Bernarda, aged sixtyMaría Josefa, (Bernarda’s mother), aged eighty Angustias, (Bernarda’s daughter), aged thirty-nine
Magdalena, (Bernarda’s daughter), aged thirty
Amelia, (Bernarda’s daughter), aged twenty-seven
Martirio, (Bernarda’s daughter), aged twenty-four
Adela, (Bernarda’s daughter), aged twenty
Servant, aged fifty
La Poncia (a servant), aged sixtyPrudencia, aged fifty
Beggar woman with little girl
The poet declares that these three acts are intended as a photographic record.
(The bright white interior of Bernarda’s house. Thick walls. Arched doorways with canvas curtains edged with tassels and ruffles. Rush chairs. Paintings of non-realistic landscapes with nymphs and legendary kings. It is summer. A vast shadowy silence fills the scene. When the curtain rises the stage is empty. The tolling of bells is heard. The Servant enters.) SERVANT: I can feel the tolling of those bells right between my temples. LA PONCIA: (She enters eating bread and sausage) They’ve been making that row for more than two hours now. There are priests here from all the villages. The church looks lovely. During the first response Magdalena fainted. SERVANT: She’s the one who’ll be most bereft.
LA PONCIA: She was the only one who loved her father. Ay! Thank God we’re alone for a while! I was hungry. SERVANT: If Bernarda could see you…!
LA PONCIA: Now she’s not eating, she wants us all to die of hunger! So strict! So domineering! But hard luck! I’ve opened the sausage jar. SERVANT: (Sadly, with longing) Poncia, won’t you give me some for my little girl? LA PONCIA: Go on, and take a handful of chick-peas too. She won’t notice it, today! VOICE: (From within) Bernarda!
LA PONCIA: The old woman. Is she locked in?
SERVANT: Two turns of the key.
LA PONCIA: You should use the bolt too. She’s got fingers like picklocks. VOICE: Bernarda!
LA PONCIA: (Shouting) She’s coming! (To the Servant) Make sure the whole place is clean. If Bernarda doesn’t find everything gleaming she’ll pull out the little hair I have left. SERVANT: What a woman!
LA PONCIA: Tyrant of all she surveys. She could squat on your chest for a year and watch you die slowly without wiping that cold smile from her cursed face! Clean those pots: go on! SERVANT: My hands are red raw from endless cleaning.
LA PONCIA: She’s the cleanest; she’s the most decent; she’s the loftiest of beings. Her poor husband deserves a good rest.(The bells cease ringing.) SERVANT: Are all the relatives here?
LA PONCIA: On her side. His family detests her. They came to make sure he was dead, and make the sign of the cross. SERVANT: Are there enough chairs?
LA PONCIA: Plenty. Let them sit on the floor. Since Bernarda’s father died no one has set foot inside these walls. She doesn’t want them to see her in her stronghold! Curse her! SERVANT: She’s always been good to you.
LA PONCIA: For thirty years I’ve laundered her sheets; for thirty years I’ve eaten her leftovers; spent nights awake when she had a cough; whole days peering through the cracks to spy on the neighbours and bring her the news; there are no secrets between us, and yet I curse her! May needles prick out her eyes! SERVANT: Woman!
LA PONCIA: But I’m a good bitch and bark when I’m told, and bite the heels of the beggars when she whips me on; my sons work her fields and they’re both married too, but one day I’ll have had enough. SERVANT: And then…
LA PONCIA: Then I’ll lock myself in a room with her, and spit on for her a year. ‘Bernarda, here’s for this, and that, and the other,’ until she looks like a lizard the children squashed, because that’s what she is, and all her family. But I don’t envy her life, that’s for sure. She’s five women on her hands, five ugly daughters. Except for Angustias, the eldest, who’s the first husband’s daughter and has some money, the rest of them have lots of fine lace, and linen camisoles, but their only inheritance...