The Dead Class

by Tadeusz Kantor

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Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 538

Old Students

Old Students, eight elderly people, fellow students of the Old Man Repeater, the Old Man with a Bike, the Old Man in the Loo, and the Old Man Exhibitionist. They are dressed in black, with black bowlers; they have grayish faces and dead, staring eyes. Each student carries a child puppet on his back, dressed in school uniform, as an effigy of lost childhood and imprisonment in the past.

The Old Man in the Loo

The Old Man in the Loo, a student. He sits in the school lavatory, engrossed in endless accounts and quarrels with God. This repetitive action suggests an eternal regression into the anal stage.

The Old Man with a Bike

The Old Man with a Bike, a student. He never parts with the beat-up remnant of childhood and ceaselessly rides the bike around the desks, adding yet another symbolic action to the eternal imprisonment in repetition of the members of the dead class.

The Old Man Exhibitionist

The Old Man Exhibitionist, a student. His fellow students drag him to the privy and pull his pants down. He exposes his backside, remaining in that pose for the duration of the lesson on Solomon.

The Old Man Repeater

The Old Man Repeater, a miserable looking student who is taunted and bullied by the others. He stubbornly recites his grammar lesson while the rest talk and squirm in complete indifference. As the Obituary Distributor, he displays his bent for repetitive action by distributing and reading in a droning monotone the endless list of the dead class.


Charwoman, who cleans up the classroom. Her function extends from sweeping up notebooks, paper, and the debris of the dead class to the ritual washing of the cadavers of the dead class, thereby extending her symbolic function to Charwoman-Death. In the final scene, she is transformed into a nightmarish brothel keeper who bumps and grinds while the activities in the classroom continue in automatic and repetitive patterns.

The Woman with a Mechanical Cradle

The Woman with a Mechanical Cradle, who is wheeled in, strapped to what looks like a combination of a gynecologist’s table with stirrups and an instrument of torture. Each one of the movements of opening and closing her knees is synchronized to the rocking of the coffinlike Mechanical Cradle, with its rattling wooden balls, in a travesty of the birth-death cycle.

The Woman Behind the Window

The Woman Behind the Window, who carries the frame of a window, always looking in from the outside in a symbolic action of her separation from life.

Somnambulist Prostitute

Somnambulist Prostitute, the town harlot. She struts shamelessly around the leering oldster students, baring her breasts in an automaton-like action.

The Beadle

The Beadle, the preserver of order. He sits passively in his chair, coming to life only to sing the Austrian Empire’s national anthem.

Tadeusz Kantor

Tadeusz Kantor, the creator and director of the play. He remains on stage during the duration of the performance, directing the action by indicating climaxes, musical passages, entrances, exits, and the speeding up or slowing down of action. As a result of his presence, the actions do not always occur in a particular order and sometimes change from performance to performance.

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