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Linking Life and Lyric: The Federico Garca Lorca Course

Author(s): Linda L. Elman


Source: Hispania, Vol. 87, No. 1 (Mar., 2004), pp. 143-149
Published by: American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese
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Linking Life and Lyric:


The Federico Garc?a Lorca Course
Linda L. Elman
DePauw
Abstract:

University

print materials and media are readily available to support a varied and engaging curriculum on the life
course encompasses
of the Spanish poet, Federico Garc?a Lorca. The content of this monographic
biography,
a friend's diary, film, CD-ROM
and student performance,
selected to
correspondence,
technology, music
Diverse

and works
personal
showcase

Creative
incentives
for
poetry, drama, literary lectures, sketch art and musical
compositions.
in the course description.
discussion
and critical analysis are suggested
research on the
Recent
value of performance undergirds course design and methodology.
Two unique events highlight the semester
pedagogical
class. The first function, a tribute to Lorca with poetry recitation, song and a slide series, features guest artists from Spain,
Lorca's

student

promoting

and a prize-winning
poetry professor from the English Department.
is a student performance
of Tragicomedia
de don Crist?bal y la se?a
of multiple
variations
for varying
levels and
provide a model
susceptible

students, modern
college music
languages faculty
The second entertaining and educational enterprise
Rosita.

The

actual

and events

curriculum

circumstances.
Key Words:

[Garcia] Lorca
film

(Federico),

performance,

pedagogy,

poetry,

drama,

puppets,

music,

memoirs,

Lorca's

puppet play, biography,

of print material and media available in English and Spanish on the life and
work of Federico Garc?a Lorca supports a curriculum that can be varied and engaging for
students, because of the substantial depth and diversity of these resources (particularly
wealth

The

since the centenary celebration). Additionally,


Lorca's personal biography provides the ideal
backdrop for study of his wide-ranging works. In a letter to Jorge Guillen, Lorca decries being
un poco mi mito de gitaner?a.
classified exclusively as the "gypsy" poet. "Me va molestando
Confunden mi vida y mi car?cter. No quiero de ninguna manera. Los gitanos son un tema. Y nada
m?s [...] No quiero que me encasillen" (Epistolario Completo 414). Therefore, because Lorca's
multifaceted
talent has produced not just poetry and plays, but art and musical compositions as
well, course content and teaching strategies should honor Lorca's creative breadth.
In this article, I detail the curriculum and pedagogy for a monographic
course taught in
in a small, liberal arts college environment. Taking as a cue Lorca's
Spanish at the 300-level
penchant for performance (director and actor with La Barraca,
literary lecturer, entertainer of
I organized class
family and friends, and one of themore convivial cohorts from El Rinconcillo),
activities to exploit their performance or interactive value. The Lorca who once performed a
"Mata Hari" dance at a saint's day party (with two inverted teacups on his chest like breasts) to
the complete delight of his hosts would have endorsed, I believe, amore "play-full" approach to
the teaching of his work. In his personal journal, Carlos Morla Lynch (Chilean ambassador to
evokes an intensely spirited Lorca: "[un
Spain and close friend of the poet) affectionately
Federico que] viene y se va, que irrumpe como una exhalaci?n y luego se hace humo, que r?e, que
canta, que recita poemas y se ilumina, que cuenta historietas, que coge la guitarra o se sienta al
piano, que se exalta, se apasiona [...], se aflige y se ensombrece" (14). Morla Lynch senses
Lorca's

boundless

character

and,

thus,

his

observation

suggests

a more

open

course

structure

and

dynamic teaching method.


Clearly, Lorca loved to try out his plays on his friends by "performing" for them at informal
gatherings. Morla Lynch recalls the night Lorca, over a period of six hours, read As? que pasen
"Linking Life

and Lyric: The Federico


H?spanla

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Elman, Linda L.
Garc?a Lorca Course"
87.1

(2004):

