A GUIDE to
directed by ROBERT QUINLAN
Illinois State University SCHOOL OF THEATRE
compiled by NEAL RYAN SHAW
1 YERMA SYNOPSIS 1
from Federico García Lorca Study Guide
2 LORCA, HIS COUNTRY AND TIMES 3
from Understanding Federico García Lorca
3 ANDALUSIA 18
from the Britannica Online Encyclopedia
4 THE POET AND SEX 23
from Lorca: The Poet and His People
5 QUOTES FROM GARCÍA LORCA 35
from Federico García Lorca Study Guide
6 QUOTES ABOUT GARCÍA LORCA 37
from Federico García Lorca Study Guide
7 WORKS CITED 39
Act 1, scene 1
Yerma has been married two years. She wants to strengthen her husband, Juan, so he can give her
children. Telling Y erma to stay at home, Juan goes back to his work in the olive groves, and Yerma
talks to the child she wishes she were carrying. María, married ﬁve months and already pregnant,
asks Yerma to sew for the baby. Yerma fears that if she too doesn't conceive soon, her blood will
turn to poison. The couple's friend, Victor, sees Yerma sewing and assumes she is pregnant. His
advice, when he learns the truth: try harder!
Act 1, scene 2
Yerma has just taken Juan his dinner in the ﬁelds. On the road home, she encounters a Pagan Old
Woman who insists that passion is the key to conception. Yerma admits a secret longing for Victor,
but none for Juan. She then meets two girls whose attitudes astonish her. One has left her baby
untended. The other is childless and glad of it, although her mother, Delores, is giving her herbs
for pregnancy. Next Victor comes along, and the conversation between Victor and Y erma
becomes tense with unspoken thoughts and desires. Juan enters, worrying about what people will
say if Yerma stays out chatting. He tells her he intends to work all night. Yerma will sleep alone.
Act 2, scene 1
It is three years later. Five Washerwomen gossip about a woman who still has no children, who
has been looking at another man, and whose husband has brought in his sisters to keep an eye her.
We know they mean Yerma. The washerwomen sing about husbands and lovemaking and babies.
Act 2, scene 2
Juan's two sisters guard Yerma. She refuses to stay at home, and people are talking. Without
children in it, her house seems like a prison to her. Her marriage has turned bitter. María (from
Act 1, scene 1) visits, but reluctantly, since the sight of her baby always makes Yerma weep. The
childless girl (from Act 1, scene 2) says her mother, Delores, is expecting Yerma. Victor comes in
to say goodbye. He is leaving the region while things are still unspoken between them. When Juan
goes out with Victor, Yerma makes her escape to see Delores.
Act 3, scene 1
Dawn ﬁnds Y erma at Delores's house. Dolores and the Pagan Old Woman (from Act 1, scene 2)
have been praying over Yerma all night in the cemetery. Juan accuses Yerma of deceit, and she
curses her “father that gave me blood. Cursed be the blood that can father sons. Cursed be my
blood that wants a son.”
Act 3, scene 2
Near a hermitage high in the mountains, a place to which many barren women, including Yerma,
have made a pilgrimage. Young men are there, hoping to father a child or to win a woman away
from her husband. The Pagan Old Woman tells Yerma to leave Juan, whose people are "soft as
spit" and take up with her son, who has "living blood" in his veins, but Yerma's honor precludes
such a thought. Juan overhears and tells Y erma to give up wanting a child, to be content with
what she has. Realizing that Juan never did and never will want a child, Yerma strangles him, thus
killing her only hope of ever bearing a child. "Don't come near me. I killed my son," she cries to
the onlookers. "I kill my son."
comunidad autónoma (autonomous community) and historical region of Spain,
encompassing the provincias (provinces) of Huelva, Cádiz, Sevilla, Málaga, Córdoba, Jaén,
Granada, and Almería. The southernmost region of Spain, Andalusia is bounded by the
autonomous communities of Extremadura and Castile–La Mancha to the north and
Murcia to the east, the Mediterranean Sea to the southeast, the Atlantic Ocean to the
southwest, and Portugal to the west. The autonomous community of Andalusia was
established by the statute of autonomy of Dec. 30, 1981. Its government consists of an
executive council, headed by a president, and a unicameral parliament. The capital is
Sevilla. Area 33,819 square miles (87,590 square km). Pop. (2007 est.) 8,059,461.
Andalusia possesses the most-varied terrain and vegetation in all of Spain. Striking
contrasts exist between alpine mountains and pine forests at high elevations, arid and
barren deserts, and fertile irrigated plains that support plantations of subtropical fruits.
