, comprised of an interior space and an exterior garden. Ber-
narda’s house is a large Andalusian residence with a spacious interior and the corral.
The houses have other areas, such as Melibea’s chamber or Bernarda’s sewing room,
but they play no significant role in the unfolding of the narratives. The dramatic use
of space is akin in both works. The interiors are mostly domestic precincts where
intimate matters are revealed and discussed, a war zone (“Poncia: […] casa de
guerra” 261) in Bernarda’s house. Save for Pleberio, both houses are entirely inhab-
ited by women. Men are generally barred from entering into these walled-in zones,
and unmarried women, except for servants, do not (or cannot) leave the premises
of the property. As noted above, Bernarda has forbidden her daughters to leave the
house until the eight-year period of mourning elapses, a tradition she had to abide
by when her own father died. Rojas constantly describes Melibea as a “encerrada
donzella” (440, 451), and she never appears outside her home. In a comment that
derives from a rather slanderous invective, Areúsa confirms Melibea’s reclusion,
stating that Melibea “todo el año se está encerrada” (421). The irony here is rather
10 See my forthcoming article, “The Melancholic Complexion of Melibea.” Modern Language Review.
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234
L. F. López González
1 3
obvious. The noble lady hides from public view to preclude gossip, and Areúsa
turns Melibea’s preventive measure into slander, suggesting that she hides in order
to conceal what Areúsa describes as vomit-provoking ugliness (421). The external
spaces, likewise, serve the same purpose in the narratives. They are the loci in which
the lovers conduct their affairs. Calisto and Pepe climb over the walls into the pri-
vate area after midnight, satiate their desire, and depart just before dawn. Calisto,
Melibea, Adela, and (at least in Adela’s mind) Pepe die right after their last amorous
encounter and, one may surmise, around the same hour, just as the people of their
towns are waking up to start the day.
The plotline unfolds in mid-summer in both works. In Celestina, it can be
deduced from context, but Russell makes sure to point this out for readers: “La
acción de la obra debe situarse en pleno verano” (2001, 517). In La casa, the stage
direction indicates the season: “Es verano” (139), and Martirio is desperately await-
ing the cooler month of November because she is sick of “este verano intermina-
ble” (215). The season, in turn, serves as a scaffolding platform on which to set the
unfolding of the play. Martínez fittingly connects the summer heat to the simmering
tension building in Bernarda’s house and the sociopolitical ferment playing out at
the dawn of the Spanish Civil War, the time in which Lorca is composing the drama
(1970, 62). But the summer heat has other dramatic functions in the development
of scenes, which help add verisimilitude to Celestina and La casa. Because of the
warm weather of summer, the lovers can meet at or after midnight without the dis-
comfort of the cold rain that Martirio so desperately craves. Indeed, Rojas and Lorca
employ the hour of midnight as a trope. The fateful night of their demise, Melibea
echoes the lyrical expression of Romancero aesthetics, lamenting Calisto’s tardiness:
“La media noche es passada, y no viene” (581). Lorca also stages Adela and Pepe’s
trysts around the midnight theme. Angustias tells her mother that Pepe departs from
her window at one in the morning (234), even as she later says that he left one time
at twelve-thirty (250). In the scene of Pepe’s stolen picture, Martirio, who has taken
the photo because she, just as Calisto does with Melibea’s sash (Weinberg 1971,
145), equates it to Pepe’s body, maliciously wonders: “¿Y no se habrá escapado a
medianoche al corral? A Pepe le gusta andar con la luna” (219).
The allusion to the summer season further allows Rojas and Lorca to justify their
female protagonists’ act of getting out of bed at midnight to receive their lovers.
Since it is hot, Melibea and Adela can excuse their presence at unbecoming hours
by claiming to be thirsty. When Pleberio hears noises outside Melibea’s chamber
just after Calisto departs in act X, the father apprehensively calls upon his daughter,
prompting Melibea to mislead him: “Señor, Lucrecia es, que salió por un jarro de
agua para mí, que había gran sed” (487). Even though he lives in dread of being
dishonored, Pleberio does not question her response because it is a hot summer
night. Lorca exploits this motif in his three tragedies. In La casa, just before the
tragedy unfolds, Poncia finds Adela in the living room and asks why she is awake.
Adela responds: “Voy a beber agua (bebe en un vaso de la mesa)” (262). Poncia is
not fooled, but she is also not invested enough to press Adela for the truth. Adela
adds: “Me despertó la sed” (262). Adela’s thirst may be real, but it is her thirst for
Pepe that has kept her awake all night. As Martirio points out just after this brief
scene with Poncia (“¡Estaba con él! ¡Mira esas enaguas llenas de paja de trigo!”