143-149

144

H?spanla 87March 2004

to his assembled friends: "La ha le?do a un ritmo sostenido, con un ardor y una
impetuosidad arrebatadoras. Le brotaban llamas por los ojos, por la boca, por las narices, y
vibraciones refulgentes por el pelo, las orejas y todos los poros del cuerpo" (105). Morla Lynch
goes on to describe the impact of the playwright's performance on his intimate audience: "Lo
hemos escuchado con curiosidad primero, luego con inter?s creciente y, por ?ltimo, como
cinco a?os

embrujados" ( 105). Finally, he wonders if itwould ever be possible to bring to the stage an equally
bewitching
interpretation of the play: "Y mientras nuestro poeta dobla su manuscrito, me
cosa casi
pregunto si la creaci?n realizada en la escena [...] lograr? provocar el hechizo?esa
inhumana materializada?que
obtiene le?da por su autor" (112).
Although we could never recreate themagic of Lorca's own reading, we often approximated
the experience by focusing on oral interpretation in the classroom. A collection of essays
addresses the topic of performance
published in Teaching Shakespeare Through Performance
a
as
if
Even
the
tool.
is not trained in acting, and even if
instructor
(reading/acting)
pedagogical
the class is not a drama class per se, the contributors see great value in this technique. Speaking
specifically about ACTER (A Center for Theatre, Education, and Research), Lois Potter validates
the literature teacher's role as "acting coach": "While it is tempting to leave all this sort of work
to people who are better trained than oneself [...], [t]he more you watch other performers work
in the classroom, themore you begin to see how tomake students, and yourself, comfortable with
the idea of acting. How much ability you yourself have does not matter" (238).
From the beginning of the semester, then, three strategic goals for the course were:
1)
2)
3)

To encompass Lorca's diversity as poet, playwright, artist and musician


in the course
content;
To maximize
student involvement through oral poetry recitation, singing and acting;
To capitalize on the extensive biographical background of thewriter as an adjunct to his
artistic production.

though Lorca's poetry, drama and drawings are sufficiently meritorious works
independent of his life story, our insights into the poet's personal struggles and triumphs helped
us to appreciate more fully the texts we studied. Although some scholars debate the virtue of any
literary analysis that attends to the explicit or implicit presence of the playwright in his dramas,
our strategy was an unapologetic, deliberate practice of using Lorca's life story as a prism through
which we might access meaning, and experience greater enjoyment of his works.1 In order to link
Lorca's life to his literature, three books were particularly useful: Biograf?a esencial by Ian
Even

Gibson, Epistolario completo edited by Christopher Maurer and Andrew A. Anderson, and the
personal journal of Carlos Morla Lynch, En Espa?a con Federico Garc?a Lorca. In addition,
Maurer's CD-ROM provided the majority of the visual images used to enhance instruction.
Indeed, the challenge of finding and piecing together like a puzzle all the support materials
made course preparation an adventure. For example, as our point of departure on the opening day
of the semester, I read aloud Morla Lynch's journal entry recounting the first time he met Federico
Garc?a Lorca. Projected on a large screen alongside me was a photograph of the young poet
selected from among hundreds of images on Maurer's CD-ROM.
[As Lorca arrives]: No se puede afirmar que es guapo, pero tampoco que no lo es, por cuanto posee una vivacidad
que todo lo suple y 'un no s? qu?' de muy abierto en su fisonom?a que reconforta y tranquiliza de buenas a primeras,
Y ninguna de esas actitudes absurdas con que los
que luego seduce y que, por ?ltimo, conquista definitivamente.
pedantes

pretenden

acreditar

su cultura.

(26)

[...] Se siente el golpe estrepitoso de la puerta de la calle. Se


[As Lorca departs]: Ha tardado tanto en despedirse
ha marchado. Y se produce entonces una cosa inesperada, que no es normal, que tiene algo de sortilegio. El vac?o
de su ausencia.
(27)

On another day, to accompany the study of the narrative poem, "Llanto por Ignacio S?nchez
Mej?as," we readMorla Lynch's account of the profound impact of the news of the bullfighter's

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Linking Life and Lorca

145

death upon his circle of friends (399). Throughout the semester, Morla Lynch's very personal
memoirs gave intimate insights into the poet's charismatic character.
Selected letters from the Epistolario completo were incorporated with the study of Lorca's
poetry and plays to further personalize my presentation of thematerial. Lorca's first letter to his
family from New York, for instance, served as prelude to our study of some of the New York
poetry; the exuberant tone of the letter contrasts sharply with the bleak, critical tone of several
poems. Other letters reflect his excitement on those occasions when his plays debuted, or his
anxiety during negotiations

with

actresses

and agents

in preparation

for mounting

a drama

production.

