Death and the Maiden (play)

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.

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


  • Paulina Salas — thirty-eight 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 String Quartet No. 14, subtitled 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 based on the specific details Paulina shared with him 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. She shares that she had purposefully altered small details of her story when sharing it with Gerardo, and that Roberto corrected those details in his own confession. Though Roberto denies this, she is completely convinced of his guilt and prepares to execute him.

Suddenly, the play skips forward in time and the audience sees Paulina and Gerardo attending a concert. It is never revealed whether or not Paulina ultimately killed Roberto. As the concert orchestra begins to play Schubert's "Death and the Maiden," Paulina sees Roberto 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 adaptationEdit

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 nominationsEdit

  • 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 linksEdit