The topography of Andalusia is divided by mountain ranges into several distinct zones,
each running southwest to northeast. The Sierra Morena is the northernmost range,
crossing the northern parts of the provinces of Huelva, Sevilla, Córdoba, and Jaén. These
mountains present a relief of desolate ridges punctuated by narrow valleys. In
southeastern Andalusia the land rises abruptly to the Baetic Cordillera, one range of
which, the Sierra Nevada, contains the highest elevations in the Iberian Peninsula south
of the Pyrenees. The Baetic Cordillera extends southward from the province of Jaén into
Granada and Almería.
Lying between the Sierra Morena and the Baetic Cordillera is the heart of Andalusia, the
Guadalquivir River basin and its associated plains. The Guadalquivir River ﬂows
southwest across almost the whole of Andalusia, passing the cities of Córdoba and Sevilla
before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean west of Cádiz. The river’s lower basin, a region
known as La Campiña, is the most densely settled and agriculturally productive part of
The Andalusian steppes, an arid region of badlands in the southeastern corner of
Andalusia, cover much of Granada and Almería provinces. Extending east and west from
the city of Málaga along the Mediterranean coast is the Costa del Sol, which has become
one of Spain’s most popular tourist rivieras.
A Mediterranean climate prevails in most of lowland Andalusia, with mild, rainy winters
and hot, dry summers. Annual precipitation ranges from 80 inches (2,000 mm) in the
Sierra Nevada and the Grazalema Mountains to as little as 8 inches (200 mm) in the
desertic Andalusian steppes. Coastal and lowland Andalusia receive an average of about
3,000 hours of sunshine each year, which has helped draw tourists to the region. The
lower portion of the Guadalquivir River basin has some of the most fertile soils in Spain,
but the sparse rainfall makes irrigation necessary in some areas.
The population of western Andalusia has traditionally been concentrated in the large
rural towns from which agricultural labourers commute daily to work on the surrounding
estates, or cortijos, but in modern times the population has been concentrated more in the
provincial capitals. From the Baetic Cordillera eastward, small villages predominate
wherever water is available.
Andalusia is underdeveloped and accounts for a disproportionately small percentage of
Spain’s gross domestic product and a disproportionately high percentage of its
agricultural output. Latifundios, or large estates, have dominated Andalusian agriculture
since the Reconquest, producing the traditional Mediterranean crops of wheat, grapes,
and olives by dry farming. The large farms have become increasingly mechanized, but the
region continues to lag behind the national average in the use of tractors, irrigation, and
fertilizers. Oranges are grown throughout the region, and cork trees are raised in
mountainous areas. Andalusia is known for its wine and brandy, which are produced in
Jerez (where sherry originated), Niebla, Montilla, and Málaga. The provinces of Sevilla,
Córdoba, and Jaén process large quantities of olive oil and together account for about
two-thirds of Spanish production.
Andalusia’s landless farm labourers are among the poorest in Spain, and unemployment
was a continuing problem in the region throughout the 20th century. In the second half
of the century, emigration to more-industrialized regions of Spain and western Europe
helped ease these economic pressures, but opportunities for emigration eventually shrank
along with the demand for imported labour in the countries of the European Union.
The region’s manufacturing sector is poorly developed and is dominated by the processing
of agricultural products and by ﬁshing and mining. Manufacturing is of relatively little
importance. Andalusia’s mining industry is in decline, having reached its peak in the late
19th century, but mines in the Sierra Morena still produce large quantities of coal, iron,
copper, and lead. Andalusia suffers from an energy deﬁcit despite extensive deposits of
coal in the Sierra Morena and the exploitation of hydroelectric resources along the upper
reaches of the Guadalquivir River and in the lower regions of the Baetic Cordillera. In
the early 21st century, solar power plants were used in the region as an alternative energy
Andalusia’s service sector has beneﬁted from the spread of tourism, with visitors attracted
to the hotels along the Mediterranean coast as well as the architecturally rich cities of
Granada, Córdoba, and Sevilla. The growth of tourism has not been matched by growth
in other economic sectors, however.
Andalusian culture still bears distinct traces of the eight centuries of Moorish rule. The
Andalusian dialect, for example, contains many Arabic loanwords, and the names of
geographic features often begin with al (“the” in Arabic) or guad (from wadi, the Arabic
word for “river”). The region’s Moorish architecture, ﬂamenco dancing, and bullﬁghting
have helped form the popular image of Spain overseas. The observance of Roman
Catholicism is heavily ceremonial, with towns hosting elaborate processions during Holy
Week and town guilds staging ostentatious pilgrimages, or romerías.
