Fernando Arrabal

Fernando Arrabal

Fernando Arrabal, 2012
Born Fernando Arrabal Terán
(1932-08-11) August 11, 1932
Melilla, Spain
Occupation Playwright, screenwriter, film director, novelist and poet
Nationality Spanish
Period 1950s–present

Fernando Arrabal Terán (born August 11, 1932) is a Spanish playwright, screenwriter, film director, novelist and poet. Arrabal was born in Melilla, Spain, but settled in France in 1955; he describes himself as "desterrado", or "half-expatriate, half-exiled".

Arrabal has directed seven full-length feature films; he has published more than 100 plays, 14 novels, 800 poetry collections, chapbooks, and artist's books; several essays, and his notorious "Letter to General Franco" during the dictator's lifetime. His complete plays have been published in a number of languages, in a two-volume edition totaling over two thousand pages. The New York Times theatre critic Mel Gussow has called Arrabal the last survivor among the "three avatars of modernism".

In 1962 Arrabal co-founded the Panic Movement with Alejandro Jodorowsky and Roland Topor, inspired by the god Pan, and was elected Transcendent Satrap of the Collège de Pataphysique in 1990. Forty other Transcendent Satraps have been elected over the past half-century, including Marcel Duchamp, Eugène Ionesco, Man Ray, Boris Vian, Dario Fo, Umberto Eco and Jean Baudrillard.

A friend of Andy Warhol and Tristan Tzara, Arrabal spent three years as a member of André Breton's surrealist group.

"Arrabal's theatre is a wild, brutal, cacophonous, and joyously provocative world. It is a dramatic carnival in which the carcass of our 'advanced' civilizations is barbecued over the spits of a permanent revolution. He is the artistic heir of Kafka's lucidity and Jarry's humor; in his violence, Arrabal is related to Sade and Artaud. Yet he is doubtless the only writer to have pushed derision as far as he did. Deeply political and merrily playful, both revolutionary and bohemian, his work is the syndrome of our century of barbed wire and Gulags, a manner of finding a reprieve."
The Dictionary of Literatures in the French Language (Dictionnaire des littératures de langue française; Éditions Bordas.)

Childhood (1932–1946)

Fernando Arrabal (Terán is his second family name) is son of the painter Fernando Arrabal Ruiz and Carmen Terán González. On July 17, 1936, when insurrections within the military were staged against the constitutional government of the five-year-old Second Spanish Republic, launching the Spanish Civil War, Fernando Arrabal’s father remained faithful to the Republic. As a result, he was sentenced to death for mutiny. His sentence was later commuted to thirty years’ imprisonment. Fernando Arrabal Senior was transferred between prisons, from Santi Espiritu in Melilla to Monte Hacho in Ceuta, where he attempted suicide, as well as Ciudad Rodrigo and Burgos. Finally, on December 4, 1941, he was sent to the Burgos Hospital, on the pretext of being mentally ill. Later research has implied that he feigned psychological illness in order to be transferred to a lower security prison. On December 29, 1941, Fernando Arrabal Senior escaped from the hospital in his pyjamas, despite three feet of snow covering the countryside. He was never seen again, despite extensive researches carried out years later.

His son Fernando Arrabal has written: “Without trying to compare what is incomparable, when I confront these twilight episodes (and quite often without any logical connection), I often think of that scapegoat, my father. The day on which the Uncivil War began, he was locked up by his “compassionate companions” in the flag room of the Melilla military barracks. He was meant to think carefully, since he risked a death sentence for mutiny if he did not join them in their insurrection (alzamiento). After an hour, Lieutenant Fernando Arrabal summoned his ex-comrades – already! – to inform them that he had pondered long enough. Today, because of this precedent, must I serve as witness, example, or symbol, as he did, of the most fundamental occurrences? I, who am a mere exile. If I am taken away from my beloved numerics, everything around me leads to over-the-counter confusion and disorder. I have no wish to be a scapegoat like my father, I only ask to die while still living, whenever Pan so wishes.”

