Authors: Fernando Arrabal

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Spanish and French playwright

Author Works


Pique-nique en campagne, wr. 1952, pr. 1959 (Picnic on the Battlefield, 1960)

Cérémonie pour un noir assasiné, wr. 1956, pb. 1965 (Ceremony for an Assassinated Black, 1971)

Le Labyrinthe, wr. 1956, pb. 1961 (The Labyrinth, 1967)

Les Amours impossibles, wr. 1957, pr. 1965 (The Impossible Loves, 1968)

La Cimetière des voitures, pb. 1958 (The Car Cemetery, 1960)

La Communion solennelle, pr. 1958 (Solemn Communion: Panic Ceremony, 1967)

Concert dans un oeuf, wr. 1958, pb. 1965

Les Deux Bourreaux, pb. 1958 (The Two Executioners, 1960)

Fando et Lis, pb. 1958 (Fando and Lis, 1962)

Le Tricycle, pr. 1958 (The Tricycle, 1966)

Oraison, pb. 1958 (Orison, 1961)

Théâtre, pb. 1958-1996 (19 volumes)

Guernica, pr. 1959 (English translation, 1967)

La Bicyclette du condamné, pb. 1961 (The Condemned Man’s Bicycle, 1967)

Plays, pb. 1962-1970 (3 volumes)

Le Grand Cérémonial, pr. 1964 (The Grand Ceremonial, 1970)

Le Couronnement, pr., pb. 1965 (rev. as Le Lai de Barabbas, pb. 1969)

Striptease de la jalousie, pr. 1965 (Striptease of Jealousy, 1968)

Cérémonie pour une chèvre sur un nuage, pr. 1966 (Ceremony for a Goat on a Cloud, 1978)

L’Architecte et l’Empereur d’Assyrie, pr., pb. 1967 (The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria, 1969)

La Jeunesse illustrée, pr., pb. 1967

Dieu est-il devenu fou?, pb. 1967 (Has God Gone Mad?, 1978)

Une Orange sur le mont de Vénus, wr. 1968, pb. 1976 (An Orange on the Mount of Venus, 1977)

L’Aurore rouge et noire, pr. 1968 (includes Groupuscle de mon coeur [The Groupuscle of My Heart, 1969], Tous les Parfums d’Arabie, Sous les pavés, La Plage, and Les Fillettes)

Le Jardin des délices, pr., pb. 1969 (The Garden of Delights, 1974)

Bestialité érotique, pr., pb. 1969 (Erotic Bestiality, 1978)

Une Tortue nommée Dostoievski, pr., pb. 1969 (A Tortoise Named Dostoyevsky, 1978)

Et ils passèrent des menottes aux fleurs, pr., pb. 1969 (And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers, 1972)

Ars Amandi, pb. 1970 (opera libretto)

Le Ciel et la merde, pb. 1972

La Grande Revue de XXe siècle, pb. 1972

Bella Ciao, la guerrede mille ans, pr., pb. 1972

La Marche royale, pr., pb. 1973

Sur le fil: Ou, La Ballade du train fantôme, pr., pb. 1974

Jeunes Barbares d’aujourd’hui, pr., pb. 1975 (Today’s Young Barbarians, 1978)

Le Ciel et la merde II, pr. 1976

La Gloire en images, pr., pb. 1976 (ballet scenario)

La Tour de Babel, pr., pb. 1976

Vole-moi un petit milliard, pr. 1977

La Pastaga des loufs: Ou, Ouverture orang-outan, pb. 1978

Punk et punk et colégram, pb. 1978

Le Roi de Sodome, pr. 1979

Inquisición, pr. 1980

Mon doux royaume saccagé, pr. 1980

L’Extravagante Réussite de Jésus-Christ, Karl Marx et William Shakespeare, pr. 1982

Tormentos y delicias de la carne: Homenaje à la conjura de los necios de John Kennedy Toole, pb. 1985

Les “Cucarachas” de Yale, pb. 1987

Une Pucelle pour un gorille, pb. 1987

The Red Madonna, pb. 1987

La Travesée de l’empire, pb. 1987

Comme un lis entre les épines, pb. 1996

Carta de amor, pr. 1999

Long Fiction:

Baal Babylone, 1959 (Baal Babylon, 1961)

L’Enterrement de la sardine, 1961 (The Burial of the Sardine, 1966)

Fêtes et rites de la confusion, 1967

La torre herida por el rayo, 1983 (The Tower Struck by Lightning, 1988)

La Reverdie, 1985

Piedra iluminada, 1985 (The Compass Stone, 1987)

La Vierge rouge, 1986 (The Red Virgin, 1993)

La hija de King Kong, 1988

L’Extravagante Croisade d’un castrat amoureux, 1989

El mono, 1994

Ceremonia por un teniente abandonado, 1998

Le Funambule de Dieu, 1998

Levitación: Novela mística, 2000


¡Viva la muerte!, 1971

J’irai comme un cheval fou, 1973

L’Arbre de Guernica, 1975

L’Odyssée de la Pacific, 1980

Le Cimetière des voitures, 1981

Liberté couleur de femme: Ou, Adieu Babylone, 1993

J. L. Borges: Una Vida de poesia, 1999


La Pierre de la folie, 1963

Le New York d’Arrabal, 1973


Lettre au Générale Franco, 1972

Le “Panique,” 1973

Sur Fischer: Initiation aux échecs, 1974

Les Échecs féeriques et libertaires: Chroniques de L’Express, 1980

Échecs et mythe, 1984

El cementerio de automóviles; El arquitecto y el Emperador de Asiria, 1984

El Greco and Fernando Arrabal, 1991

Lettres à Julius Baltazar, 1993

La dudosa luz del día, 1994

Porté disparu, 2000


One of the founders of the so-called Panic theater movement and one of the most important playwrights to emerge in the 1960’s was the Spaniard Fernando Arrabal (ah-rah-BAHL). He was born to a military family in Melilla, Spanish Morocco. At the age of four, Arrabal moved with his mother and siblings to Ciudad Rodrigo in Spain, where he received his first schooling under the supervision of Catholic priests. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, his father, who had remained loyal to the Republic, was arrested and condemned to death by the Franco insurgents; the sentence was later commuted to thirty years of imprisonment. Despite his unusually small stature, Arrabal was sent to a preparatory school for the military academy, but when it became clear that he was not meant for a military career, he began instead to study law.{$I[AN]9810001341}{$I[A]Arrabal, Fernando}{$I[geo]SPAIN;Arrabal, Fernando}{$I[tim]1932;Arrabal, Fernando}

While going to the university he started writing plays. Picnic on the Battlefield, written in 1952, when Arrabal was only twenty, is a one-act antiwar piece; although it is sketchy, it is effective and amusing. A feature of Arrabal’s early plays is the presence of childlike characters, both innocent and cruel. In The Tricycle, a clown-comedy that evokes Samuel Beckett, the play’s four characters center their lives on a park bench and a tricycle that they use to give children rides. They talk, sleep, and play games of pride, sexuality, and death. For money, they murder a stranger, yet they are not evil; indeed, they are not even really aware of what it is they have done. They are pre-social, moral idiots, monsters of the Freudian id. The play, like many of Arrabal’s early plays, is perhaps best understood if seen as a metaphor for life itself: people living in a world where morality and decency are unaffordable and unattainable luxuries.

Arrabal moved to Paris in 1955 but had trouble gaining recognition. Not until 1958 did he get a play published, when the journal Les Lettres nouvelles (the new literature) agreed to publish Picnic on the Battlefield. Not long afterward, another publisher put out the first volume of Arrabal’s plays, and about the same time Picnic on the Battlefield was produced.

By this time, his plays were being produced in Paris by small companies, but they were still too sterile and formalistic and did not create much of a stir. In the early 1960’s, however, Arrabal joined the Mexican director Alexandro Jodorowsky and others to found the Panic movement, named for the Greek god Pan. The idea was to create something real, a theater at once sacred and profane, poetic and vulgar, jeering and serious. Arrabal was influenced both by the surrealists and by Antonin Artaud, who advocated a ritualized theater in which the boundary between actors and audience disappears.