Apart from researching and editing all the lore about Lorca, another pedagogical challenge
that of creating strategies for encouraging discussion and facilitating the interpretation of
texts. All of us who teach Lorca understand that some of his poetry is not easily deciphered. One
key to teaching the art of meaningful
interpretation is to promote student interaction with the

was

material that surpasses the typical homework of a precursory reading or the passive reception of
a lecture (one in which the teacher's interpretation becomes definitive).
In order to call the
students' attention to the kind of assiduous reading one must practice when reading poetry, I in
vented a kind of "scavenger hunt" with the poem, "Romance Son?mbulo." The class was divided
into teams to search out a list of images and pertinent details (typed on green paper, of course)
such as: what other colors are mentioned
in the poem and what do they represent, who are the
voices and what do they say, what animal is named and tell its location, etc. Once all identifica
tions were made, the group had tomemorize
the opening stanza of the poem and recite it tome
chorally. The first group to finish won green erasers; all students received green candy. More
importantly, in the discussion that followed the game, students compared their individual prepara
tion of the poem outside of class with their close group reading during the game. All agreed that
they paid much more attention to descriptive detail during the activity and that they especially
noticed how wonderful the poem sounded when they were required tomemorize and recite the
opening lines. Thus, I encouraged the class for future assignments tomake written "image inven
tories" while reading Lorca's poems and to read aloud, or memorize and recite selected verses.
In the shift from poetry to the dramas, the integrity of the course goals was preserved. For
example, to initiate our discussion of the play Do?a Rosita la Soltera, I prepared a fairly tradi
tional series of comprehension questions based on act 1. For a unique touch, each question (typed
on slips of pink paper this time) was stapled to a different seed packet. After allowing tenminutes
for students towrite a response to the question with supporting quotes from the text, I suggested
that one of them had received the "perfect" flower to symbolize the drama. Consequently,
each
student was invited to argue why his/her particular flower was themost "significant" in the garden.
The packet with "Pink Maidens" was deemed the best (teacher's opinion), due to its color,
naturally, and the fact that "maiden" connotes an unmarried woman. The students truly surprised
me with their inventive defenses. How clever their interpretations had been, each perceiving that
his or her flower had some degree of relevance to this play with the subtitle, "El lenguaje de las
flores"!
Another way my students were helped to interpret the opening scene of a Lorca play was a
pre-performance exercise designed to identify significant symbolism. We gathered around a table
where students placed a piece of paper on which they had written what they believed was an
important word inBlood Wedding (act 1, scene 1). Of course, many of their chosen words were
the same that a teacher might have presented as symbolic: knife, flowers, cemetery, blood, etc.
Students then read aloud a brief excerpt from the scene, explaining the way(s) Lorca used their
chosen word in context. Finally, with a few props (aman's hat, a black mantilla, a knife) the scene
was performed by several students. Afterwards the actors (Madre and Novio) were encouraged to
reflect on their respective roles, while entertaining questions from the "spectators." Themes of
were
and gender-role
identified and discussed. Moreover,
the
expectations
reflected
the
of
performance
atmosphere
premonition and foreboding that prevails in the opening
scene, running counterpoint to the supposedly optimistic occasion of the imminent wedding.
obsession

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146

H?spanla 87March 2004

Hence, the class began to intuit the symbolism of the title, Bodas de Sangre.
In act 1, scene 3, the setting is the Novia's cave. For the warm-up activity prior to their oral
reading, students were asked to use their bodies to "set the stage" in a tableau vivant representing
the scenery. While one person stood on a chair with arms stretched out to symbolize the cross, two
students served as "curtains" (one arm behind the waist like "tie-backs") framing the doorway to
the cave. This kinetic strategy not only required that the students understand the stage directions,
but also helped them to visualize the setting Lorca intended. This preliminary activity was
inspired by Michael Shapiro's essay, "Improvisational Techniques for the Literature Teacher."
Shapiro emphasizes the importance of introductory activities to real actors and people trained in
theater (186). He finds that using improvisational games helps students develop more imaginative
responses to Shakespeare's work (191).
Two special events were included in the course curriculum. The first, "Music's Lorca," was
a tribute to the writer as a poet and amusician. Student choruses and faculty colleagues recited a
selection of Lorca's poems in Spanish and inEnglish. To complement the poetry, a trio of Spanish
musicians
(including the great-nephew of Lorca) collaborated with a student pianist and vocal
and "La Zapatera."2 Referring to the
soloists to perform several of the canciones populares
Canciones Populares, which were collected and arranged by Lorca, Morla Lynch remarks in his
diary: "Todos estos goces inefables hechos realidades se los debemos a Federico. ?l ha reunido
estos poemas
atesorando