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Celestina’s Influence on La casa de Bernarda Alba
275), Adela has just had intercourse with Pepe, a description that helps situate the
reader chronologically and appreciate the synchronism with Calisto and Melibea’s
last encounter. In both works, the darkness of the night, which foreshadows tragedy,
is underlined. When Melibea awaits Calisto’s arrival the last day, she describes the
night as very dark: “Mira sus quietas sombras, quán escuras están, y aparejadas para
encobrir nuestro deleyte” (582). She reiterates this while revealing to her father the
reason for her impending death: “Como las paredes eran altas, la noche escura…”
(600). In La casa, similarly, Lorca makes Amelia comment on the darkness of night:
“¡Qué noche más oscura!” Adela complements the statement: “No se ve a dos pasos
de distancia” and with her usual malice, Martirio ends: “Una buena noche para
ladrones, para el que necesite escondrijo” (252). Martirio’s perverse remark ech-
oes Melibea’s assertion that darkness is fitting to conceal improper behavior from
inquisitive eyes.
There are other elements in Lorca’s tragedy redolent of Celestina. Act III opens
with a banquet of sorts in Bernarda’s house that evokes the banquet at Celestina’s
house in act IX. During this meal, Bernarda asks Prudencia about her husband. Pru-
dencia responds that ever since he engaged in a struggle with his siblings for the
inheritance, “pone una escalera y salta las tapias del corral” (242). The reader could
interpret these words as hyperbole or figure of speech, but the sentence has clear
undertones of Celestina. The conflation of three symbols, namely ladder, wall, and
corral, along with the act of climbing, is a thinly veiled reference to Calisto—and
perhaps to Pepe himself who also climbs over the corral’s walls to be with Adela. In
Celestina, Calisto is semantically defined as one who incarnates such activity. Dur-
ing her outburst of anger in act IV, Melibea refers to him as “saltaparedes” (330).
The same night of his death, Calisto commands Sosia and Tristán to carry the ladder
to climb the wall (“llevarán escalas” 509). After sexual intercourse, in a rather tragi-
comic way, Calisto precipitously attempts to exit the garden, clambers the ladder,
misses a step, and dies. As F. M. Weinberg explains, “the fortress, the garden wall,
and the locked door, stand for Melibea’s personal integrity, her honor, her class, her
body as an illusory paradise” (1971, 138). Weinberg’s observation is consistent with
Peter Stallybrass’s theory of the enclosed female body as a symbol of the hortus
conclusus. The act of trespassing this enclosed fortress, therefore, represents a meta-
phorical penetration of the maiden’s body. Bernarda recognizes this symbolism,
prompting her to seal her house not only with “muros gruesos” (139), but also (figu-
ratively) shut doors and windows airtight with bricks and mortar (157). The heavily
fortified walls give Bernarda the certainty that Poncia’s foreseen “cosa muy grande
(Bernarda’s quotation marks) would never “traspasaría las paredes” (230).
During the same banquet, the caballo garañón disrupts Bernarda and Prudencia’s
conversation twice with loud kicks on the wall. The horse, which is aroused by Ber-
narda’s new mares (“potras”), is an unsubtle symbol of Pepe, and the potras repre-
sent Bernarda’s daughters. In Celestina, Pármeno himself compares Calisto’s horse,
whose neighs betray his sexual arousal, with his master: “Rehincháys, don cavallo?
¿No basta un celoso en casa? ¿O barruntas a Melibea?” (292). Pármeno peppers his
rhetorical questions with sexual innuendo and titillating images—if not discourses
of outright bestiality. Both horses represent the unbridled lust that controls not only
Calisto and Pepe, but Melibea and Adela as well.
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236
L. F. López González
1 3
I want to conclude by offering a host of expressions that further showcases the
influence. Bernarda’s infamous cry for a speedy execution noted above (“¡Matadla!