The Panic theater period was fruitful for Arrabal. He wrote prolifically and with increased purpose and artistic maturity. Two works generally considered among his best, The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria and The Garden of Delights, date from this period. The former, especially, is exemplary of Panic theater. Like all Arrabal characters, the two in this play are not so much psychologically drawn profiles as they are prototypes. When the emperor survives an airplane disaster and finds himself on a small island with only one inhabitant, the architect, the two play a Robinson Crusoe/Friday game that pits civilized against uncivilized, culture against nature. Constantly switching roles, they enact a trial where the crimes of the emperor, who may or may not have been the president of the United States, are judged by the architect. The verdict is death, and the judge has to consume–literally eat–the corpse after the execution. By those means, the two change roles: The architect becomes the emperor by absorbing his body and brain. The audience witnesses a rite of transition, or a series of rites, the progression from life to death, from a primitive condition to a civilized condition, from one evolutionary stage to the next. The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria was the first of Arrabal’s plays to be received with almost unanimous applause.

Then came 1968, student revolts, and “guerrilla” theater–street theater with uncompromising political messages. Arrabal was part of the student movement and wrote a number of plays that can be characterized as guerrilla theater. Many consider the best of these to be And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers, a rousing, moving, disgusting denouncement of political oppression in Spain. The play, which is set in a prison and details the dreams and ugly realities of five political prisoners, could have been written about Argentina, the Soviet Union, or South Africa–anywhere where political opponents of repressive regimes are jailed and tortured with impunity. In the 1970’s, Arrabal seemed to lose some of his belligerence and began to write comedies that the bourgeoisie could appreciate.

In his novel Baal Babylon, Arrabal evokes his childhood in Fascist Spain; in 1970, he adapted the novel for the screenplay ¡Viva la muerte! (Spanish fascist slogan Long Live Death!) and directed its filming in Tunisia.

Arrabal’s theater is at its worst infantile, vulgar, and pointless, but at its best, as in The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria and And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers, it has an almost folkloric directness: Arrabal accesses his own unconscious and projects his dreams and fantasies onto characters and plots that enact universal rituals. His plays have the texture of life, of history. Individuals lose their individuality by multiplication, constantly changing places, constantly transgressing boundaries. Yet they are always locked in the same pattern of absurdity and cruelty, with brief moments of pleasure and, perhaps, love thrown in to give, if not meaning, the semblance of a purpose to life.

BibliographyArata, Luis Oscar. The Festive Play of Fernando Arrabal. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1982. Examines Arrabal’s theater from the point of view of play, focusing on Piaget’s concept of game playing and on episodic theater.Berenguer, Angel, and Joan Berenguer, eds. Fernando Arrabal. Madrid: Editorial fundamentos, 1979. A collection of essays in Spanish by a number of critics on Arrabal’s theater as well as statements by world-renowned writers such as Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco about the significance of Arrabal’s theater.Donahue, Thomas John. The Theater of Fernando Arrabal: A Garden of Earthly Delights. New York: New York University Press, 1980. A general overview of Arrabal’s theater, emphasizing the influence of the “happening,” of street and guerrilla theater, and the creative use of playing space.Glibota, Ante. Arrabal Espace. Paris: Paris Art Center, 1993. A coffee table work written in French with numerous color photographs and a number of essays on Arrabal’s work in various genres. An invaluable source of production photos, Arrabal’s paintings, and numerous other images of his life and work.Orenstein, Gloria. “A Surrealist Theater Tractate: Fernando Arrabal.” In The Theater of the Marvelous. New York: New York University Press, 1975. An analysis of Arrabal’s theater as a manifestation of Surrealism based on alchemy. Explores the influence of André Breton, Salvador Dali, and Antonin Artaud on Arrabal’s work.Podol, Peter. Fernando Arrabal. Boston: Twayne, 1978. A comprehensive biography and analysis of all of Arrabal’s work up to the date of publication, it is intended as an introduction to the playwright and contains brief analyses of all of his dramas prior to 1978.Schumacher, Claude. “Arrabal’s Theatre of Liberation.” In Twentieth Century European Drama, edited by Brian Docherty. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994. A good overview.Torres Monreal, Francisco. “Introducción.” In Teatro completo. Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1997. A lengthy introduction to the two-volume edition of Arrabal’s theater in Spanish, it provides an excellent overview of the evolution of Arrabal’s work for the theater.
Categories: Authors