How and to What Effect is Foreshadowing Used by Lorca in the House of Bernarda Alba and by Sophocles in Antigone?

How and to What Effect is Foreshadowing Used by Lorca in the House of Bernarda Alba and by Sophocles in Antigone?

Foreshadowing can be defined as the literary technique whereby the writer indirectly suggests the development of the plot at an early stage, a device often used in tragedies. Both the plays Antigone, by Sophocles, and The House of Bernarda Alba, by Lorca, are tragedies in which a central character, in conflict with the norms of society, is driven to an unjust fate. The playwrights use metaphors, colour and imagery to foreshadow the deaths of these central characters, Antigone and Adela, thus creating an atmosphere of foreboding and portraying their fate as inescapable.

Lorca and Sophocles use foreshadowing in the initial appearances of Adela and Antigone. This is especially important since from the start it suggests to the audience the tragic ending of the play, implying that the characters are inextricably linked to their fate and thus creating an atmosphere of apprehension. The prologue to Antigone is a clandestine meeting between Antigone and her sister Ismene, in which Antigone explains Creon’s decree and how she intends to defy it. At the beginning of their conversation, Ismene says to Antigone,: “Some dark shadow is upon you” . This statement has a double function: it refers to Antigone’s subsequent declaration “I will bury my brother” but also it is a clear use of foreshadowing. The “dark shadow” upon Antigone is symbolic of her doom and suggests her death, making the audience aware of Antigone’s fate at the start of the drama. By using the adjective “some”, Ismene denotes the shadow as something unknown, thus giving it an aura of danger and distancing herself from it. Also, the declaration “is upon you” creates a foreboding atmosphere and a sense of impending doom, giving the sentence an almost prophetic tone and foreshadowing Antigone’s imminent death to the audience.

In The House of Bernarda Alba, Adela captures the audience’s attention for the first time when,: “She gives her [Bernarda] a round fan decorated with red and green flowers” . This action immediately strikes the audience and shows Adela’s rebellious attitude, since it is deliberately disregarding the period of mourning that has just begun in Bernarda’s household due to her husband’s death. It triggers Bernarda’s violent reaction,: “(hurling the fan to the floor). Is this the fan to give a widow?” thus creating a tense atmosphere and highlighting her stifling authoritarianism. This incident could be a metaphorical representation of the ending of the play. The red and green roses on the fan suggest the vivid tones of nature and contrast with the closed, oppressive atmosphere of Bernarda’s house, symbolising the way that Adela’s youth and vitality conflicts with the reality of her situation. The fan falling onto the floor could represent how Bernarda’s strict, repressive control of her daughters ultimately causes Adela’s death, suggesting her fate. Thus, in both plays the opening appearances of the characters Antigone and Adela similarly show evidence of foreshadowing through the use of metaphors, this being somewhat more direct in Antigone, although equally effective in Lorca’s play. This foreshadowing is used by the playwrights to introduce awareness in the audience of the fate of Antigone and Adela, creating an atmosphere of foreboding.

Arguably, the most important way in which Lorca foreshadows the death of Adela is through the use of the colour green. Although green could be typically interpreted as the colour of nature, and hence a symbol of youth and fertility, there is evidence throughout Lorca’s work that suggests an idiosyncratic use of green as a symbol of death. Possibly his most famous poem, Romance Sonámbulo, is about how a moribund smuggler returns to find his lover, a gypsy girl, who has committed suicide while waiting for him. Lorca describes the body of the girl as “With her waist that’s made of shadow […] green the flesh, and green the tresses” , using the colour to denote decay rather than fertility. Most importantly, Lorca repeats the verse “Green, as I love you, greenly” throughout, using green as a symbol of death, central theme of the poem. This unconventional use of the colour green is typical of Lorca’s work and is also present in The House of Bernarda Alba. Here, however, it is used in a more ambivalent manner, being also symbolic of sexual frustration. “She [Adela] put on the green dress […] went to the stable-yard and started calling out: ‘Hens, hens, look at me!’” , reflecting how Bernarda’s controlling regime drives her desperate daughters to folly,: “Tomorrow I’ll put on my green dress and I’ll go for a walk down the street!” . Since the conflict between sexual desire and Bernarda’s oppressive rule is the main cause of Adela’s death, Lorca links sexual fulfilment with death through the colour green. Presenting Adela with this colour could therefore be interpreted as a way of foreshadowing how her irrepressible sexual desire ultimately causes her death. Similarly, the combination of green and red in the decoration of the fan and in the watermelons Adela mentions in Aact 1 “I was planning to wear it [green dress] the day we go to eat watermelons by the waterwheel” could be symbolic of Adela herself: red is the colour of passion and sexual desire, whereas green is symbolic of death. Hence, the combination of both colours in the fan and the watermelons symbolise how sex and death are inextricably bounded for Adela, thus foreshadowing how her liaison leads her to her death.

Contrasting with Lorca’s abundant use of colour, there is no visible presence of it on stage in Antigone, conforming to the general lack of colour symbolism in greek theatre;. to a similar purpose Sophocles uses imagery instead. The two devices, although different, produce similar visual effects: the imagery in Antigone can suggest colour, and, in turn, the colour used by Lorca can (albeit to a lesser extent) suggest imagery. To the same end as Lorca, Sophocles too uses imagery to create an atmosphere of foreboding, and portray that the fate of the characters is inescapable. In his first encounter with Antigone, Creon says “it is […] the hardest iron, most fiercely tempered in the fire, that is most often snapped and splintered” . The iron is metaphorical of Antigone, and the snapping of it is a clear way of foreshadowing her death. The fiery imagery “fiercely tempered in the fire” could be an allusion to Antigone’s disgraced family past, corroborating the previous statement of the chorus: “Oh, you unlucky daughter of an unlucky father” and reinforcing the sense of foreboding. The words “snapped and splintered” create chaotic imagery, suggesting the turmoil left in Thebes after Antigone’s death. The Chorus also uses imagery to foreshadow the death of Antigone: when Creon has captured Antigone, it sings “It bears up from below, a thick, dark cloud of mud” . By combining earth and sky in the oxymoron of the “cloud of mud”, Sophocles reflects the conflict between the laws of the Ggods and the laws of men, which is the ultimate cause of Antigone’s death. Furthermore, the dark image of the cloud suggests the cave to which Antigone is sent, foreshadowing her death. Foreshadowing is present again in the subsequent antistrophe: “But death comes again with blood-stained axe, and hews the sapling down” . The personification of death gives it a will of its own, reflecting the Greek belief in the gods of the underworld. Furthermore, by referring to Antigone as a sapling, Sophocles denies her freedom of choice, portraying her fate as determined and inescapable.

Lorca and Sophocles foreshadow the deaths of their central characters, Adela and Antigone, by using a variety of literary devices, colour being the most important in The House of Bernarda Alba, and imagery its counterpart in Antigone. Both playwrights use this foreshadowing to the same effect: to create an atmosphere of foreboding and to portray the fate of Antigone and Adela as inescapable. Furthermore, by examining the cultural and historical context in which each play was written, it would seem that, whereas Sophocles is exploring the ways in which human destiny is determined by the gods, Lorca is projecting the cultural situation of contemporary Spain, denouncing how the suffocating puritanical moral standards punish any form of rebellion.

Sophocles. Antigone, Oedipus the King and Electra. Translated by H.D.F. Kitto. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

García Lorca, Federico. The House of Bernarda Alba. Translated by Gwynne Edwards. London: Methuen Drama, 2009.

Kline, A.S., trans., “Lorca – fourteen poems of love and death” (accessed June 2, 2011).