y cantares que palpitan

como

en un

relicario

todos

dispersos
sus

aromas,

por aldeas y campi?as,


nos

los presenta

como

y sin adulterarlas,

quien

ofrece

un

ramo

de flores recogido en las praderas" (203). A narrator knitted together the performance pieces with
a biographical
introduction and with excerpts from one of Lorca's lectures, "Como canta una
ciudad de noviembre en noviembre." Throughout the evening, a student-prepared Power Point
display of Lorca's sketches, personal photographs and scenes from Granada was projected on a
wall adjacent to the stage. "Music's Lorca" drew a diverse audience, whose generous praise of the
overall performance gratified the students, as well as our Spanish guests.
The culmination of the Lorca course was a puppet show instead of a traditional final exam.3
The class constructed a stage and fabricated puppets with the end goal of presenting Garcia
Lorca's Tragicomedia de don Crist?bal y la se?a Rosita. Initially, the class collectively read and
commented on the play with my guidance. In a subsequent class, small groups took on the tasks
of assigning roles, determining props and writing summaries of the prologue and each act for
distribution to the audience on performance night. During the puppet-making sessions, students
read scenes aloud under my supervision; I corrected pronunciation and gave suggestions for
exploiting the play's comic moments. There were two in-class rehearsals and one extra rehearsal
the night before the production. Students surprised themselves (and their teacher, who had more
than amoment's hesitation about attempting this activity) with their resourcefulness and talent.
From a pedagogical perspective, the preliminary preparation and the final production were
the ultimate hands-on, student-centered classroom experience. Without realizing it, students had
read the play five times. Attention was paid to the most minute details of the stage directions,
scenery and character portrayal. To read their parts effectively, students had to understand new
vocabulary, practice good pronunciation and intonation, and correctly transmit the emotions of
and vocal modulation.
The play delighted an audience of
the characters through movement
Spanish professors, Latino students, and Spanish majors and minors. The puppeteers were
exceedingly proud of their effort and particularly pleased by the audience's responses to the
humor of the piece. My colleague, who videotaped the puppet show, commented on the high
degree of student ownership evidenced in the performance. This, I believe, iswhat G. B. Shand
means when he writes about empowering student readers: "As in the rehearsal hall, so in the
classroom, much more is likely to be discovered, and to belong rightly to its discoverers, when
readers, as actors, are introduced to the tools of their textual craft, and then are left free to play"

(255).
Despite the priority of "play," the course curriculum was not "soft" on requirements, as one
can discern from the appended reading list. Students were assigned brief response papers, an

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Linking Life and Lorca

147

essay exam, a short comparative poetry analysis and a final paper, all of which challenged them
to write critically about Lorca's work. Regarding external criticism, I generally subscribed to
Elise Ann Earthman's model for teaching Antony and Cleopatra:
in students an understanding
of
Rather than have them bog down in the details, I concentrate on developing
the plot, the characters, and the themes of the play. I tell them such tidbits about Shakespeare's
language or the
Elizabethan world as they will find interesting, and I leave the rest alone [...] days of background on Shakespeare,
of Antony through the ages, followed by illustration of
the Elizabethan Age, the Roman Empire, and performance
rhyme scheme and scansion through selected sonnets, would cause many of my students to quit before they began.

(280-81)
Similarly, in an occasional lecture tomy students, I read from Leslie Stainton's biography and
from Lorca's own conferencias, public talks he gave on literary topics. For our study of some of
the New York poems, all the students read aloud from Lorca's lecture, "Poeta en Nueva York,"
interspersing recitations of the poems at the appropriate moment, imitating what Lorca had done.4
Some of my students who live inNew York filled in details of the urban setting unfamiliar to the
rest

of us.

