Death and the Maiden (play)

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Death and the Maiden
Death and the Maiden.jpg
Written by Ariel Dorfman
Date premiered 9 July 1991
Place premiered Royal Court Theatre
Original language Spanish
Subject the aftereffects of psychological damage of people in a country emerging from totalitarian dictatorship
Genre Drama
Setting Present 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 — 38 years old
  • Gerardo Escobar — her husband, a lawyer, around forty-five
  • Roberto Miranda — a doctor, around fifty

The time is the present and the place, a country that is probably Chile but could be any country that has given itself a democratic government just after a long period of dictatorship.


Paulina Salas is a former political prisoner in an unnamed Latin American country who had been raped by her captors, led by a sadistic doctor whose face she never saw. The rapist doctor played Schubert's composition Death and the Maiden during the act of rape; hence the play's title.

Years later, after the (also unnamed) repressive regime has fallen, Paulina lives in an isolated country house with her husband, Gerardo Escobar. When Gerardo comes back from a visit to the president, he gets a flat tire. A stranger named Dr. Miranda stops to assist him. Dr. Miranda drives Gerardo home and later in the night he returns. Paulina recognizes Miranda's voice and mannerism as that of her rapist, and takes him captive in order to put him on trial and extract a confession from him.

Unconvinced of his guilt, Gerardo acts as Roberto Miranda's lawyer and attempts to save his life. After hearing the full story of her captivity from Paulina, Gerardo formulates a confession with Roberto to appease Paulina's madness and set her free from her past.

Paulina records the entire confession and has Roberto write it out and sign it. She sends Gerardo out to get Roberto's car so he can go home. While they are alone for the last time, Paulina accuses Roberto of being unrepentant and guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Throughout the play it is uncertain whether details are evidence of Roberto's guilt or Paulina's paranoia. At the end of the play it is unclear who is innocent.


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:

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

Death and the Maiden returns to London's West End 20 years since it first premiered at the Royal Court Theatre. The much awaited return was in 2011 at the Harold Pinter Theatre.

in iran yazd 2014 Death and the Maiden Director: Mohsen sadeghian on 4 November 2015 Assistant director and stage manager: Ferdows Yazdi Player:

particular version of this play was held in 2010 in Haifa, directed by Juliano Mer Khamis (who was assassinated few months later). The two main characters were played by Clara Khoury and Saleh Bakri.

in 2015 "Death and the Maiden" is being staged as a co-production between Melbourne Theatre Company (18 July-22 August) and the Sydney Theatre Company (2 September-17 October). Susie Porter (Puberty Blues (TV series)) to play Paulina with Eugene Gilfedder (The Effect) as the man whose voice might be his undoing.

Film adaptation[edit]

In 1994, Roman Polanski directed a film 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


External links[edit]