Meanwhile, in 1936, Arrabal’s mother returned to Ciudad Rodrigo with little Fernando, and soon found a job at Burgos, then the capitol of the Nationalists and headquarters of General Franco’s government. In 1937 Fernando was enrolled in a local Catholic school until 1940, when after the end of the Civil War, his mother moved again, to Madrid.

In 1941, Fernando Arrabal was awarded the national prize for gifted children. He continued his studies at Las Escuelas Pías de San Antón, a church school whose distinguished pupils over the years also included Victor Hugo and Jacinto Benavente y Martínez. Later Arrabal also studied at another distinguished Madrid establishment, Colegio Padres Escolapios De Getafe. An avid reader, young Arrabal was also eager to experience life.

Youth (1946–1956)

In 1947, when his mother ordered him to attend preparatory classes for entrance to the Academia General Militar, Arrabal reacted by playing hooky. As a result, in 1949 he was sent to Tolosa (Gipuzkoa) where he studied business at the Escuela Teórico-Práctica de la Industria y el Comercio del Papel. By 1950, he began to write several plays which have remained unpublished.

In 1951 began work in the paper industry at la Papelera Española. He moved to Valencia where he passed his bachillerato, the first non-compulsory educational option in Spain for those wishing to go on to university. He later moved to Madrid, where he began legal studies. During these years he frequented the venerable cultural institution Ateneo de Madrid as well as poets from the Postismo school, while polishing his early play “Picnic” (then titled “The Soldiers”) and wrote “El triciclo” ( at first titled “Men with a Tricycle”).

In 1954 he hitchhiked to Paris in order to attend a performance of Brecht’s “Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder” given by the touring Berliner Ensemble. in Madrid later that year he would meet Luce Moreau, who became his wife. In 1955 he was awarded a three months’ scholarship to study in Paris, during which time he lived at the Colegio de España at the Cité Universitaire. At this time he suffered a serious relapse of tuberculosis. He always considered this ailment as a “lucky mishap” which allowed him to move permanently to his “veritable homeland, that of Kundera and Vives, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Picasso: exile”.


Arrabal is often considered as anti-franquist and anti-communist, instead expressing an anarchist trend in cultural production.[1] Actually, he appeared to be in good relationship with the Communist Party of Spain during his exile. A breaking off seems to have occurred in 1977 for reasons close to his professional activity.[2] In particular, a conflict concerning the performance of his play The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria in Barcelona, involving artists reputed to be close to the Communist Party, seems to have been at the origin of the rupture.


Although he is one of the most controversial writers of his time, Arrabal’s work has been recognized throughout the world, with honors including the Grand Prize for Theatre of the Académie Française, the Premio Mariano de Cavia for journalism, the Nabokov Prize for novel writing, the Espasa Prize for Essay Writing, and the World Theater Prize.

In 2001, he was runner-up for the Premio Cervantes, nominated by Nobel Prize in Literature Camilo José Cela and José Hierro. He was reportedly a finalist for the Nobel Prize in 2005, a prize which several institutions and personalities solicited for him. On July 14, 2005, he was named to France’s Légion d'honneur. In 2007 he was awarded a doctorate of letters Honoris Causa by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece.

His other honors include:



Fernando Arrabal (who has been awarded the Premio Pier Paolo Pasolini for his contributions to cinema) has written and directed seven feature-length films (released on DVD by Cult Epics and Wanda Films).

In 2005 a 3-DVD box set of Arrabal’s most renowned films was released by Cult Epics including Viva la muerte, I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse, and The Guernica Tree.

Several of Fernando Arrabal’s plays have been adapted for the screen, including Le grand cérémonial (directed by Pierre-Alain Jolivet); El triciclo (directed by Luis Argueta); El ladrón de sueños (directed by Arroyo), Pique-nique (directed by Louis Sénéchal), Guernica (directed by Peter Lilienthal), and Fando y Lis (directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky).