For each instance that I chose to incorporate critical articles, I did so in conjunction with a
performance strategy. For example, having scheduled class in a small auditorium and taken one
student intomy confidence, he (as El Autor) and I (in the role of the shoemaker's wife) performed
the prologue toLa Zapatera Prodigiosa.5 The unannounced performance simulated how an actual
character of El
audience would have been introduced to the farce through the metatheatrical
I divided the class into two groups: one read Francesca Colecchia's
Autor. Afterwards,
article
study on metatheatrical
en
book, El Metateatro
la Obra de Federico Garc?a Lorca. Finally, students from each group summarized their article to
the others. Later, when we prepared the puppet play, students could relate the concepts they had
in the Tragicomedia.
and Director
learned about metatheatre toMosquito
The life's work of Federico Garc?a Lorca, charismatic man and gifted writer, has left an

about Lorca's use of prologue, while the other group read Hershberger's
in Lorca's theater. Then, I read highlights from Rosanna Vitale's

devices

indelible impression on my students. Through performance they became empowered readers and
the classroom atmosphere was energized by their
interpreters of Lorca's texts. Moreover,
collaborative efforts and enthusiasm. There were moments when Iwas certain the duende of the
poet was present. I hope all my students have an opportunity to visit Granada and the Huerta de
San Vicente. Iwant them to step into Lorca's bedroom, see the balcony outside his window and
recall (perhaps recite) the verses: "?Si muero / dejad el balc?n abierto!" For me, the course was
extremely rewarding in every aspect. My love of Lorca's poetry and plays was rekindled, as was
my deep regret that the genius of Federico was stolen too soon from this world. In view of this sad
fact, Morla Lynch's words quoted earlier, "el vac?o de su ausencia," still resonate with all who
study Lorca. Fortunately, this marvelous poet continues to speak to us, even as he said he would
in the following

excerpt:

Quiero dormir un rato,


Un rato, un minuto, un siglo;
Pero que todos sepan que no he muerto:
Que hay un establo de oro en mis labios...
(Gacela VIII, "De lamuerte oscura" inDiv?n

del Tamarit)

The Reading List


Garc?a Lorca. Biograf?a Esencial
Selections from Carlos Morla Lynch's En Espa?a con Federico Garc?a Lorca
Poems from all the sections of Christopher Maurer's anthology: Federico Garc?a Lorca.
Selected Verse and other selected poems
Ian Gibson's

Conferencias:

"Juego y Teor?a del Duende"

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148

H?spanla 87 March 2004

"Imaginaci?n, Inspiraci?n, Evasi?n"


"El Primitivo Canto Andaluz"
en Nueva

"Poeta

York"

"Charla Sobre Teatro"


Criticism:
Francesca Colecchia's

"The 'pr?logo' in the Theater of Federico Garc?a Lorca:


Towards the Articulation of a Philosophy of Theater"
Robert P. Hershberger's
"Building and Breaking theMetadramatic Frame in
La zapatera prodigiosa
and Amor de don Perlimplin: The Dilemma of Social Convention"
Lorca's
Prosa
from
in?dita de juventud: "Mi pueblo"
Excerpts
Selected letters from his Epistolario completo
Dramas:

Di?logo del Amargo


Bodas de Sangre
La Zapatera Prodigiosa
la Soltera o el Lenguaje de las Flores
T?teres de Cachiporra. Tragicomedia de don Crist?bal y la se?a Rosita

Do?a

Rosita

Vid?ocassettes:
The Spirit of Lorca
Federico Garc?a Lorca: Retrato de Familia (Remembering
in Granada
Federico Garc?a Lorca. A Murder
The Disappearance
of Lorca

the Earth)

