Death and the Maiden

Ariel Dorfmann
matthias claudius
franz schubert

Matthias Claudius

Ariel Dorfmann

Franz Schubert


Death and the Maiden plays on the classical theme of eros and thanatos that are the subject of a poem by Matthias Claudius set to music by his contemporary, Franz Schubert, in 1815. The theme is derived from ancient notions about sex, mortality and seasonal regeneration. Dorfmann explores this idea in unusual terms, as if the cycles of political extremes reflect the cyclic patterns of nature. The plot is this: a victim of rape and torture legitimized by a rightwing government later meets the bastard after the government has fallen. Dorfmann's play leads us to identify with both predator and victim. He also explores the legacy of brutality inflicted by a dictatorial regime, and what can happen after such a regime is deposed, how victims must mingle with those who brutalized and murdered them and their loved ones. The suggestive erotic symbolism attracts you to consider a powerful political statement.

Ariel Dorfmann set the play in a middle class home in an undefined place--it could be anywhere, it could be here, but the flavor of the language seems unequivocally, latin.

Imagine if you can: As a university student, because you are the girlfriend of an outspoken critic of the regime, you are kidnapped, blindfolded, tortured and raped. Years have passed and the regime is no longer in power and your young man is now your spouse and a lawyer for the new government charged with ensuring due process for those accused of brutality while agents of the regime. Your psychic scars are inresolved, you are uncomfortable in public and rarely attend a play or concert, even a trip to the market is unsettling for you. There is always the possibility that the man standing or sitting next to you is the rapist. One evening, your husband brings a strang man into your home that he found along the roadside where his car had broken down. Hearing the man's voice in the hall as they enter, you are frozen with fear. You instantly recognize the voice as that of the doctor who tortured and raped you.

Images from the film of Death & The Maiden by Roman Polanski
Scenes from Roman Polanski's film starring Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley

While you are considering your options, your husband tells you he is leaving for a few minutes to run an errand and leaves his guest in your care. You make the man a drink and bring out a hand gun. Threatening to kill him outright, you get him tied to a chair where you gag and blindfold him. When your husband returns, you discuss with him the merits of justice.


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