Andalusia has a long history. Agriculture and complex society had developed in the region
by 4000 bc. During the 9th century bc the Phoenicians founded the coastal colony of
Gadir (now Cádiz), and by the 5th century bc Carthaginians and Greeks had colonized
the coast, while the indigenous Iberian peoples of the interior developed a rich urban
culture. The Romans, led by Scipio Africanus, conquered Andalusia between 210 and
206 bc, and the region eventually became the Roman province of Baetica. Flourishing
under Roman rule, it was the birthplace of the emperors Trajan and Hadrian and the
writers Lucan and Seneca. Roman rule lasted until the Vandals and then the Visigoths
overran the region in the 5th century ad. In 711 ad Muslims under the leadership of
Ṭāriq ibn Ziyād crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from Tangier (now in Morocco) and
invaded southern Spain, ending Visigothic rule. Henceforth, Andalusia’s history was
closely linked with that of the North African coast until the end of the 15th century.
The Arabic name Al-Andalus was originally applied by the Muslims (Moors) to the entire
Iberian Peninsula. It probably means “Country of the Vandals.” In the 11th century,
when the Christians began to reconquer the peninsula, Al-Andalus, or Andalusia, came to
mean only the area still under Muslim control and thus became permanently attached to
the modern-day region.
After the Muslim conquest, Andalusia became part of the independent Umayyad
caliphate of Córdoba, which was founded by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān III in 929. After the
breakup of this uniﬁed Spanish Muslim state in the early 11th century, Andalusia was
divided into a number of small kingdoms, or taifas, the largest of which were Málaga,
Sevilla, and Córdoba. These principalities, which warred incessantly among themselves,
had begun falling to Christian forces based in León and Castile in the 11th century when
they were reinvigorated by a new Muslim invasion from North Africa, that of the Berber
Almoravids, who were able to establish centralized rule over Muslim Spain from about
1086 to 1147. The Almoravids were in turn succeeded by another force of Muslim
invaders from North Africa, the Almohads, who ruled over Andalusia from about 1147 to
Despite its political instability, scholars have seen the Moorish period as the golden age of
Andalusia because of its economic prosperity and its brilliant cultural ﬂowering.
Agriculture, mining, and industry ﬂourished as never before, and the region carried on a
rich commerce with North Africa and the Levant. Some of the crops grown in Andalusia
today, such as sugarcane, almonds, and apricots, were introduced by the Arabs, and much
of the region’s elaborate irrigation system dates from the Muslim period. In the realm of
culture, a vibrant civilization arose out of the intermingling of Spanish Christians, Berber
and Arab Muslims, and Jews under the relatively tolerant rule of the Muslim emirs. The
cities of Córdoba, Sevilla, and Granada became celebrated centres of Muslim
architecture, science, and learning at a time when the rest of Europe was still emerging
from the Dark Ages. The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba and the fortress-palace of the
Alhambra in Granada were built during this period, and the great Spanish Muslim
philosopher Averroës was perhaps its leading intellectual ﬁgure.
The Almohads’ power in southern Spain disintegrated after their defeat by Christian
armies led by King Alfonso VIII of Castile at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212.
The petty Muslim states that reemerged in this power vacuum were unable to mount a
uniﬁed resistance to Christian reconquest, and by 1251 Ferdinand III of Castile had
reconquered all of Andalusia except the Muslim kingdom of Granada, which survived
until its capture by the forces of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. All of Andalusia was
incorporated into the Christian kingdom of Castile.
Andalusia continued to prosper after the Reconquest, in part because the ports of Cádiz
and Sevilla were the gateways through which the wealth of the New World ﬂowed into
Spain. The expulsion of the Moriscos (Christianized Muslims) from Spain in 1609,
however, helped trigger an economic decline that accelerated when Sevilla and Cádiz lost
their trading monopolies with the New World in the 18th century. Gibraltar was formally
ceded to the British in 1713, and Andalusia was divided into its eight present-day
provinces in 1833.
Quotations from Federico García Lorca
My earliest memories of childhood have a flavor of earth . . . shepherds, meadows, sky, solitude.
Being from Granada gives me a sympathetic understanding of those who are persecuted—of the
gypsy, the negro, the Jew, of the Moor which all granadinos carry inside them. I want and must
have my privacy. If I fear stupid fame it is precisely for that reason. The famous man knows the
bitterness of having his heart coldly exposed by the dark lanterns that others shine at it.