¡Matadla!”) mirrors Pármeno’s “¡muera, muera!” (499) exhortation while Sempro-
nio stabs Celestina to death. Pármeno and Bernarda sic others on defenseless vic-
tims who are being murdered. When Celestina brings news of her first encounter
with Melibea in act VI, Pármeno says in an aside: “Su lengua le querría prestar para
que fablasse presto” (350). Lorca recasts this sentence by making Adela chastise
Martirio: “Si quieres te daré mis ojos, […] y mis espaldas, para que te compongas
la joroba que tienes” (202). Both instances convey an act of giving a body part, fol-
lowed by the prepositional phrase “para que” which introduces the purpose of said
gift. Soledad Puértolas’s rendition of Melibea’s utterance into contemporary Span-
ish is closer to Lorca’s redeployment: “Le daría a la vieja su lengua para que con
ella hablara enseguida” (2018, 128), which is probably how Lorca interpreted Pár-
meno’s sly comment. Just after Calisto’s death, Melibea reveals her extreme pain,
asserting that if she is unable to see his body, “hundiré con alaridos la casa de mi
padre” (588). Lorca renews this tragic, yet beautiful, expression in Poncia’s words
to describe Martirio’s wickedness: “Ve que el Romano no es para ella y hundiría
el mundo si estuviera en su mano” (261). In Celestina, Melibea wants to drown the
house and in La casa, the entire world. The most salient feature in Melibea’s and
Adela’s characterizations is their inability to repress their desire due to their acute
states of self-alienation. In Melibea’s last soliloquy, she accepts that her own fate
is no longer in her power: “Pero no es más en mi mano” (596). Adela expresses a
similar sense of helplessness regarding her passion: “Yo no quería. He ido como
arrastrada por una maroma” (238). Melibea and Adela have handed themselves over,
placing their entire self-worth and affective capital in their lovers. Once their invest-
ment is lost, life loses all its value. Melibea voices this idea in economic jargon,
referring to Calisto as “mi bien todo” (589).
In conclusion, Rojas’s influence on Lorca permeates the entire play. It extends
to nearly every aspect of the drama, from structure and characterization to imagery,
style, and discourse. We may borrow Snow’s forewarning regarding Celestina’s
influence on Cervantes (2008, 81) to assert that the Lorquian borrowings ought not
to be considered artless imitation, let alone an act of plagiarism. Lorca absorbs,
renews, and repurposes the aesthetic material in order to create a new reality, one
designed to engage the modern (and postmodern) reader. Rojas himself borrowed
motifs, images, and even complete sentences from San Pedro’s Cárcel de amor,
Alfonso Martínez de Toledo’s Corbacho, Juan Ruiz’s Libro de buen amor as well
as from Petrarch, Seneca, and others. Lorca, just as Rojas did with his own sub-
texts, seamlessly interweaves his literary loans into the dramatic fabric of the play,
sometimes to enhance the realism of the plot and at others to embellish the aesthetic
expression. The borrowings are so perfectly knitted into the new context that one
can only perceive the seams by looking intently through a loupe. In some ways, La
casa represents a microcosm of the social institutions and cultural dynamics that
govern Celestina’s universe and, by extension, Rojas’s society. La casa, like Celes-
tina, contains characters from the most representative walks of life: The bourgeoi-
sie (Bernarda, Pepe), servants (Criada, Poncia), prostitutes (Paca la Roseta, Poncia’s
mother), field workers, and a go-between/procuress of sorts (Poncia), and binding
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Celestina’s Influence on La casa de Bernarda Alba
all of them, a repressive patriarchal system that places the value of a good name
above life itself. In light of these findings, we may conclude that, at least to some
degree, La casa represents a twentieth-century renewal of Celestina. Indeed, Adela
is a modern version of Melibea, one who follows Melibea in rejecting everything
that prevents her from enjoying the fruits of her desire. After believing that Pepe
has died, she kills herself as the ultimate act of defiance toward her mother and as a
way to reunite with her “dead” lover, adopting Melibea’s parting words: “Su muerte
combida a la mía” (600). The sixty-year-old parents, Pleberio and Bernarda, also
represent mirror images. Pleberio’s valedictory phrase “hac lachrimarum valle,” a
sound-proofed valley where only weeping can be heard, is rendered literal in Lorca’s
narrative. Adela’s suicide turns the house into a vale of tears where the grieving sobs
reverberate throughout the town, tears of pain that Bernarda, after announcing that
they will drown in a sea of mourning, attempts to stifle by demanding “¡Silencio!”
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Uno de los problemas básicos del conflictivo mundo de La, Celestina es el del enfrentamiento del individuo con su ambiente social. Los personajes celestinescos están, en efecto, conscientes del valor de sí mismos como personas, excepción hecha -y ello es harto significativo- de Calisto. Coincide tal actitud con lo que Américo Castro ha llamado la dimensión imperativa de la persona y el voluntarismo individualista, de que tan soberbio ejemplo encontramos en el «Yo sé quién soy» de don Quijote: la afirmación categórica del yo frente a un mundo reconocidamente hostil, ajeno y deshumanizador. Una breve selección de pasajes de La, Celestina nos señala bien obviamente lo recién dicho.