Short films


On February 13, 2009, Arrabal’s opera “Faustbal” to music by Leonardo Balada will have its world premiere at the Teatro Real de Madrid, staged by the Comediants of Barcelona. Arrabal explains: “Faustbal is a woman who, in the third millennium, is the reincarnation of Alfred Jarry’s Doctor Faustroll, a new doctor Faust who asks God and Lucifer for words and prayers so that love and charity might be unified. Nothing can satisfy the hurricane of her scientific curiosity, nor calm the storms of her desires. A genius, very beautiful, and enriched by her transports and transfigurations, she vows a torrid love for her Amazon. She leaps between galaxies while the war to end all civilization rages, and moves through space at supersonic speed. Confronting her, Margarito, supreme leader of the armed forces, dons the armor of brutal, electronic repression. He is madly in love with Faustbal under the sky’s cupola. He tries to possess her through the torrent of his tower, employing the services of Mephistopheles himself. Jesús López Cobos, music director of the Teatro Real de Madrid, will conduct the world premiere, which will be sung by sopranos Ana Ibarra and María Rodríguez. The mezzo-soprano Cecilia Diaz will sing the role of the Amazon, while tenors Gerhard Siegel and Eduardo Santamaría will be the two Margaritos, bass Stefano Palatchi will perform the role of God, and baritones Tomas Tomasson and Lauri Vasar will be Mephistopheles.”

Four other operas with librettos by Arrabal have been staged, and the author describes them as “always having been as complex, yet suffering from as few complexes, as did Faustroll”.

They are as follows:

In October 1985, Arrabal made his debut as an opera stage director at the Opéra Royal de Belgique, where he directed Falla’s “La vida breve” and Granados’s “Goyescas” “Of course,” Arrabal comments, “under my direction the onstage chorus was nude, or to be more precise, panically covered with clay.”

In 1994 Chamber Made Opera produced the opera 'The Two Executioners'. Libretto by Douglas Horton and Music by David Chesworth. It ran for two seasons in Melbourne Australia 1994 and 1996 at the Matlhouse Theatre. "Easily the most impressive and memorable piece of music theatre in 1994..." The Independent Monthly. Australia.


Artist's books

Arrabal has created over seven hundred artists' books with Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, Roland Topor, Julius Baltazar, Antonio Saura, Olivier O. Olivier, Maxime Godard, Jean Cortot, Camacho, Ralph Gibson, Enrico Baj, Gustavo Charif, Milan Kundera, Michel Houellebecq and many others:


His books include:

In 2015, some of his poems has been adapted on music by artistic band Seagoat Bones on the etude album Phonèmes.[3]


Arrabal has published over one hundred plays in nineteen volumes, performed around the world. His plays include, with selected translations noted:

For a list of performances, see Arrabal’s official website.


Essays and nonfiction

Writings about chess

Arrabal has a strong interest in chess and has attended many chess tournaments. He has close relations to American Grandmaster Gata Kamsky and has advocated for Kamsky in his chess blog during Kamsky's negotiations with FIDE (the World Chess Federation) over a match in the World Chess Championship cycle.[4]

For over thirty years, Fernando Arrabal has written a column on chess for the French weekly L’Express.


  1. Javier Villán, El Mundo 18 May 2010, Lo de Arrabal es algo muy serio.
  2. Arrabal : rueda de prensa en el aeropuerto, ABC, 13 May 1977, http://hemeroteca.abc.es/nav/Navigate.exe/hemeroteca/madrid/abc/1977/05/13/063.html
  3. https://paniquesrecords.bandcamp.com/album/phon-mes
  4. "Second Ruy Lopez Chess Festival", ChessBase News, 13 April 2008, retrieved 2008-04-14 (photos and discussion of Arrabal's interest in chess. N.B. the biographical details in this article were copied from Wikipedia)


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fernando Arrabal.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 9/26/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.