The new theatre, avant-garde in form and theory, is my major preoccupation. New York is the
only place for taking the pulse of a new art of the theatre.
Outside of Madrid today the theatre, which is in its very essence a part of the life of the people, is
almost dead, and the people suffer accordingly, as they would if they had lost two eyes or ears or
a sense of taste. We [La Barraca] are going to give it back to them in the terms in which they used
to know it, with the very plays they used to love. We are also going to give them new plays, plays
of today, done in the modern manner, explained ahead of time very simply, and presented with
that extreme simplification which will be necessary for the success of our plan and which makes
the experimental theatre so interesting.
We believe we can do our part toward the great ideal of educating the people of our beloved
Republic by means of restoring to them their own theatre.
The theatre is one of the most expressive and useful instruments for the edification of a country; it
is also the barometer which marks its greatness or its descent. A theatre which is sensitive and
well oriented in all its branches, from tragedy to vaudeville, can in a few years change the
sensibility of the people; and a theatre which has been destroyed, in which cloven hooves take the
place of wings, can put to sleep an entire nation. A people that does not aid and encourage its
theatre is moribund if not dead; the theatre which does not gather to itself the best of society and
of history, the drama of its people and the genuine color of its landscape and its spirit, with
laughter or with tears, does not deserve to call itself theatre, but is rather a place for that horrible
thing which is called killing time.
The idea of art for art's sake is something that would be cruel if it weren't, fortunately, so
ridiculous. No decent person believes any longer in all that nonsense about pure art, art for art's
I am totally Spanish and it would be impossible for me to live outside my geographical
boundaries; but I hate whatever is Spanish just for the sake of being Spanish and nothing else. I
am a brother to all men and I detest anyone who sacriﬁces himself for an abstract nationalist idea
only because he loves his country with a blindfold on his eyes. A good Chinese is closer to me than
a bad Spaniard. I sing of Spain and feel Spain in the marrow of my bones, but above all I am a
citizen of the world and brother to all.
Quotations about Federico García Lorca
Many times he himself . . . was a dramatic personage in his own life.
-Francisco García Lorca, the poet's brother
He was a stimulus. A privileged being. It's hard to understand how he captured, how he
was in tune with all the artistic currents of his time, without having traveled widely. He
was an integral artist, attracted to everything. He could have been a genius as a musician,
as a painter; he saw everything as a kind of poetry. . . . His humanity was extraordinary,
capable of bringing out whatever was good in a person, things that a person might never
have thought possible except in his presence.
-Regino Sainz de la Maza, guitarist and friend
[Lorca had] a liquid, dark, and warm voice, sometimes roughened by gaiety and sorrow.
And his voice often had the musical accompaniment of his equally unforgettable laughter,
that tremendous deep-toned laughter . . . generously lavished with the natural energy of
his radiant youth, his irresistible congeniality, his superhuman charm that won over all
-José Luis Cano
The personality of Federico García Lorca produced an immense impression upon me.
The poetic phenomenon in its entirety and "in the raw" presented itself before me
suddenly in flesh and bone, confused, blood-red, viscous and sublime, quivering with a
thousand fires of darkness and of subterranean biology, like all matter endowed with the
originality of its own form.
At the recent premiere [of Yerma], mixing with those members of the audience who, in
good faith but utterly mistakenly, were present in the theatre, there was gathered together
an odd confraternity whose leader is the author of Yerma. In the passages, in the foyer, in
the bar, during the intervals, our ears were offended by effeminate voices. . . . It was a
repellent spectacle. As repellent as the repulsive, filthy phrases and scenes of the play,
incompatible with human dignity and, naturally, with art. No decent woman could sit and
watch the play, which ought to be brought to the attention of the Law, because it
constitutes an offence against public decency.
-Review of the Madrid premiere of Yerma
This is the play I wish I had written.
-Miguel de Unamuno to Lorca, about Yerma
At least five times a day Lorca alluded to his own death. At night he could not get to
sleep unless several of us went to "tuck him in." Once in bed, he still found ways to
prolong indefinitely the most transcendental poetic conversations of the century. Almost
always he came around to discussing death and especially his own death.
Barea, Arturo. “The Poet and Sex.” Lorca: The Poet and His People. Trans. Ilsa Barea.
New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1949.
Jones, David Richard and Susan Jones. “Federico García Lorca Study Guide.” Repertorio
Newton, Candelas. “Lorca, His Country and Times.” Understanding Federico García Lorca.
Columbia: U South Carolina Press, 1995.
Rodriguez, Vicente. “Andalusia.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia
Britannica Online. 07 Aug. 2008