Death and the Maiden (play)

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Death and the Maiden
Written byAriel Dorfman
Date premiered9 July 1991
Place premieredRoyal Court Theatre
Original languageSpanish
SubjectThe aftereffects of psychological damage on people in a country emerging from a totalitarian dictatorship.
SettingPresent day; a beach house in Chile

Death and the Maiden is a 1990 play by Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman. The world premiere was staged at the Royal Court Theatre in London on 9 July 1991, directed by Lindsay Posner. It had one reading and one workshop production prior to its world premiere.


  • Paulina Salas — thirty-eight years old
  • Gerardo Escobar — her husband, a lawyer, around forty-five
  • Roberto Miranda — a doctor, around fifty

The setting is in the present time, in a country that is likely Chile but could be any nation that has recently transitioned from a long period of dictatorship to a democratic government.


Paulina Salas is a former political prisoner from an unnamed Latin American country who was raped by her captors, including a sadistic doctor whose face she never saw. The doctor played Schubert's String Quartet No. 14, subtitled Death and the Maiden, during the act of rape, which gives the play its title.

Years later, after the repressive regime has fallen, Paulina lives in an isolated country house with her husband, Gerardo Escobar. When Gerardo returns home from a visit to the president, he gets a flat tire and is helped by a stranger named Dr. Miranda. Later that night, Dr. Miranda returns and Paulina recognizes his voice and mannerism as that of her rapist. She takes him captive in order to put him on trial and extract a confession from him.

Gerardo acts as Dr. Miranda's lawyer and attempts to save his life, but after hearing the full story of Paulina's captivity, he formulates a confession with Dr. Miranda based on the specific details Paulina shared with him. Paulina records the entire confession and has Dr. Miranda sign it. She then sends Gerardo to get Dr. Miranda's car so he can go home. While they are alone for the last time, Paulina accuses Dr. Miranda of being unrepentant and guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. She shares that she purposely altered small details of her story when sharing it with Gerardo, and Dr. Miranda corrected those details in his own confession. Although Dr. Miranda denies this, Paulina is completely convinced of his guilt and prepares to execute him.

The play then skips forward in time, and the audience sees Paulina and Gerardo attending a concert. It is never revealed whether Paulina ultimately killed Dr. Miranda. As the concert orchestra begins to play Schubert's Death and the Maiden, Paulina sees Dr. Miranda across the room cast in a "phantasmagoric" light, and the audience is left to wonder whether he is truly there or only in Paulina's mind.


Death and the Maiden had a reading at the Institute for Contemporary Art in London on 30 November 1990:

A workshop production was staged and opened in Santiago, Chile, on 10 March 1991:

  • Paulina — Maria Elena Duvauchelle
  • Gerardo — Hugo Medina
  • Roberto — Tito Bustamante
  • Directed by Ana Reeves

Death and the Maiden had its world premiere at The Royal Court Upstairs on 9 July 1991:

With the same cast and director, it transferred to the Mainstage at The Royal Court on 4 November 1991.

The American Broadway premiere of Death and the Maiden opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on 17 March 1992, produced by Roger Berlind, Gladys Nederlander and Frederick Zollo, in association with Thom Mount and Bonnie Timmermann:

The Australian premiere production of Death and the Maiden took place on 16 December 1992.

The Indian premiere of Death and the Maiden (in Hindi translation by Shalini Vatsa) opened at the India Habitat Centre New Delhi on 17 February 2002, produced by Asmita Theatre.

Death and the Maiden returned to London's West End in 2011 at the Harold Pinter Theatre.

Death and the Maiden was performed in Iran on 4 November 2015.

in 2015 Death and the Maiden was staged as a co-production between the Melbourne Theatre Company (18 July-22 August) and the Sydney Theatre Company (2 September-17 October). Susie Porter played Paulina with Eugene Gilfedder as the man whose voice might be his undoing.

Film adaptation[edit]

In 1994, Roman Polanski directed a film adaptation of the work, starring Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley and Stuart Wilson.


An opera based on the play has been composed by Jonas Forssell with the libretto by Ariel Dorfman. The world premiere was staged at the Malmö Opera on 20 September 2008.

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • 1992 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play


  • Dorfman, Ariel (1991). Death and the Maiden (First ed.). London: Nick Hern Books. ISBN 978-1-85459-175-3.

External links[edit]