NOTES
19 (Apr. 1995): 44-45.
Context." Gestos
lC. Christopher
Soufas, "Lorca's Theatre in a Modernist/Performance
2We are fortunate to be affiliated with a School of Music;
tribute to Lorca was an important
therefore, our musical
Their collaboration with the Spanish visitors was a unique
component for those students in the course who are musicians.
feature of the evening's program. Our guests were Claudio de Casas (guitar), Miguel Malla (clarinet and percussion)
and
Javier Saiz (bass). Tracy Rucinski
children's
television
series, "Marcelino Pan y Vino,")
(translator for the acclaimed
prepared and narrated the script.
3Students did submit a final paper in response to a question that encompassed
the semester's work. The question
a disagreement
one argues that Lorca's plays are poetic, whereas
two professors:
between
the other
hypothesized
that his poems are dramatic. Using
three poems and three dramatic excerpts of their choice, students were to
are correct in their views.
the hypothetical
dispute by proving that both professors
4In an interview inMontevideo,
Lorca refers to five books of poems he has finished writing: "Uno se
Uruguay,
en una de las conferencias
titula Poeta en Nueva York. Lo leer?, con comentarios,
de Los Amigos
del Arte." Federico

contends
"settle"

vol. 6 (Madrid: Akal, 1994), 557. We used Menarini's


Garc?a Lorca, Obras, Prosa 1, ed. Miguel Garc?a-Posada,
Spanish
in translation inMaurer's
edition (see Works Cited).
edition of Poeta, but the lecture is also available
a
I fashioned
5In approximately
fifteen minutes,
in the fabric department
of our local Wal-Mart,
standing
For a special effect, I affixed
cape and lampshade hat for El Autor, using some inexpensive black materials.
stars to the cape with safety pins. Next, an iridescent green remnant of silky cloth was fastened to
small, pre-fabricated
the metal clip inside the lampshade, such that when El Autor doffed his hat, Lorca's directions were fulfilled: "Se quita
el sombrero de copa y ?ste se ilumina por dentro con una luz verde, el autor lo inclina y sale de ?l un chorro de agua"

magician's

(Zapatera

54).

WORKS CITED
Francesca. "The 'pr?logo' in the Theater of Federico Garc?a Lorca: Towards the Articulation
of a Philosophy
Colecchia,
69 (1986): 791-96.
of Theater." Hispania
New York: The Modern Language Association
ed. Teaching Shakespeare
Cozart Riggio, Milla,
Through Performance.
of America,
1999.
Earthman, Elise Ann. "Shakespeare
Federico
Garc?a Lorca. A Murder

in the City." Cozart Riggio


277-85.
in Granada. Princeton, NJ: Films for the Humanities,

1995.

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Linking Life and Lorca

149

Garc?a Lorca: Retrato de Familia.


Prod. Enrique Nicanor. Perf. Luis Garc?a Montero
of Lorca's
and members
Sunset United Media,
1998. (Also available
in English
version
from Films for the
family. Videocassete.
Humanities
under the title: "Remembering
the Earth.")
Garcia Lorca, Federico. Bodas de Sangre. Eds. Allen Josephs and Juan Caballero. Madrid: C?tedra,
1998.
?.
Do?a Rosita la Soltera o El Lenguaje de las Flores. Madrid: Espasa Calpe,
1992.
Federico

?.
?.
?.

Eds. Christopher Maurer and Andrew A. Anderson.


2 vols. Madrid: C?tedra,
1997.
Epistolario
Completo.
Federico Garc?a Lorca. Poet inNew York. Trans. Greg Simon and Steven F. White. Ed. Christopher Maurer.
York: Noonday
P, 1998.
La Zapatera Prodigiosa.
Ed. Joaqu?n Forradellas. Madrid: Espasa Calpe,
1995.

?.

Obras

?.

Poeta

New

Ed. Miguel Garc?a-Posada.


6 vols. Madrid: Akal,
1989-98.
Completas.
en Nueva York. Ed. Piero Menarini. Madrid: Espasa Calpe,
1998.

?.

T?teres de Cachiporra.
de don Crist?bal y la Se?a Rosita. Madrid: C?tedra,
1998.
Tragicomedia
Ian. Garc?a Lorca Biograf?a Esencial.
Barcelona: Nexos,
1992.
Robert P. "Building and Breaking
the Metadramatic
Frame in La zapatera prodigiosa
and Amor de don
Hershberger,
The Dilemma
of Social Convention."
Estreno 23.1 (Primavera
Perlimplin:
1997): 23-28.
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ed. Federico
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